Here's a pocket history of the web, according to many people. In the early days, the web was just pages of information linked to each other. Then along came web crawlers that helped you find what you wanted among all that information. Some time around 2003 or maybe 2004, the social web really kicked into gear, and thereafter the web's users began to connect with each other more and more often. Hence Web 2.0, Wikipedia, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I'm not strawmanning here. This is the dominant history of the web as seen, for example, in this Wikipedia entry on the 'Social Web.'
1. The sharing you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the tip of the 'social' iceberg. We are impressed by its scale because it's easy to measure.
2. But most sharing is done via dark social means like email and IM that are difficult to measure.
3. According to new data on many media sites, 69% of social referrals came from dark social. 20% came from Facebook.
4. Facebook and Twitter do shift the paradigm from private sharing to public publishing. They structure, archive, and monetize your publications.
But it's never felt quite right to me. For one, I spent most of the 90s as a teenager in rural Washington and my web was highly, highly social. We had instant messenger and chat rooms and ICQ and USENET forums and email. My whole Internet life involved sharing links with local and Internet friends. How was I supposed to believe that somehow Friendster and Facebook created a social web out of what was previously a lonely journey in cyberspace when I knew that this has not been my experience? True, my web social life used tools that ran parallel to, not on, the web, but it existed nonetheless.
To be honest, this was a very difficult thing to measure. One dirty secret of web analytics is that the information we get is limited. If you want to see how someone came to your site, it's usually pretty easy. When you follow a link from Facebook to The Atlantic, a little piece of metadata hitches a ride that tells our servers, "Yo, I'm here from Facebook.com." We can then aggregate those numbers and say, "Whoa, a million people came here from Facebook last month," or whatever.
There are circumstances, however, when there is no referrer data. You show up at our doorstep and we have no idea how you got here. The main situations in which this happens are email programs, instant messages, some mobile applications*, and whenever someone is moving from a secure site ("https://mail.google.com/blahblahblah") to a non-secure site (http://www.theatlantic.com).
This means that this vast trove of social traffic is essentially invisible to most analytics programs. I call it DARK SOCIAL. It shows up variously in programs as "direct" or "typed/bookmarked" traffic, which implies to many site owners that you actually have a bookmark or typed in www.theatlantic.com into your browser. But that's not actually what's happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone Gchatted someone a link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you.
Nonetheless, the idea that "social networks" and "social media" sites created a social web is pervasive. Everyone behaves as if the traffic your stories receive from the social networks (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon) is the same as all of your social traffic. I began to wonder if I was wrong. Or at least that what I had experienced was a niche phenomenon and most people's web time was not filled with Gchatted and emailed links. I began to think that perhaps Facebook and Twitter has dramatically expanded the volume of -- at the very least -- linksharing that takes place.
Everyone else had data to back them up. I had my experience as a teenage nerd in the 1990s. I was not about to shake social media marketing firms with my tales of ICQ friends and the analogy of dark social to dark energy. ("You can't see it, dude, but it's what keeps the universe expanding. No dark social, no Internet universe, man! Just a big crunch.")
And then one day, we had a meeting with the real-time web analytics firm, Chartbeat. Like many media nerds, I love Chartbeat. It lets you know exactly what's happening with your stories, most especially where your readers are coming from. Recently, they made an accounting change that they showed to us. They took visitors who showed up without referrer data and split them into two categories. The first was people who were going to a homepage (theatlantic.com) or a subject landing page (theatlantic.com/politics). The second were people going to any other page, that is to say, all of our articles. These people, they figured, were following some sort of link because no one actually types "http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/atlast-the-gargantuan-telescope-designed-to-find-life-on-other-planets/263409/." They started counting these people as what they call direct social.
The second I saw this measure, my heart actually leapt (yes, I am that much of a data nerd). This was it! They'd found a way to quantify dark social, even if they'd given it a lamer name!
On the first day I saw it, this is how big of an impact dark social was having on The Atlantic.
Just look at that graph. On the one hand, you have all the social networks that you know. They're about 43.5 percent of our social traffic. On the other, you have this previously unmeasured darknet that's delivering 56.5 percent of people to individual stories. This is not a niche phenomenon! It's more than 2.5x Facebook's impact on the site.
Day after day, this continues to be true, though the individual numbers vary a lot, say, during a Reddit spike or if one of our stories gets sent out on a very big email list or what have you. Day after day, though, dark social is nearly always our top referral source.
Perhaps, though, it was only The Atlantic for whatever reason. We do really well in the social world, so maybe we were outliers. So, I went back to Chartbeat and asked them to run aggregate numbers across their media sites.
Get this. Dark social is even more important across this broader set of sites. Almost 69 percent of social referrals were dark! Facebook came in second at 20 percent. Twitter was down at 6 percent.
All in all, direct/dark social was 17.5 percent of total referrals; only search at 21.5 percent drove more visitors to this basket of sites. (FWIW, at The Atlantic, social referrers far outstrip search. I'd guess the same is true at all the more magaziney sites.)
There are a couple of really interesting ramifications of this data. First, on the operational side, if you think optimizing your Facebook page and Tweets is "optimizing for social," you're only halfway (or maybe 30 percent) correct. The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. There's no way to game email or people's instant messages. There's no power users you can contact. There's no algorithms to understand. This is pure social, uncut.
Second, the social sites that arrived in the 2000s did not create the social web, but they did structure it. This is really, really significant. In large part, they made sharing on the Internet an act of publishing (!), with all the attendant changes that come with that switch. Publishing social interactions makes them more visible, searchable, and adds a lot of metadata to your simple link or photo post. There are some great things about this, but social networks also give a novel, permanent identity to your online persona. Your taste can be monetized, by you or (much more likely) the service itself.
Third, I think there are some philosophical changes that we should consider in light of this new data. While it's true that sharing came to the web's technical infrastructure in the 2000s, the behaviors that we're now all familiar with on the large social networks was present long before they existed, and persists despite Facebook's eight years on the web. The history of the web, as we generally conceive it, needs to consider technologies that were outside the technical envelope of "webness." People layered communication technologies easily and built functioning social networks with most of the capabilities of the web 2.0 sites in semi-private and without the structure of the current sites.
If what I'm saying is true, then the tradeoffs we make on social networks is not the one that we're told we're making. We're not giving our personal data in exchange for the ability to share links with friends. Massive numbers of people -- a larger set than exists on any social network -- already do that outside the social networks. Rather, we're exchanging our personal data in exchange for the ability to publish and archive a record of our sharing. That may be a transaction you want to make, but it might not be the one you've been told you made.
* Chartbeat datawiz Josh Schwartz said it was unlikely that the mobile referral data was throwing off our numbers here. "Only about four percent of total traffic is on mobile at all, so, at least as a percentage of total referrals, app referrals must be a tiny percentage," Schwartz wrote to me in an email. "To put some more context there, only 0.3 percent of total traffic has the Facebook mobile site as a referrer and less than 0.1 percent has the Facebook mobile app."
From Putin to Flynn, the highlights of the former FBI director’s conversations with President Trump
Thursday evening, after a long legal battle, the Department of Justice turned over to Congress a set of memos written by FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with Donald Trump. And within about an hour, predictably, the memos had leaked to the press.
The documents are a fascinating read: a window into Comey’s mind at the moment of his encounters with the president-elect and then president, unmediated by either time or Comey’s consciousness of being an author writing for a public audience, unlike his new book A Higher Loyalty. In general terms, the content of the memos hews closely to what was publicly known about them, first via a Columbia Law professor with whom Comey shared them; then from Comey himself, in blockbuster congressional testimony in summer 2017; and more recently from his book.
The president’s allies were looking for vindication—but were led astray by their reliance on a closed information system.
Samuel Johnson once stood talking with James Boswell about a theory expressed by a certain Bishop Berkeley that the external world was made up entirely of representations. There was no reality, only beliefs. Disgusted, Johnson said: “I refute it thus!”—and aimed a kick at a nearby boulder.
The point being: You can believe what you want, but if you ignore the rocks, you’ll badly hurt your toe. The Republican world would do well to take this story to heart.
It’s another familiar story that conservatives have built themselves a closed information system. The system generates and repeats agreed fictions, and people are rewarded according to their ability to internalize, repeat, and embellish these fictions.
It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.
Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.
Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.
In 2003, Congress passed legislation to eliminate sexual assaults against inmates. One young man’s story shows how elusive that goal remains.
Three years ago, the young man who would later be known as John Doe 1 shuffled into the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. The town of 11,000 residents, which sits in the remote center of the state, houses five prisons, and over the years, it has earned the nickname “I Own Ya.” John, who was 17, had already gotten over the initial fear of going to an adult prison—he had spent several months at a county jail near Detroit and an intake facility in Jackson—but he also knew he would be spending longer at this lonely outpost, a minimum of three years for a couple of home invasions. It was still wintery in April, and his state-issued jacket was poor protection against the drafts coming through the broken windows, shattered by men who had passed through before. “It was pretty ragged,” he recalled recently, “a tear down.”
New polling finds that their support for the president remains strikingly high. But are they mortgaging the future of the faith?
With two alleged extramarital affairs looming over the presidency, white evangelicals are doubling down on their support for Donald Trump. But the near-term political gains their support is yielding may come at a high cost for the future of the faith.
A new survey released this week by PRRI, where I serve as the CEO, finds white evangelical support for Trump remains strikingly high, with 75 percent holding a favorable view of the president and only 22 percent holding an unfavorable view. This level of support far exceeds his favorability among all Americans, which is at 42 percent. Among all non-white evangelical Americans, Trump’s favorability is only 36 percent.
This is hardly the first time white evangelicals have chosen to weather a Trump scandal. Despite revelations of taped boasts of sexual assault during the 2016 campaign, moral equivocation about white supremacy during his first year as president, and a host of other controversies, white evangelical support for Trump has steadily increased over time. While his favorability never reached 50 percent during the 2016 primary season, by the early fall of 2016, it jumped to 61 percent. Until this week, the highest level of support from white evangelicals PRRI had measured was 74 percent, shortly after his inauguration. Since the start of his presidency, there have been minor fluctuations, but overall his favorability with this group has never dipped below 65 percent.
It doesn’t signal a lack of trust—to some, it’s a way for spouses to show they trust each other more.
A joint bank account has, traditionally, been a sign of commitment. As newlyweds start their lives together, it is perhaps the clearest way for them to say, to each other and to the world, “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.”
But these days, some young couples are skeptical. “There has been a generational change,” said Joanna Pepin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland who studies the organization of money in romantic relationships. “The research we have shows that, cross-culturally, more people are keeping money separate.” Indeed, a Bank of America study published earlier this year seemed to suggest that Millennial married and cohabitating couples were more likely to hold separate accounts than previous generations were.
They’re both blamed for predisposing their members to violent acts, but they’ve sparked radically different public-policy responses.
When I thought about locking up with a crew in 1996, I wanted to see a full initiation first, not parts I stumbled upon over the years. My friend Cliff and I arrived at a park not close from my home in Jamaica, Queens. Leaves danced with the wind around our feet, wafting an eerie feeling in my 14-year-old black body. The grounds of the initiation beckoned: a high-rise chain link fence, enclosing two basketball courts.
Through the daylighted chain, I watched scowls and punches and stomps engulf the uninitiated teen—a stoppage, then an awkward transition into hugs, handshakes, and smiles. The striking contrast shot at my core of authenticity, the insincerity of the punch-hug, of the stomp-smile, murdering my thoughts of joining a crew.
Floyd Landis, a former teammate of the cyclist’s, just won more than $1 million in a legal case against Armstrong. Here are his thoughts on the suit, cycling, and his onetime rival.
At 5:19 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2010, Floyd Landis hit send on what would prove the most consequential email of his life. Addressed to the then-CEO of USA Cycling, Steve Johnson, the email bore the subject line “nobody is copied on this one so it’s up to you to demonstrate your true colors….” It went on to detail, year by year, how Landis and other members of the United States Postal Service team had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and methods to dominate the sport of cycling and claim victories at the sport’s premier event, the Tour de France. The email, later included in Landis’s 2012 affidavit for a United States Anti-Doping Agency (usada) investigation, clearly implicated many of his former teammates—most famously, the seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (who declined to comment for this article).
The gruesome rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl has left many Indians wondering what it will take to stop sexual violence.
Indian law prohibits the identification of a rape victim by name or appearance without explicit permission from the survivor or their next of kin. Yet for the last three months, the name and face of an eight-year-old child, raped and murderedin the small town of Kathua in January this year, circulated widely in the Indian media.
Perhaps her details were published due to early confusion over the nature of the crime; she had been missing for days before her dead body turned up. Perhaps it simply seemed like an acceptable mistake in the case of someone from a marginal community of nomads, impoverished Muslims with little social clout. Yet the slip resulted in an unforgettable shock for many Indians this month, forced to confront the use of rape as a political crime, and the question of what, if anything, has changed for Indian women despite years of feminist advocacy and anguished protests against sexual violence.
The national student-activist movement is dealing with fractures—but that could mean it’s stronger than ever.
At 10 o’clock on Friday morning, thousands of students across the country commemorated a moment that not one of them was alive to experience: the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 13 people 19 years ago today. Kids walked out of their classrooms on Friday to remember and to protest in the latest iteration of the student-led movement against gun violence that burgeoned after February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
It’s fitting that the student who organized Friday’s walkouts—the first protest of its kind pegged to the massacre that happened nearly two decades ago—is a history buff. Lane Murdock, a 16-year-old from Ridgefield, Connecticut, had spent her early life reading about protests and walkouts in history books, she told me, and always wondered what she’d do in the face of injustice. She started a Change.org petition immediately after learning of the Parkland shooting, laying the groundwork for Friday’s demonstration, which included participants from at least one school in every state. Murdock lives 20 minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 children and staff were killed in 2012, but she has no other personal connection to gun violence. In fact, she was motivated by what she worried was her detachment from the problem: “I was desensitized,” she said. “This country was desensitized.”