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The few-get-richer: a surprising consequence of popularity-based rankings

Fabrizio Germano (), Vicenç Gómez and Gaël Le Mens ()
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Gaël Le Mens: https://www.upf.edu/web/econ/faculty/-/asset_publisher/6aWmmXf28uXT/persona/id/3420330

Economics Working Papers from Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Abstract: Ranking algorithms play a crucial role in online platforms ranging from search engines to recommender systems. In this paper, we identify a surprising consequence of popularity-based rankings: the fewer the items reporting a given signal, the higher the share of the overall traffic they collectively attract. This few-get-richer effect emerges in settings where there are few distinct classes of items (e.g., left-leaning news sources versus right-leaning news sources), and items are ranked based on their popularity. We demonstrate analytically that the few-get-richer effect emerges when people tend to click on top-ranked items and have heterogeneous preferences for the classes of items. Using simulations, we analyze how the strength of the effect changes with assumptions about the setting and human behavior.We also test our predictions experimentally in an online experiment with human participants. Our findings have important implications to understand the spread of misinformation.

Date: 2019-02
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-exp
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Working Paper: The Few-Get-Richer: A Surprising Consequence of Popularity-Based Rankings (2019) Downloads
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