How to Game the New York Times' Most Emailed List

The New York Times' website attracts about 50 million unique readers every month. With such a large audience, that little box you're used to seeing in the sidebar -- "Most Popular" -- can be wildly influential. "Exposure begats more exposure," wrote Tom Weber at the Daily Beast. "With the electronic fire hose pouring out torrents of content each day, many turn to what's already been deemed interesting by others ... to help them filter." Weber spent several weeks directing a team of friends and colleagues to figure out what it took to game the Times' feature.

On December 14, my troops were given a new story: the aforementioned "An Exhibition That Gets to the (Square) Root of Sumerian Math," now three weeks past its publication date.

Based on our previous tests, we knew we wouldn't see movement in the most-popular list immediately, since the Times appears to use a 24-hour moving average. We started to see some impact at 11:43 p.m., 70-odd emails in, when the story popped up on the Science most-emailed list at No. 8. By 7 a.m. the next morning, about 300 emails had been sent, and our story was climbing--now up to No. 4 on the Science-page list, our new high-water-mark.

But as we checked the overall list and found no sign of our test article, we figured we needed to turn up the heat--saturating the site with more emails over a 24-hour period. Things started to pick up. Shortly before 1 p.m., the Sumerian story jumped up to No. 2 on the Science page--and, more importantly, made its debut on the overall most-emailed list. Though the Times only displays the top 10 most-emailed stories in its home-page box, it also offers a link to an expanded list showing the top 25. After 400 emails, our story edged onto the overall list at No. 22.

Read the full story at the Daily Beast.

Presented by

Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In