Competition and Selection Among Conventions

Rahmtin Rotabi, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Jon Kleinberg

Proceedings of WWW, 2017.




In many domains, a latent competition among different conventions determines which one will come to dominate.  One sees such effects in the success of community jargon, of competing frames in political rhetoric, or of terminology in technical contexts.  These effects have become widespread in the on-line domain, where the ease of information transmission makes them particularly forceful, and where the available data offers the potential to study competition among conventions at a fine-grained level.

In analyzing the dynamics of conventions over time, however, even with detailed on-line data, one encounters two significant challenges.  First, as conventions evolve, the underlying substance of their meaning tends to change as well; and such substantive changes confound investigations of social effects.  Second, the selection of a convention takes place through the complex interactions of individuals within a community, and contention between the users of competing conventions plays a key role in the convention's evolution.  Any analysis of the overall dynamics must take place in the presence of these two issues.

In this work we study a setting  in which we can cleanly track the competition among conventions while explicitly taking these sources of complexity into account.  Our analysis is based on the spread of low-level authoring conventions in the e-print arXiv over 24 years and roughly a million posted papers: by tracking the spread of macros and other author-defined conventions, we are able to study conventions that vary even as the underlying meaning remains constant.  We find that the interaction among co-authors over time plays a crucial role in the selection of conventions; the distinction between more and less experienced members of the community, and the distinction between conventions with visible versus invisible effects, are both central to the underlying processes.  Through our analysis we make predictions at the population level about the ultimate success of different synonymous conventions over time --- and at the individual level about the outcome of  “fights” between people over convention choices.




  author={Rahmtin Rotabi, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Jon Kleinberg},

  title={Competition and Selection Among Conventions},

  booktitle={Proceedings of WWW},