The Spread of Scientific Information: Insights from the Web Usage Statistics in PLoS Article-Level Metrics
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PLoS ONE 6 (5): e19917 (Mai 2011)

<p>The presence of web-based communities is a distinctive signature of Web 2.0. The web-based feature means that information propagation within each community is highly facilitated, promoting complex collective dynamics in view of information exchange. In this work, we focus on a community of scientists and study, in particular, how the awareness of a scientific paper is spread. Our work is based on the web usage statistics obtained from the PLoS Article Level Metrics dataset compiled by PLoS. The cumulative number of HTML views was found to follow a long tail distribution which is reasonably well-fitted by a lognormal one. We modeled the diffusion of information by a random multiplicative process, and thus extracted the rates of information spread at different stages after the publication of a paper. We found that the spread of information displays two distinct decay regimes: a rapid downfall in the first month after publication, and a gradual power law decay afterwards. We identified these two regimes with two distinct driving processes: a short-term behavior driven by the fame of a paper, and a long-term behavior consistent with citation statistics. The patterns of information spread were found to be remarkably similar in data from different journals, but there are intrinsic differences for different types of web usage (HTML views and PDF downloads versus XML). These similarities and differences shed light on the theoretical understanding of different complex systems, as well as a better design of the corresponding web applications that is of high potential marketing impact.</p>
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