The Formula for a Most-Emailed Story

Friday, February 25, 2011


What motivates people to want to share a newspaper article with a friend, co-worker or grandma? What makes some stories climb to the top of the "most e-mailed list"? Professors Katherine Milkman and Jonah Berger studied The New York Times' most e-mailed list for months, combing through thousands of articles. They discovered a surprising characteristic of most “most e-mailed” stories. Professor Milkman explains.

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Comments [11]

Jonathan from US

Glad to see I'm not the only one who had this reaction...

Just because an article is forwarded does not mean that it is more interesting, or even more widely read. It simply means it’s more likely to be forwarded. People often forward me articles that I don’t find interesting at all. Likewise, I read a lot of interesting articles I never forward. I generally don’t forward articles at all. I have dozens of friends, but only a few of them regularly forward articles. These “friends who forward” are all good people, but hardly a representative group.

Additionally, I have to wonder if there is some correlation between this small demographic of “people who forward”, and the fact that most forwarded articles are authored by women. In my circle, most of the “people who forward” are women. Might it be that they’re more likely to relate to articles written by other women?

Mar. 07 2011 09:35 PM
another defensive dude from

yea what they said

Mar. 04 2011 06:49 PM
John Spillane

cut/paste "your", ugggh

Mar. 01 2011 11:47 AM
John Spillane

Katherine, you're sample is completely screwed because you excluded an entire demo of males 15-45 who would never in their right mind use the "email story" function when they can copy and paste the link.

Even if women aren't just inherently more likely to share an article it's indisputable that they would be more likely to use the email function given that they focus less on the technical aspects of the web than men (which may be a good thing).

People email articles whose voice they identify with, i.e. women are more apt to email an article written by a women. You sounded extremely intelligent, it's too bad that's drowned out by your ignoring the obvious in favor of rolling out the "jump to conclusions" mat. Your theory about female employees of the NYT , however grossly unsupported by this evidence, is probably even sound/true.

Congrats on your attempt to further the gender equality only to achieve the opposite.

Mar. 01 2011 11:46 AM
Tom Hart from CA

The most interesting thing (I thought) about this interview was that the single most important factor in whether an article was shared or not was if it "inspired awe." That statement alone "inspired" me to download the podcast for curating at home. ;)
Too bad there's no "Like This" button for OTM shows so I could more easily share it with my creative friends on Facebook...

Feb. 28 2011 03:24 PM
Leo Roberts from Los Angeles

It is not only Web Savvy readers who don't use the website's function.

If one want to send the article to a number of people and does not have all the email addresses memorized (or just does not want to type them all out), or has pre-configured lists, using one's own email client is far easier.

This study ONLY measures those that use the web interface, likely sending to only one person at a time who's email address they have on hand.

This makes the study deeply flawed

Feb. 27 2011 09:06 PM
Ron from Boston

I even taught a friend who couldn't figure how to move the cursor express to the end of a line how to forward a link to a story without giving out my email address.

You need to know how to do that to send friends links to the vast majority of sites that don't have an "email this story" feature anyway.

Feb. 27 2011 03:22 PM
Mike Barrett from United States

Bill, I think what Jeff is referring to is the cost benefit of using an email function on a website, compared to emailing a link. The cost of using the website, is giving your email address and your friends email address to a third party who may sell it. The benefit is that you don't have to paste the url in to an email message. While I might be willing to take that risk with my own email address (if I didn't have my email program already open) I wouldn't take that risk with a friend's email address.

Also, while the possible explanations Dr. Milkman proposed are reasonable, the fact that sample bias wasn't even considered in the analysis is suspect. It may be that women are more likely to forward articles and more likely to read women writers. On the other hand, it may be that women writers are more likely to allow themselves to express their "awe" and therefore prompt the impulse to forward the article.

Feb. 27 2011 11:11 AM
Bill Michtom from Portland, OR

Jeff, "Web savvy users just send links." Do you have evidence to support this? "Web savvy users"" might just as well click on an "email this" link because, like Mt. Everest, it is there.

Daniel, while I suspect you might apply ideological blinders to these studies, too, here is some research that supports Dr. Milkman's statement:
Women in Congress outperform men on some measures, Harris School study finds | The University of Chicago
Women in media, underpaid but more qualified - Opportunity Now

And you use what research or other evidence to support "This is just nothing more than leftist male-bashing"?

Feb. 26 2011 09:12 PM
Jeff Smith from NY, NY

Who uses the email article function? Web saavy users just send links. Thst's what has inadvertently been measured.

Feb. 26 2011 12:37 PM

I was both amused and offended at Professor Katherine Milkman's suggestion that women have to be more qualified for a job in order to be hired. This is just nothing more than leftist male-bashing. The idea that men have it easy and are not qualified for their job is offensive to me. On the other hand it is amusing to comtemplate the idea that the enlightened, politically correct, and liberal New York Times discriminates against women.

Another hypothesis not considered could be that those peple shring storeis are leftist male-bashers like your guest. It would be helpful to know the gender of the people who shared those stories. It would also be insightful to conduct this experiment by blanking out the name of the author.

Feb. 26 2011 10:55 AM

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