Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Physicists Find Users Uninterested After 36 Hours 141

Posted by Hemos
from the yawn-show-me-something-new dept.
SuperGrads writes "Statistical physicists working in the US and Hungary have found that the number of people reading a particular news story on the web decreases with time by a power law rather than exponentially as was previously thought. The finding has implications for the study of information flow in social networks, marketing and web design."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Physicists Find Users Uninterested After 36 Hours

Comments Filter:
  • by lecithin (745575) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:27PM (#15691838)
    Users Find Physicists Uninteresting After 3.6 seconds.
  • Old news (Score:5, Funny)

    by Percent Man (756972) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:27PM (#15691846) Homepage
    Are we still talking about this?
  • Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.
  • However ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by blowdart (31458) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:29PM (#15691862) Homepage
    The story will get posted again on slashdot 37 hours later.
    • Only it'll glow a little less.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:06PM (#15692580)
      I can see these physicists really scratching their heads when the article gets slashdotted 72 hours after the published date (July 7).
      • Well, not exactly. The key words is 'after its posted' . So since its new news to slashdot, the cycle repeats itself, only this time its slashdot we're metering, not the article.

        What they are talking about is something most of us already know, and understand .. however can't quite articulate.

        Their accomplishment then is not realizing the trend, but finding a way to illustrate it, which led with being able to articulate and substantiate it.

        I understand lots of things that I couldn't possibly hope to articula
  • by holden caufield (111364) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:30PM (#15691868)
    I'm wondering if these same researches tried to define what their subjects defined as "news"? If something was newsworthy, I'm guessing they likely found out about it over time. Maybe the people didn't read it because they were informed from other sources?

    Sounds like a bit of a flawed evaluation to me.
    • by truthsearch (249536) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:36PM (#15691924) Homepage Journal
      It might also be relevant that this study was done only on a Hungarian news site. It's possible there would be different results in other countries due to cultural differences and the number of available news sources.
    • by The_Wilschon (782534) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:40PM (#15691950) Homepage
      The "news" in this story is not that people become disinterested in a story, but that the rate at which they become disinterested is quite different from what was expected.

      Furthermore, the study was not done by taking people and finding out how quickly they became disinterested in one story or another. A quick glance at the summary informs us that the subject of the study was the number of people reading a news story (more likely downloading the story) at a given time. That this number decreases with time is obvious. However, it was expected that the decrease would follow an exponential curve, whereas the experiment showed a power law curve instead.
      • To prove the point, they actually did such a reversal in the case of telephone-queue waiting times. Traditionally, these have been assumed to follow a Poisson distribution, but some recent research suggests they actually follow a power law. Analysing the participants’ responses suggests that a power law, indeed, it is.

        ——

        Science & Technology / Psychology [economist.com]

        Bayes rules
        Jan 5th 2006
        From The Economist print edition

        A once-neglected statistical technique may help to explain how the mind works

        IM [economist.com]
      • Maybe because it is not on the news.google or news.yahoo pages any more? I don't see how you can call this disinterest.
      • The "news" in this story is not that people become disinterested in a story, but that the rate at which they become disinterested is quite different from what was expected.

        "Expected" by who? Anybody reasonably familiar with statistics wouldn't assume that this decay is exponential because there is absolutely no reason to make that assumption; none of the models that commonly lead to exponential decay apply in this case.

        Even though this guy happens to use the web, these kinds of problems aren't anything new
      • The "news" in this story is not that people become disinterested in a story, but that the rate at which they become disinterested is quite different from what was expected.

        The article used the word uninterested which has a completely different meaning. Disinterested means impartial or neutral while uninterested means bored or not interested. For a more detailed explanation [uhv.edu]

    • I'm wondering if these same researches tried to define what their subjects defined as "news"? If something was newsworthy, I'm guessing they likely found out about it over time. Maybe the people didn't read it because they were informed from other sources?
      Maybe that's exactly right? maybe 36 hours is the saturation point where someone is most likely to have already seen it elsewhere... After-all if YOU haven't seent it yet, it's still news to YOU.
    • TFA mentions a 'typical news website'. Exactly what is a typical news website? Are we talking NYTimes and WashingtonPost that covers a broad spectrum, or a smorgasbord news bulletin like /. and Digg?
  • by courtarro (786894) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:33PM (#15691893) Homepage
    Users losing interest in this particular news story follow an impulse function [wikipedia.org].
  • Actually, nobody cares about this sort of thing, and these so-called "statistical physicists" would all be cleaning gutters for a living right now.. except the guy from HR is too terrified to go downstairs and fire them. The last time he tried, they somehow irrevocably proved to him that not only was it statistically impossible that he had arrived to give them their pink slips, but they also proved his trousers, eyebrows, and cat out of existence with nothing more than a slide rule and a whiteboard.
  • One of the authors, Albert-László Barabási, is also the author of a book I really enjoyed Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means
    • One of the authors, Albert-László Barabási, is also the author of a book I really enjoyed Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means

            I'd totally try to find that book, but you didn't provide a clickable link. I'm giving up now.
    • Re:Linked (Score:3, Funny)

      by truthsearch (249536)
      I guess you disagree with the author. Otherwise you would have provided a link...
  • as it is that information on the internet changes and updates instantly. It's not that people aren't interested in it as it just gets buried with new news. An article posted 10 minutes ago is now old news. Even on here. I work until 11pm. I come home and scroll down to see if I missed anything good. So between 2:00 when I go to work and 11:30 when I get home there's already at least 10 new stories. Imagine, now, what official news sites are like.
    • Exactly!

      More to the point, how many people go back and reread a new article? This utter crap. I would have found it more interesting if they had something to say about people's attention WHILE reading an article not after it has already been read!

      Pointles drivel. Did they get a grant for this?



  • Local man becomes bored easily reading stories about nothing.
  • old hat? (Score:1, Redundant)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888)
    Most news becomes old hat within a day and a half of being posted...

    Which is where sites like slashdot come into play. Thanks to the dutiful work of the editors, stories that are weeks, months, and sometimes even years old, are often given a new lease on life.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:48PM (#15692007) Homepage

    One has to wonder how the site's story policy affects the drop-off. That is, is the drop-off because users are uninterested or not reading, or is it because after that time the story drops off the main pages and becomes hard to find to read?

    • Indeed. For example, the Ask E. T. discussion board [edwardtufte.com] contains all topics on a single page. The topics are all related to information design, and the board no longer accepts new topics which certainly skews things a bit. But I routinley see new responses to topics that are years old, and I myself occasionally read a new topic that was first posted years ago. It isn't "news" per se, but it's an interesting take on a discussion board. I wonder what a slashdot-like site would be like that limited the number

  • From the article: "7 July 2006"

    Yup... way to stay on top of things.
  • People have short attention spans...
    15 second sound bite at eleven!
  • 36 Hours is the exact age of a story before it drops from the bottom of slashdot's Main page.
  • BREAKING NEWS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 27,000 (987534) <F27000 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:53PM (#15692051)
    PHYSICISTS REPORT ARTICLES NOT ON FRONT PAGE READ LESS

    ALSO NOTE THAT SITES HAVE FINITE NUMBERS OF USERS

    And nothing about 'uninterested users'. This implies that, well, a reader is not likely to read an article more than once. Shocking, much unlike the answer to the question who is funding these people?
  • ...will be barely read by anyone 36 hours after it was first posted

    An amazing bit of research; only out by 36 hours.
  • "Barabasi's team calculated the "half-life" of a news document, which corresponds to the period in which half of all visitors that eventually access it have visited. The researchers found that the overall half-life distribution follows a power law, which indicates that most news items have a very short lifetime, although a few continue to be accessed well beyond this period. The average half-life of a news item is just 36 hours, or one and a half days after it is released. While this is short, it is longer
  • Users found uninteresting in about .036 seconds...

  • Politics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Raleel (30913)
    This is why badnews in politics is always released late on friday. By Monday, everyone has ignored it.
  • If only you would have waited 35.5 more hours, we could have proved the articals facts true or false
  • by gilroy (155262) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:09PM (#15692170) Homepage Journal
    I've read the linked article but not the actual Phys Rev paper, so I'm likely blowing smoke but...

    • The "news cycle" is 24 hours, due to historical roots in daily newspapers (augmented by the evening news, etc.) Assume for the moment that people stay interested in a news story. After a day, if the story is ongoing, the original article is likely to be replaced by an update. Real-life example: Over the weekend, the NY Times Science section had these stories in a row: "Shuttle astronauts complete spacewalk", "shuttle astronauts inspect tiles", "shuttle Discovery meets space station", "shuttle Discovery set for launch". (paraphrased) Clearly, the first story in the list is the most recent and, were I looking for news on the Discovery, I'd probably click that one. Even if I really liked the Times' coverage of the rendez-vous, I'm not likely to read that article again if a new one has been posted. Does that mean I've "lost interest" in the shuttle?
    • The results seem drawn from traffic at a particular Hungarian portal and might not have any generalized relevance.
    • Ease of navigation seems important but not addressed. If stories "fall off" the homepage after 36 hours, it would make it look like people were less interested. (Or, really, the fact that some stories are highlit on the front page makes it look like people are more interested than they really are.)

    • After a day, if the story is ongoing, the original article is likely to be replaced by an update. Real-life example: Over the weekend, the NY Times Science section had these stories in a row: "Shuttle astronauts complete spacewalk", "shuttle astronauts inspect tiles", "shuttle Discovery meets space station", "shuttle Discovery set for launch". (paraphrased) Clearly, the first story in the list is the most recent and, were I looking for news on the Discovery, I'd probably click that one.

      That is pretty typi

    • The other thing is that many news articles will recycle old text as they are re-written and modified over those 36 hours or so. If you read an article on a developing story several times, you can see this. Sometimes, if it's not an important issue, you can wait 24-36 hours after a Reuters story is first posted, and read all the original and updated text.
    • You're completely right. This is psychology done by physicist. Hell, how do they dare to generalize given only one website, and not even a big international one at that?

      Plus, judging from the summary, they didn't separate the articles. Of course, a large group of articles is going to be read only a few times, and a small group is going to be read very often. Zipf already told us so. I can't understand the site, but if they keep some stories longer on the page than others, the effect is entirely explained.

      A
  • Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by wfberg (24378) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:14PM (#15692207)
    Good luck in explaining the spike in traffic 3 full days after the article was posted.

    Suckers!
    • Good luck in explaining the spike in traffic 3 full days after the article was posted.

      And then there will be another spike two days after that!

      Web-physicists call it "The Slashdupe Effect".
  • 1. If you go on vacation, and spend the usual two to four weeks relaxing, ignoring all the news except maybe browsing the headlines one day a week, as I frequently do, does the news not have equal importance? In other words, perhaps most of what we call "news" is temporary by nature, and grows less relevant with the passage of time. Please note this doesn't relate to medical/health/science news, as I've read many scientific papers from years ago that are just as relevant today as they were then. Also, fo
  • ...to be studying this sort of thing. In any subject where the laws of Physics apply, physicists are very well suited to look at the data. Since humans are so prone to actions that defy any logic or reason, a behavioral psychologist would be better suited to have an opinion. Let's pose this question back to Steven Hawking.
  • Being so smart and everything, you'd think they would have bothered to check how many new articles usually appear on Slashdot in a 36 hour period. I once tried running an RSS feed reader for a while with links to only a few sites, but quickly became so inundated with interesting stories to read that I was soon wasting way too much time. Living in this Internet, information society, immersed in so much new data every day, it's almost as easy to forget it all again; that's why advertisers keep hammering at yo
  • If you think you're reading the news, be warned that this story -- and any other on the web -- will be barely read by anyone 36 hours after it was first posted.
    ------------
    In Europe, where Cialis has been studied longer, the drug is dubbed the "weekend pill," because its effects last up to 36 hours.


    I just thought this was funny.
  • Silly me, I thought that the word news contained the word new, meaning that it isn't news if it isn't new. I am glad that a team of scientists was able to study this coorelation.
  • Exponent? Power? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ch-chuck (9622) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:33PM (#15692328) Homepage
    Color me ignorant, but I thought exponentials and powers were the same thing?
    Or are they talking about natural exp -vs- a higher order power, like 4 or 5?

    • Any rate that decays continuously with a half-life can be described by a function of the form C*e^(-kt) where t is time, C is the initial rate (at t = 0), and the constant k = ln(2)/(half life), with half-life measured in the same units as time.

      A power law relationship is something of the form y = A*t^k, which cannot be used to model a rate with a half life, since the time to reduce the rate by half depends on where you start, and increases as time increases.

      Also any exponential function (with negative k) e
    • Re:Exponent? Power? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DaoudaW (533025) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:08PM (#15692595)
      The difference is whether the independent variable is the base or the exponent. A power function is something like f(x)=x^(.5) whereas an exponential function could be f(x)= (.5)^x.
    • Exponential: 1^2, 2^2, 3^2, 4^2, 5^2...

      Power law: 5, 5^2, 5^3, 5^4, 5^5...
  • ...find it strange that we have physicists doing research about news story lifespans? How is this relevant to physics?
  • "To get a fuller understanding of such networks, Barabási and colleagues decided to study the visiting patterns on a popular Hungarian news and entertainment portal..."

    I didn't know that popular Hungarian sites existed.

    That's the first flaw in this study. They need a better cross-section of sites, preferably not popular Hungarian sites...
  • My interest in the article decreased quite powerfully as I read the opening paragraph!
  • by toupsie (88295) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:41PM (#15692385) Homepage
    Missing blond females seem to stay in the news a lot longer than 36 hours. Most of the advertising revenue of the cable news networks is based on blond female becoming missing. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC would be reduced to covering real news if it weren't for them. I wouldn't be surprised if most weren't missing due to a conspiracy of cable news producers preying on them. They all those news vans just sitting around.
  • The article says the equation to describe how interest in a news story drops off over time is not as is expected. But there are no equations in the story. They do not have an equation for the old model or for the new model for how interest in a story drops off!

    This is just lame reporting of science news.

  • Lets see..."If you think you're reading the news, be warned that this story -- and any other on the web -- will be barely read by anyone 36 hours after it was first posted. [*yawn*] That's the message from a team of statistical physicists who have analysed how people access information online. [*scratch*] Albert-László..."...huh? Pay attention to what now?
  • by nigham (792777) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:51PM (#15692455) Homepage
    Physics is the science of nature, and I don't think human nature is included.
  • by mantar (941076)
    I'm sorry... you lost me somewhere around "Statistical physicists"...
  • by pla (258480) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:04PM (#15692574) Journal
    Okay, folks - Since I have yet to see any non-humor comments on this topic, I'll break the ice. From TFA:
    Thanks to automatically assigned "cookies", the scientists were able to reconstruct the browsing history of about 250,000 visitors to the site over the course of a month.
    [... and ...]
    Although the average half-life varies for different types of sites, the decay laws identified are likely to be generic because they do not depend on content, but are manly determined by a user's visiting and browsing patterns.
    So, what do we see here?

    This trend depends on user browsing patterns rather than content, but also depends on users allowing cookies to live for not only longer than one browsing session, but for a full month.

    Thus, much like that classic problem of proving the external validity of any research done by a college psych department on their own undergrads (which usually results in 80-90% female and at least half freshman participants), this study has a pretty glaring flaw - It only really says anything about MSIE users (and even then, only MSIE users dumb enough not to use some form of cookie management) rather than users in general. While that almost certainly includes the majority of visitors to many sites, it doesn't safely extend to the larger population of all web surfers.



    Additionally, I would point out one more glaring source of error... It fails to normalize each unit of time against the remaining base of users - So, for example, if 90% of the regular visitors to a site see an article within an hour of posting, that leaves only 10% (plus the negligibly-small number that re-read the same article over and over, except on Slashdot where you can use FP refreshes as a solid measure of workday boredom). That, IMO, says far more about how long the typical (MSIE-qualified as above) user can go without a news fix, rather than how long an article remains interesting.
    • I'm sure the fact that they only looked at data from origo.hu is a larger source of bias than the fact that they only looked at IE users. But I don't think that's a reason to write off the results entirely -- just a reason to take them with a grain of salt. I think it's reasonable to guess that if the distribution follows a power law for Hungarian IE users, then it also follows a power law for American Linux users (though the mean may be a little off).

      It fails to normalize each unit of time against the re

  • by Nurf (11774) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:09PM (#15692604) Homepage
    If you read the article, it says the distribution of half-lives of stories decreases as a power law, not that hit rates on stories decrease as a power law.

    Half lives are a measurement of exponential decay. Individual stories still decrease in hits exponentially over time. If you look at lots of stories, the decays are distributed according to a power law.

    The article directly contradicts the Slasdot summary.

    Hits on stories do decrease exponentially.

    I am stunned that I am the only one so far who seems to have picked up on this. Did anyone actually read the article, or did they just read into it what they were told they would see?
    • Actually, the PhysicsWeb article is confusing in itself. The first (bold) paragraph says that "the number of people who read news stories on the web decays with time in a power law". The sixth paragraph says that "the overall half-life distribution follows a power law". Perhaps both statements are true, perhaps one of them is inaccurate.

      The professor's website [nd.edu] doesn't seem to mention this research, so we can't tell what the actual findings were.

  • from the end of tfa:

    "How the priors are themselves constructed in the mind has yet to be investigated in detail. Obviously they are learned by experience, but the exact process is not properly understood. Indeed, some people suspect that the parsimony of Bayesian reasoning leads occasionally to it going spectacularly awry, with whatever process it is that forms the priors getting further and further off-track rather than converging on the correct distribution.

    That might explain the emergence of superstitiou
  • I do wonder whether the authors really "expected" the distribution of the numbers of readers to be exponential ... I only follow this literature for curiosity's sake, but even so I've read quite a few papers lately finding power law distributions in various human communication networks (emails, letters, social groups), social animal groups, etc. The results describing power laws in various cuts of the Internet are also very well known. As some of the studies suggest, power laws arise in "bursty" communicati
  • by idlake (850372) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:49PM (#15692860)
    How interest in news items evolves over time, how it depends on communication, links, and recommendations, has been the subject of research for decades. E-commerce sites use detailed models of this in order to determine when to remove items from the front page.

    It is true that many people use exponential decay models, but that's not because they don't know any better, it's because exponential decay is computationally simple and works well enough. It's like using a linear approximation to a non-linear problem.

    I think it's pretty telling that Barabási is publishing this in physics journals, not in statistics or web-related publications. This may be news to physicists, but it isn't news to anybody who actually works in the field and knows their stuff. The reviewers at Phys. rev. simply aren't qualified to determine whether this kind of work is novel and correct.
  • welcome our statistically insignificant overlords -- for the next 36 hours or so I guess.
  • That these "statistical physicists" are really just "social scientists" who have worked out that everyone has twigged that "social science" is not scientific at all and are looking for renewed credibility.

    (Speaking as a physicist)
  • With "exponential" just a special case with the base being e?

  • ... I didn't RTFA... well, not all of it anyway.
  • Duh. (Score:4, Funny)

    by StikyPad (445176) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:00PM (#15695379) Homepage
    Current tags: boring, slownewsday, yawn, uninteresting and duh.

    Put another way: Slashdot -- Now with 20% real nerds!
  • 'If it bleeds, it leads'

    A tired old newsmedia saying imortalized by Kelsey Grammer's Robert Hawkins in 15 MINUTES [imdb.com] proves that nothing drives ratings up like death and misfortune.

    Just look at just 3 historical events to generate 'wall to wall' coverage...

    The President Kennedy Assasinaton (1963-11-22)

    The Challenger disaster (1986-01-28)

    and of course

    9/11 (2001-09-11)

    I've only seen snippets of the Kennedy Assasination coverage on TV mostly from archival footage so I can't comment.

    For the Challenger disaster I h

It is surely a great calamity for a human being to have no obsessions. - Robert Bly

Working...