I always wanted to write a headline like that.
Stretched Exponential Relaxation is similar to the gradual decay of radioactive material – and as used in this Economist piece – is a perfect way of looking at how stories age. Like radioactive material, they have a half life. But the stretched bit gets at how much of a role other factors have.
Years ago, we described this as a “story getting legs” – as it jumped the average news cycle with non mainstream media continuing and expanding it. Today we have the likes of TechMeme and Digg – who not only extend the story’s half-life, they mash-it, expand it and grow its popularity. Other factors like the time of day a story is posted and the category into which it was posted suddenly become important.
This is where the difference between novelty and popularity – and I would argue, prominence – becomes apparent. You have a novel story – like the one in The Economist – it doesn’t appear popular, or prominent, until the community takes hold of it and mashes-it-up in their own environment. It’s judged against a “river of news”, ranked, tagged and categorized.
This has big ramifications for communicators.
- Are we delivering news and igniting conversations at a time of day optimized for the community. I’m wondering, for instance, if this doesn’t cause everyone to rethink the early morning announcement?
- The social nature of the content and platform onto which information is released suddenly matters.
- The “cascade of conversation” is more important than the point of conversation. To break out of an ever shrinking half-life the volume of conversations matters. As does reader votes.
Bottom-line – the emphasis on storytelling needs to be paired with an emphasis on the mechanics of distribution.