North­eastern University’s world-​​renowned net­work sci­en­tist, Albert-​​László Barabási, will explore the pre­dictability of human behavior in his new book, “Bursts: The Hidden Pat­tern Behind Every­thing We Do,” set to be pub­lished April 29. But first, he is launching a ground­breaking viral Web exper­i­ment that will add another layer to our under­standing of how net­works work. Plus, it promises to be fun.

Barabási, dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of physics and the founding director of the Center for Com­plex Net­work Research at North­eastern, has put the entire book online — it went live April 8 athttp://​brsts​.com/ — but with all 84,237 words cov­ered up.

The text can only be unlocked by vis­i­tors to the Web site. Each vis­itor chooses to “adopt” one word any­where in the book’s 271 pages, and that word is then revealed to every par­tic­i­pant. Indi­vidual par­tic­i­pants can have addi­tional words revealed only to them by using points earned through inviting friends to join or by guessing a blocked-​​out word correctly.

Barabási’s goal is to study how a world­wide net­work of people, working through this viral process, ulti­mately unlocks the entire book. He said the exper­i­ment is also a chal­lenge to vis­i­tors to see who can unlock all the text first, and he is anx­iously awaiting the world’s reac­tion to his project. Barabási said he and his team will use Face­book and Twitter to spread the word, but they expect the exper­i­ment to get out pri­marily through word-​​of-​​mouth.

Will it be fast? Will it take two days or three months? I have no idea. It’s an exper­i­ment,” he said.
The inspi­ra­tion for the con­cept, Barabási said, came in part from, “The Mil­lion Dollar Home­page” — a Web site cre­ated in 2005 by a stu­dent in Eng­land. Looking to pay for col­lege, the stu­dent charged $1 per pixel for com­pa­nies to adver­tise on his site.

Barabási recalled that he regretted not grasping the oppor­tu­nity to launch a viral cam­paign around his sem­inal ear­lier work, “Linked: How Every­thing is Con­nected to Every­thing Else and What It Means for Busi­ness, Sci­ence, and Everyday Life.” This time around, he said, “I lost my shyness.”

If you believe some­thing is cool, you have to take risks,” Barabási added.

In this latest book, Barabási dis­sects behav­ioral trends that can be pre­dicted through humans’ repet­i­tive pat­terns, namely from mea­sure­able data col­lected from mobile elec­tronic devices that shed light on email, phone calling and travel habits. Barabási believes humans’ increasing use of tech­nology has made that pre­dictability more apparent than ever before, given the avail­ability of such data.

The pur­pose of the book, Barabási said, is not to make any pre­dic­tions about how people will behave. Instead it asks, “What does it mean for us to be predictable?”