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The evolution of word-of-mouth communication has moved from the town crier of ancient days to the cutting edge of user-friendly mobile technology. To measure message propagation during major media events in recent history, this study compares communication transmissions fueled by the deaths of three pop icons, Elvis Presley, Princess Diana and Michael Jackson, in three eras: pre-web, Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. We explore how media and public responses have changed over time. The changes in message delivery and feedback modalities are also considered. To analyze this change, we present statistical data of news propagation versus time for television and Internet at the time of the activity spikes examined. We find that message propagation in all eras is well described by exponential growth. We find clear message transmission excess in the Web 2.0 era when corrected for increased consumer Internet penetration. Of particular note, as the efficiency propagation is increased, the propagation rate during the initial stages is so thoroughly pervasive that the subsequent growth rate is actually slower than earlier eras even as more people are reached. We conclude that emerging technologies have resulted in the reemergence of word-of-mouth as a dominant force in message diffusion to the masses.
Date of Conference: 7-9 July 2010