July 12, 2009

Why the NYT "Most Emailed" list should really be titled "Most Emailed by the Least Savvy People."

In the comments on another post today, John Althouse Cohen makes a great point:
The NYT has no way of knowing which articles are most emailed.
Jason (the commenter) thinks John doesn't get it:
If they have an "email this article" link they do. I see many publications keeping track of stories this way.
That was John's point:
No, that button keeps track of how many people use that button. I email articles on a regular basis and never use that button. I don't understand why anyone would use it. The NYT has no way of knowing when I send a NYT URL to someone.
MayBee snarks:
I hope Althouse updates her post to include this vital information.
John stands his ground:
Yes, the NYT gives a false picture of what it knows about how popular its pieces are. The NYT perceives its internal emailing system as the be-all-and-end-all of popularity. But they're only detecting the behavior of the tiny group of people who are more comfortable with the NYT's convoluted messaging system than with the more straightforward practice of sending a URL. There are all sorts of ways this could be demographically skewed; it probably leaves out more young (maybe liberal) readers. I actually think that's important. Maybe not as important as the very serious matter of what Brooks was talking about in his comments about his thigh, so I don't know if it's worthy of an update in the post, but I think it's worth pointing out in the comments section.
Well, I think its worthiness exceeds post updating and warrants a new post!

I suddenly realize that I have no interest in what the dorks who use the "email" button think somebody they know should read. I'm also not surprised anymore that the Brooks column did so well. Indeed, I'd been wondering for a long time why Brooks columns are always ranking so high on that list. Now, I understand that Brooks and "email" button-pushers are on the same wavelength — and it is not a cool place to be.

51 comments:

Jim said...

This is akin to saying that Google has no idea which stories are the most popular because not everybody who reads the article comes through Google to read it.

Or saying that pollsters have no idea what people think because they don't ask absolutely everybody's opinion.

The comparisons go on and on. It's statistical sampling. Those same "least savvy" people are also e-mailing other articles at presumably similar frequencies, and people who paste URLs are as well. I've yet to see a single valid justification to assume that the NYT is any less accurate than Google counting the clicks from purely their news section, or pollsters using their sampling in saying which articles are "most popular."

David said...

Jim, why do you care?

Jim said...

David -

Why does Ann? Why do you? Why does anyone comment on anything? Why is it important for you to ask? Why ask questions so nonsensical?

Baron Zemo said...

I for one hate it when Sarah Palin trots out her son for the kudos from the unwashed masses simply because she did not abort a retarded child.

But I am in a distinct minority..

Ha,ha,ha,ha,ha,ha,ha,ha,ha.

traditionalguy said...

Let's wait until Althouse runs a column in NYT soon, and then we can all E-mail from the NYT E-Mail like we do with allstar baseball ballots. Stuff the hell out of their count. We can send all our e-mails to ACORN, who understand the way ballot counts must be staged.

Mike said...

I have no knowledge of how the NYT actually does it, but you can easily get the bulk of e-mailed traffic from that doesn't come through their little button.

If you assume people click (not cut and paste) the links in their e-mails you will see referrers like mail.google.com, mail.yahoo.com, or similar URLs. This won't catch outlook or client users - just web based e-mail usage.

If they put that data in with their site e-mail features they would tend to be more reliable. Honestly, I just doubt they do that as they probably don't care to increase the accuracy since that's not the point.

rhhardin said...

I haven't used it, but I assumed the email button would clean out the ads and paging and odd html for email; like the printer button does to make an article suitable for a printer.

The advantage to the NYT is that they get an email address.

As long as the population of interest isn't strangely selected by the email button, most emailed is most emailed even if a small percentage use it.

To survey the US population pretty accurately, all you need is a sample of 700, if you can get the selection biases under control.

The percentage accuracy depends on the sample size, not the population size.

Ralph L said...

Do they have a Most Viewed list? Which is not necessarily the same as most read.

Beth said...

I've done both, use the button and use a URL, that is. Why does doing one make me a dork and the other make me savvy?

The NYT, in designating "most emailed" isn't being clueless. It's using the metric it has at hand. I suppose it would be better to be more verbose: "most emailed via the technique of clicking our 'email this story' button." Or not. Savvy people can probably figure that out without too much thought.

Beth said...

traditionalguy,

it would be a lot more fun to all send it to friends via the URL. Just to be savvy!

MayBee said...

My point was that his little tidbit didn't alter the meat of your post in any way.

It really doesn't matter if Brooks' column was the most emailed or just the most emailed among people who use that button.

Brooks did peck out the little piece about Presidential Dignity. It was something he wanted to write and share, and that's what mattered to your narrative.

MayBee said...

I've done both, use the button and use a URL, that is. Why does doing one make me a dork and the other make me savvy?

I'm agreeing with Beth here.
I can click a button, or I can cut, copy, paste the URL...or I can cut, copy, paste, edit the article.

The NYTs already has my email address from when I registered to get access to their articles.

Kylos said...

Mike, excellent point. In fact, they could probably reasonably approximate hits from email clients by counting requests without a referer header. This would probably result in a slight oversampling from bookmarked pages, but would exclude links from any other web page. However, this would eliminate selection bias. It remains to be seen whether over-sampling or selection bias leads to the greater error.

Kylos said...

Or, I should add, whether the NYTimes really cares.

Jim Hanson said...

I sense a little young liberal elitism here in the notion that they are the enlightened URL-sending ones. That perhaps the older more conservative readers have yet to master the arcane art of the hyperlink. Or that young folks who read NYT are more likely to be liberal than the bulk of the liberals who read it.

Most non-liberals, myself included, read it for comedy relief rather than education, and when I add a hyperlink to an email (or a post at BLACKFIVE) it almost always requires an OMG or WTF! to adequately portray my disbelief at the blind liberal orthodoxy.

Lighten up JAC, you sound like a younger, equally liberal wanker.

Cordially,

Uncle J

Jim Hanson said...

Or never mind, I sound like a crotchety bastard myself.

Cordially,

Uncle J

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"There are all sorts of ways this could be demographically skewed; it probably leaves out more young (maybe liberal) readers."

I am 48 years old and not liberal. I've been sending URLs since some of you puppies have needed help wiping your noses. Well, that may be hyperbole, but seriously, in the real world I don't see more "tech savvy" in the young than in the middle-aged or old. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, we didn't grow up with computers - we had to invent them for you.

MayBee said...

JAC:behavior of the tiny group of people who are more comfortable with the NYT's convoluted messaging system than with the more straightforward practice of sending a URL.
===========

FWIW, I just went to the NYT to try to navigate their "convoluted" messaging system.
Here's what I had to do:
1. Click the "email" icon next to the article.
2. Type the email address of my intended recipient.
3. Hit Enter

Convoluted!

Jason (the commenter) said...

Oh, this is hysterical. I love it!

EDH said...

MayBee said...

The NYTs already has my email address from when I registered to get access to their articles.

The point is you're giving the NYT your recipient's email address, without their permission.

I've chastized people who have disclosed my email to a third party in this manner.

I think that's why it's the "least savvy" method, not to mention a discourteous breach of confidentiality.

It's similar to sending mass emails to unacqaunted parties with the addresses in the "To:" or "cc:" field, which discloses all the email addresses to everyone, rather than in "bcc:" field.

Iapetus said...

I suddenly realize that I have no interest in what the NYT thinks or what the son of a mother who blogs thinks about what the NYT thinks.

MayBee said...

The point is you're giving the NYT your recipient's email address, without their permission.

So it isn't convoluted, it is a possible breach of privacy. That's what makes it not savvy.

If you know your recipient is registered with the NYTs, you know the NYTs already has their email address, too. So no breach!
And if they don't have a NYTs account- how boring to send them a URL they can't use. That seems unsavvy.

This savvy/unsavvy metric is becoming very...convoluted!

But you sound like a ball of fun, EDH. I hope if anyone ever sends you flowers you chastise them for giving out your address.

Lem said...

Why cant we just bash the NYT?

Forget the reason.

Just say they suck and the hell with it.

theobromophile said...

Yes, the NYT gives a false picture of what it knows about how popular its pieces are. The NYT perceives its internal emailing system as the be-all-and-end-all of popularity

This may have already been covered (if so, sorry for repeating it), but the NYT probably could count how many times articles were read by people who accessed them via email.

On my blog (and I imagine that the NYT could do the same thing), I can see when someone came in via email: the "referrer" is gmail, or yahoo, or something. Certainly, a computer programme could count the incoming visitors form emails.

Obviously, there is still some under-counting (or over-counting): people who email articles but whose recipients never read them; people who use the "email article" button and whose recipients click through to the article (thereby being double-counted). Impossible, though, it is not.

Ralph L said...

The solution is to use the email button only for people you don't like (and who else would you send NYT links to?). The problem then becomes getting their email addresses.

EDH said...

MayBee said...
And if they don't have a NYTs account- how boring to send them a URL they can't use. That seems unsavvy.

Do you need a NYT to read NYT articles from URL? I don't think so.

But you sound like a ball of fun, EDH. I hope if anyone ever sends you flowers you chastise them for giving out your address.

The differences between disclosing a physical address and an email address are huge.

First, there are myriad ways your physical address is already involuntarily disclosed, often mandatorily, such a tax, voter and census lists, in addition to voluntary disclosures made to individual businesses.

Second, the reason email spam is such a problem, compared to junk mail, is transaction cost. It costs next to nothing to send millions of spam emails. Yet, if someone has your physical address it will cost them at least, say, half a buck to send even a postcard.

Jason (the commenter) said...

theoromophile : On my blog (and I imagine that the NYT could do the same thing), I can see when someone came in via email: the "referrer" is gmail, or yahoo, or something. Certainly, a computer programme could count the incoming visitors form emails.

That's a very good observation. It could also be something like digg.com, the people emailing articles with the NYT system probably know about the list and want their "votes" counted. If it builds enthusiasm and involvement among a group of readers, it's good for the paper. I'm sure the NYT doesn't care if the "eyes" they have are savy or not, as long as they are reading the Times.

Jason (the commenter) said...

All this talk about "the least savvy people", makes me wonder who was really being snarky.

Joseph said...

or "most savvy" if you consider people who email articles via the button in order to be included in the count.

Jim said...

Jason -

"All this talk about "the least savvy people", makes me wonder who was really being snarky."

What's being lost in all of this is the complete disingenuousness of the issue in the first place. JAC was trying to claim that people really weren't emailing the Obama picture around as much as they were, so he tried to proffer some kind of left-field "analysis" to bolster his claim which falls down on first glance.

Funny how this "analysis" was never made about any article that made Obama look good. It's just trotted out to try to minimize any possible "damage" which might result from Obama getting busted ogling.

What's even more amusing is that I don't recall even the most ardent conservatives on this blog saying anything other than essentially "This just shows Obama is human," so there was no "damage" to be controlled. More than anything, it shows the lengths to which people are willing to go to prevent any criticism of Obama - no matter how benign.

LonewackoDotCom said...

Can I suggest that a "Least False" list might be a better use of our collective time?

LoafingOaf said...

Jim: What's even more amusing is that I don't recall even the most ardent conservatives on this blog saying anything other than essentially "This just shows Obama is human," so there was no "damage" to be controlled. More than anything, it shows the lengths to which people are willing to go to prevent any criticism of Obama - no matter how benign.

I haven't been following these threads and I don't care about the NYT email button controversy. But as for the Obama ogled the sexy butt thing, I didn't think it was a big deal at all when I saw the photo and thought he did, in fact, star at her ass. But then when I saw the video that showed he didn't, I'm left confused as to why people continue to say something happened that didn't happen. Again, I couldn't care less if Obama did stare at her ass. But, doesn't it matter to the people who keep going on about it that the video showed he did not?

Juris Dentist said...

Gawd the sense of (misplaced) superiority is intense in that Althouse clan!! One can only imagine that "you are not very savvy" was probably the worst insult one could hurl in the Althouse household. Does the smugness of being an Althouse ever wear thin? Apparently not.

Nevertheless, Jac's point is incredibly lame. The NYT measures what is measurable. They don't claim that "most emailed" means anything other than what it obviously means. Just as subscription numbers do not count how many people actually read a magazine--but they are the best measure we have.

BTW, the site meter that drives your mommy has all kinds of flaws too, Jac--will you be blathering about those next?

Christy said...

You can count me, who once programed in machine language, as un-savvy.

When I first, back in the dark ages, began sending people the URL to stories of interest, I wearied quickly of having to add "registration is required, but it's free and harmless." So much easier to just email the damned article from the NYT. But, you say, if they weren't already registered, they were not worthy of reading the Times on-line.

Truthfully, when all the newspapers suddenly began requiring registration to read I quickly tired of inventing new IDs and passwords. Didn't you? And yes, I did use the same ones whenever possible. Whatever. There was a time when one had to be registered to follow the embedded URL to the article.

So call me a dork for not keeping up with the registration requirements of the NYT. I've been busy keeping up with the latest in high energy physics, Adam Lambert's love life, and the facebook page of my rivals.

LoafingOaf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LoafingOaf said...

BTW, there are some old school folks (like my dad) who love to cut articles out with scissors, and write their comments in the margins with a pen, and send them via snail mail. How does the New York Times track that activity? They're missing a lot of older, probably more conservative, article senders, too.

Lem said...

When I first, back in the dark ages, began sending people the URL to stories of interest, I wearied quickly of having to add "registration is required, but it's free and harmless".

I used to just copy/paste the few paragraphs of interest needed to 'nail' my liberal friend.

I had to use the Times with him as a source, otherwise he would not considered it 'authoritative'.

I could not email him stuff from Rush and he would not email me stuff from NPR.

We sort of considered the Times neutral. Of course they were/are not but you got to use somebody.

Lem said...

BTW - I love the confluence of subjects on these treads since Friday morning and onto today.

Its like a mini series.

reader_iam said...

OK, to heck with savvy or not savvy--now I'm *confused*. I thought the article most or not-most e-mailed had to do with David Brooks' groped or not-groped thigh, and not with one about the photo in which Pres Obama checked out or did not check out...well, you know.

Then again, I mostly link in tweets these days, so maybe it's just my attention span, or lack of attention span.

Penny said...

And some of us gazers obviously pick the lint out of our navels.

Lem said...

I thought the article most or not-most e-mailed had to do with David Brooks' groped or not-groped thigh, and not with one about the photo in which Pres Obama checked out or did not check out.

The NYT "most e-mailed" had to do with neither.

It had to do with Brooks dressing up the groping, writing about how to be dignified at a diner party or some nonsense.

T J Sawyer said...

reader_iam says he is confused.

Actually Jim is confused about the picture and the article in question but we are ignoring it since he seems to be a bit sensitive to criticism.

Lem said...

There has to be something more linking the groping and the president staring at the young woman sentaderas other than sex.

Since we are not going to have a special prosecutor to get to the bottoms of it, we are going to have to do the leg work and remain on top of it.

peter hoh said...

I may have used "click here to email this article to a friend" a few times in the past, but I haven't used that function (on any website) in the past several years.

In order to use the NYT's system, I have to type in the recipient's email address. That's where it would break down for me, as I don't keep a lot of email addresses in my head.

I'd have to open a new email window, type their name, then grab the address, then head back to the NYT article window, then to the NYT email system window, and then paste the recipient's email in the little box.

It's much easier for me to copy the url (or the article) and then open a new mail window and paste the url (or the article) into a new email.

peter hoh said...

The more I think about it, the more it seems that the NYT's email article function is at odds with how I want to send a friend an article.

When I send someone an article, I usually send them a snippet of text -- the part that made me think, hey, I should send this to so-and-so. I'll add the link to the whole article, in case they are interested in reading more.

But that's it. I know I hate receiving long emails. I assume other people are like that, too.

MayBee said...

peter- the NYT sends the recipient a headline, a short blurb, and a link.

It does not email the whole article.

I know this because I just tried it an hour or so ago.

Also, you might want to consider keeping your email open in a tab. It saves all that grueling "heading back" to other windowns.

Patrick Kelly said...

Most emailed should really be supplanted by an array of other social networking options.

For me, the most important index would probably be most uploaded to Facebook. But now that I say that, I would probably be equally annoyed by the inane uploads that people make. Like, is it really necessary to upload a front page article to your Facebook page? If you're remotely interested in the news, I think you've probably seen it. And, no, you do not instantaneously become cultured because you read the NYT. Soon the NYT won't even exist and you will wallow in your HuffPost postings. Try that on for style.

peter hoh said...

MayBee, I did not know that the NYT only sends a blurb. That makes sense, but I want to send the blurb I want to send.

I can keep my gmail or workmail in a separate tab, but my primary mail is a separate application.

blake said...

You really shouldn't be putting anyone else's email address into any website, no matter how seemingly reputable. You can ruin someone's address that way.

On the other side, if you haven't got an excellent spam filter, you shouldn't be giving addresses out to people who will be handing them out to potential spammers.

bearbee said...

I can click a button, or I can cut, copy, paste the URL...or I can cut, copy, paste, edit the article.

Or, if Windows, from the Menu Bar select 'File/Send/Page by E-mail/or, Link by E-mail'

peter hoh said...

bearbee wrote: Or, if Windows, from the Menu Bar select 'File/Send/Page by E-mail/or, Link by E-mail'

That made me look, and sure enough, I can do the same thing with a Mac running Firefox.

Thanks for the tip!