Indexed on: 27 Jan '14Published on: 27 Jan '14Published in: Physics - Physics and Society
Driven by outstanding success stories of Internet startups such as Facebook and The Huffington Post, recent studies have thoroughly described their growth. These highly visible online success stories, however, overshadow an untold number of similar ventures that fail. The study of website popularity is ultimately incomplete without general mechanisms that can describe both successes and failures. In this work we present six years of the daily number of users (DAU) of twenty-two membership-based websites - encompassing online social networks, grassroots movements, online forums, and membership-only Internet stores - well balanced between successes and failures. We then propose a combination of reaction-diffusion-decay processes whose resulting equations seem not only to describe well the observed DAU time series but also provide means to roughly predict their evolution. This model allows an approximate automatic DAU-based classification of websites into self-sustainable v.s. unsustainable and whether the startup growth is mostly driven by marketing & media campaigns or word-of-mouth adoptions.