Twitter: The Law of the Vital Few

"The Law of the Vital Few" is amongst the most unpopular ideas of the last two hundred years. First framed as a social scientific truth by the early 20th century Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, it states that in all societies throughout human history a small minority of individuals and organizations have held more political, economic and cultural power than the majority. The Law of the Vital Few isn't a popular idea with the majority, of course, because it marginalizes most people making them, at best, incidental players in their own histories. Nor is Pareto's idea particularly popular with elites because it can be used to expose their power and reveal the self-interest of their actions.

The microblogging service Twitter proves the Law of the Vital Few. As Silicon Alley Insider's Peter Kafka argues today, "while Twitter theoretically treats all voices equally, some carry much more weight than others." Thus, a dominant Twitterer like Jason Calacanis has 43,000 followers while a total loser like me has only 9. Twitter could indeed have been invented by Pareto as proof of his theorem. One has only two possible identities on Twitter: either as a follower or as the followed. A small percentage of Twitterers like Colbert, Scoble, Obama, Arrington and Winer are the followed distributing their wisdom to their followers. While all the rest of us, Pareto's huddled masses, are doing the following.

There is only one problem with Twitter. When it comes to reliable information, the followed aren't always very reliable. Today, for example, Twitter is abuzz with rumors about a US invasion of Iran. With most of our reliable newspapers on the brink of shutting down, where better to check for the latest global news than the massively popular Twitter. The problem, however, is that Twitter doesn't have a bureau in Tehran. Thus, Pareto's Law of the Vital Few kicks in and Jason Calacanis becomes the trusted source for news about the invasion. Now, I have the greatest respect and affection for Jason, but the one thing I don't trust the Santa Monica based entrepreneur about is Iran. But, as SAI's Kafka argues, Calacanis' has become Twitter's de facto authority this morning on the Iran rumors:

So when he (Calacanis) taps out "Breaking: US miltary plane forced to land in Iran after breaking air space. Just heard on France24 hour news. October surprise? Hostages?!" that has huge ripple effect in the Twittersphere.

Combine Vilfredo Pareto's Law of the Vital Few with Adam Smith's Law of Unintended Consequences and what you get is Jason Calacanis as Our Man in Tehran.