Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Physicists calculate the half-life of online news

More interesting research from Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame who introduced the concept of scale-free networks.

Basically, Barabasi has extended the concept to online news. He studied traffic to a Hungarian news and entertainment portal and found that half of the visitors who will ever read a news story have read it within 36 hours of publication. The most interesting implication of this is described in this article about the research:

"The short life of a news item -- combined with random visiting patterns of readers -- implies that people could miss a significant fraction of news by not visiting the portal when a new document is first displayed, which is why publishers like to provide e-mail news alerts. The results also show that people read a particular web page not just because it looks interesting but because it can be accessed easily."

Of course, some stories can resurface after months or even years, as Slate columnist Jack Shafer discovered recently.