When news becomes old

Author: John Monczunski

If news is posted on the Internet, it is considered old after 36 hours, says Albert-Lászlo Barabási, Notre Dame professor of physics. With colleagues in Hungary, he conducted a study of how people acquire information from the web.

In an article published recently in the journal Physical Review E, the Notre Dame expert on complex networks and his co-authors report that within a day-and-a-half of an article’s posting, half of its total readership will have read it. While that may seem like a short shelf life, it’s much longer than the two to four hours conventional wisdom would predict.

The physicists reached their conclusions by reconstructing the month-long browsing history of 250,000 visitors to a popular Hungarian news and entertainment website. To protect the privacy of the website’s visitors, the researchers were supplied with numbers rather than Internet addresses.

The study also revealed that people read news articles in bursts rather than uniformly throughout the day. Barabási has found this same distinctive burst of activity in correspondence and phone-call patterns. “What we find when we look at one particular individual is not uniform in time,” the Notre Dame physicist said in a New York Times article on his research. “There are short periods of lots of clicks and then long periods of nothing.”