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Posted at 3:48 PM ET, 12/21/2010

How to crack the New York Times most-popular list

By Ezra Klein

Thomas Weber says that all you need is an article, some coordination and 1,300 of your closest friends:

The most-emailed articles list on The New York Times website is one of the Internet's key barometers of news and trends, an essential way for the world to stumble onto stories and ideas that might otherwise get lost in the ether of the perpetual news cycle. Thus, careful watchers might have been puzzled by a seemingly out-of-place story last week. Among the latest news, feature and opinion pieces was a three-week-old science section story about a soon-to-close exhibition on cuneiform clay tablets. What could have propelled a stale, bone-dry story to the top of the Internet's importance arbiter?

I can tell you: It was me.

More precisely, it was a group of people under my direction who all, at my request, emailed that particular story within a relatively short timeframe to learn exactly what it takes to make the most-emailed list.

How we did it — and how many people it took — reinforces a lesson of our viral media age: Even at the biggest newspaper website in the world, the content that is spotlighted as most engaging reflects the judgment of a group far smaller than the overall audience, and can even be gamed by those motivated enough to do so.

By Ezra Klein  | December 21, 2010; 3:48 PM ET
 
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Comments

This often happens at MN Public radio, where a story from the archives gets dredged up & forwarded by someone, causing brief appearances on the 'top stories' list.

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 21, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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