Persist Less to Succeed More


Figure 5: (a) Average rating of videos with different submission index. A producer’s first video has index 1, second video has index 2, and so on. Source

According to new research highlighted in the MIT Technology Review, as a result of the quantity of user-generated content, the odds of making the top percentile any given day is a game of collective attention, independent of quality or quantity.

HP Laboratories researchers Fang Wu and Bernardo A. Huberman finished a study called Persistence and Success in the Attention Economy (PDF). The abstract describes that,

“[A]n analysis of the production histories and success dynamics of 10 million videos from YouTube revealed that the more frequently an individual uploads content the less likely it is that it will reach a success threshold. This paradoxical result is further compounded by the fact that the average quality of submissions does increase with the number of uploads, with the likelihood of success less than that of playing a lottery.”

In today’s “attention economy” as a content-producing filmmaker interested in audience and profit numbers (but often not responsible for marketing any of it), I think success can be defined in two new ways:

  1. Success: not just making it to the top of the charts, but doing it again (and again)
  2. Success: not just high numbers (views/popularity), but long-tail numbers (followers/subscribers)

I also think I’m motivated to game the crowd by doing one or both of the following:

  1. Deliberately stagger the release of each work and then promote the hell out of each effort, preferably on a single, momentous day
  2. Be unpredictable, specifically in terms of timing, subject and/or tone, while staying true to industry-grade professionalism and a kick-ass personal standard


Aaron Proctor
Founder, FWD:labs
Director of Photography site

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