How An App Developer Is Like A Sheep Herder

By Natasha Murashev Comment

It might come as a surprise, but app developers and sheep herders have a lot in common. Both professions require the “herding” of a large group of social “animals” toward a goal, so an app developer can learn a lot from a sheep herder according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

University of Oxford researcher Dr. Felix Reed-Tsochas and colleagues analyzed data tracking the installation of over 100 million installations of Facebook Apps over two months in 2007. The data provided an hour-by-hour view as 2,700 apps were installed by 50 million Facebook users.

Researchers discovered that once an app reached a threshold of about 55 installations a day, its popularity soared. While a typical app was installed by 1,000 users, viral apps such as “Top Friends” (which was installed by 12 million users!) were in a league of their own. Dr. Reed-Tsochas explains the results of the study as follows:

“Our analysis reveals a very interesting new finding. Users only appear to be influenced by the choices of other users above a certain level of popularity, and at that point popularity drives future popularity. Below this threshold, the effects of social influence are imperceptible. Because popularity seems to depend mainly on the choices of other users in the community, rather than intrinsic characteristics of the applications themselves, it does not appear possible to predict which applications will succeed and which will fail ahead of time.”

Although this research is based on Facebook App data from 2007, when Facebook gave higher priority to Apps and users were notified every time on of their friends installed an app, the key finding remains relevant to app developers of today.

Just like sheep, consumers follow other groups of consumer, and the bigger the group, the bigger the following. The job of an app developer is to become a sheep herder and to herd as many consumers as possible. Once an app developer is able to attract a certain “magic” number of consumers, popularity and virality will come naturally as other consumers will want to join the large herd.

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Natasha Murashev is the author of, a digital publication focused on applied psychology.

Article image via world of stock.