A new paper in Science [link]: Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market by Salganik et al.
In a web experiment, the researchers created an artificial database of music (from unknown bands) and allowed people to download songs after rating them. In some conditions, people could see which songs had been downloaded more often, creating a social influence environment. Interestingly, how songs fared in each of eight different runs vaired widely, and mostly independently of how people rated “quality”.
The message seems to be that in music tastes at least, we are all sheep, and the first sheep to baaa makes a great difference to who gets on Top of the Pops.