I may no longer be a Virgo. And you may no longer be an Aries, or a Taurus or a Scorpio or whatever. Now that may not exactly be earth-shattering news to you, but apparently it is to many of the people on Facebook. A story about the signs of the Zodiac scored three – not just one, but three – of the top 40 spots on Facebook’s list of the most shared articles in 2011. Now, if you accept the idea that what people search for, and share, on the Internet gives an insight into the culture and psyche of people, what does that say to you? You have to wonder.
But take heart. Not all of the stories shared are so debatable. Five of the stories deal with parenting – six, if you count the Yahoo video of the father daughter dancing at the daughter’s wedding. Four of those stories are from CNN – what teachers really want to tell parents; parents – don’t dress your girls like tramps; permissive parents – curb your brats; and a Father’s Day wish – Dads, wake the hell up. The fifth story, and the only one from the Wall Street Journal to make the list, was “why Chinese mothers are superior.” I didn’t count the story about the Toronto parents who decided to raise their child “genderless.” Even though it has the word “parent” in it. It’s more of just a strange story.
Oddly enough there aren’t many of those odd stories. The two standouts are the capture of a humongous crocodile in the Philippines and people in China dyeing their pets to look like wild animals. And, in a way, that’s what the Zodiac story is. In brief, the story is that the original signs of the Zodiac were based on the configuration of the stars in Babylonian times. The earth has shifted in the past several millennia and the alignment of the stars and their corresponding dates have shifted as well.
There are some ‘normal’ stories that you would expect to be shared amongst the 800 million people who subscribe to Facebook. Three of the 40 most-shared stories from Facebook were about Steve Jobs – the CNN report of his death, a listing by The New York Times of all the patents Jobs had, and the very touching eulogy by his long-lost sister, also written for the Times. Three of the stories dealt with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. So, yes, you would expect them to make the list.
But for you journalists, writers and researchers reading Like The Dew, the real lesson in all this is that the actual content may not be as important as how that content is distributed. Exactly half of the 40 articles were stories that were aggregated, that came from a secondary source, not the primary source. Of course the flip side of that factoid is that only half of the stories that got such a wide distribution were from the original, or primary, source. It’s a variation of the old writer’s warning that you could write the greatest novel in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if nobody reads it.
For example, the three sources cited for the Zodiac stories are CNN, The Huffington Post, and the Washington Post. But if you follow the links to the actual websites and do a little digging, you soon realize that all three stories really originated with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. CNN and the Washington Post at least give credit to the Star Tribune. The Huffington Post actually gives credit to NBC2 in New York City which, of course, got it from the Star Tribune. Now, how would you feel if you were the editor at the Star Tribune?
Six sources accounted for all 40 of the stories shared. The biggest sharing site was Yahoo with 12 stories. Not surprisingly, not a single story was original with Yahoo. Many of them were credited to writers in what they call The Lookout which, I take it, is a section on “the lookout” for stories. What was surprising though was that in at least a quarter of the cases, the Yahoo writer did not even attempt to give credit to the original source even though it was clearly not original with them. Tsk, tsk, tsk, shame on you. Maybe even more surprising, two of the three Washington Post stories came from other sources – as noted earlier, the Star Tribune in the story about the Zodiac – and (I find this funny) The New York Times in the other article which graphically depicted the deficits created by the Obama and Bush administrations.
The fact that the most popular articles on the Internet come from aggregation sources may not be earth-shattering news either. Just like news about the Zodiac signs being wrong may not be earth-shattering. All I know is that I don’t want to be a Leo, the sign before Virgo, although it would be kind of cool since Leo’s are supposed to be trend setters or adventurers; and I don’t want to be a Libra, the sign after Virgo, since they’re apparently always looking for their Prince or Princess. I want to stay a Virgo since, according to the website psychicguild, we Virgos are caring and sensitive people who are like “rare and special orchids.” I just wish the content sources on the Internet were kept rare and special, or at least, treated with care and sensitivity.