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Goats, condoms and paper clips

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 12:49 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Close observers of the BBC News website's "most popular" box might have noticed a rich crop of unusual - and usually old - stories appearing in the past week or two. Examples include Woman jailed for testicle attack, E-mail error ends up on road sign, Condoms 'too big' for Indian men and Man turns paper clip into house.

In 2006, a certain story about a Sudanese goat resurfaced long after it had first been in the news and my colleague Adam Curtis wrote about how the viral potential of the web makes it hard to predict which stories readers will tell their friends about.

We've seen odd stories resurface from time to time - but lately the increased number of such old stories prompted us to investigate further.

We think we've worked out what's going on. Our front page usually shows you the "most shared" list, while pages for individual news stories show you the "most read". In the process of upgrading some of the software which publishes our site, we started to show you "most shared" on story pages as well as the front.

This means that any odd eye-catching story from the archive has been displayed on many more pages than it would normally have been, with the result that more people than normal have read it, more people than normal have then shared it with their friends, and the higher it has then climbed in the rankings.

We're now putting things back the way they were - though doubtless it won't be long before the Sudanese goat makes another appearance, one way or another.

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Mind you, one of the delights of the BBC website is that virtually everything posted there remains accessible. As an e-learning specialist, I know that referencing a BBC news story or feature is going to provide a resource that students can access for years to come, not just while the item in question is a current hot topic!

  • Comment number 2.

    I knew there was something up! I also knew (call me cynical) that the explanation the BBC gave me on Friday was incorrect! I'm glad I'm not the only person sad enough to notice it!

  • Comment number 3.

    This problem has again proved the utter worthlessness of such 'features', and placing the a URL within such a list surely causes a self-fulfilling prophecy...

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm just waiting for the first of our regular posters to come online and claim that the goat once worked in a Labour Party office as a temporary clerk for 6 weeks, and that therefore this incident is further proof of the "Lefty bias" of the BBC...

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Oh alright.
    I thought the goat's intestines had neen turned ito condoms which then was traded for a paper clip that Jack built.

    [sorry, I was going to include the ''woman jailed for testicle attack' but was overcome by a blushing sensation]

  • Comment number 7.

    I wondered why old fun stories had resurfaced, thanks for the explanation. I was wondering about these, almost equivalents of urban myths. Goats are tenacious beasts, I half-thought that they were setting to eat the other stories..

  • Comment number 8.

    Actually I quite enjoyed the slight randomness of it all! After all, what's life without the odd story of a Sudanese goat thrown in at an inappropriate spot? :)

  • Comment number 9.

    What's rather unfortunate (that is, unfortunate as in "Schadenfreude") is that other "news" sites pick up on the stories. The Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten did that recently with the "Email error ends up on road sign" story. [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    The original was published by the BBC on 31 October 2008(!) and the sign in question has long since been replaced.

  • Comment number 10.

    That story about the road sign translation appeared on the Radio 4 News Quiz on Friday after being sent in by a reader. Somebody should have probably told them it wasn't a new story!

  • Comment number 11.

    maybe 'tag' old stories (> 12 months?) with some icon/prefix

  • Comment number 12.

    Nice try Giles but why did the stories turn up on the most shared list in the first place. I will accept that they did get shared and after that automation at the BBC took over but was it a legitimate share or is somebody using the BBC to prove the power of their bot-net.

    The stories that you have referenced are the easy ones to remember generally due to a humour angle but others with zero merit have also appeared in the most shared list recently, even at least one Null page.

    Also interestingly the January item "Scammers exploit Apple iPad fever" was the most viewed Technology story for Tuesday and I do not recall it being on the Technology main page.

    Perhaps there was a second shooter on the Grassy Knoll.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't mind these light and silly articles...they break up the newspage,which is often filled with depressing,doomladen and often distressing stuff.Not everyone likes sport and financial pages either...You could fill the pages with little articles about money supply in Slovenia or Canadian plastics I guess,but no one would read them,and it would probably discourage people from visiting the site.

  • Comment number 18.

    How about putting either an age or a year next to the story, e.g. "Sudden Gloat (1999)" or "Condominuiums too small for L.A. (2 years ago)"

  • Comment number 19.

    @ 18 15 Jun 2010, Peter Galbavy

    Very good idea, I see that "Guinness could really be good for you" from 2003 has just resurfaced.

    But there is no way that these are serious -Shares- somebody is gaming the system for their own ends. Looking forward to the story "Lax BBC aids Botnet testing"

  • Comment number 20.

    "4. At 3:47pm on 09 Jun 2010, Khrystalar wrote:
    I'm just waiting for the first of our regular posters to come online and claim that the goat once worked in a Labour Party office as a temporary clerk for 6 weeks, and that therefore this incident is further proof of the "Lefty bias" of the BBC..."

    Its an almost limitless pot of stupid post potential. I'd suggest-

    "Surely the goat would probably going to be culled because of Labours incompetent foot and mouth response or because the Labour party hate the countryside?"

    or

    'Goats, presumably muslim Turkish goats are getting benefits and council housing ahead of good honest British sheep who were born here. This is another example of Labours total failure to limit immigration'

    Being more serious I'll back up post #15. I use chrome and keep having to hit F5 because of "cache errors" on the BBC site. The problem seems to be slow page load rates causing problems.

  • Comment number 21.

    Is ''feeling grumpy is good for you '' the new ''goats, condom and paper clips'' ?

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why not put the year of the story after each story link (if it's not this year?)

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    Why do you not include the date for any clip that is more than 24 hrs old, then every one knows its an old clip?

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    why not try putting proper date after each story...I know a news website which use to do this thing so if a story surfaces people easily figures out that it an old story

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    Well, for what it's worth Reuters, AP, and UPI news outlets have generally had a 'ticker' category that was "odd news", which the BBC (I think) usually consigns to all the tabloids (that's what makes the BBC the BBC, no?). But when there's a series of strange and unusual lead stories underfoot, as there has been for the last month at least, it's only natural that the BBC would have to give in (especially when all this spy hoopla going around!)

    Speaking of that, wasn't the author of "The Men Who Stare At Goats" a former BBC editor? Maybe I'm mistaken and he was just a copy writer. Still, perhaps The Editors know the answer to a question I have about the movie version of that book: Why did the film producers change the author/protagonist (played by E. McGregor) into a Journalist from Ann Arbor in the States when the actual author was a Brit? Is that some kind of British press inside joke? Surely the author and filmmakers didn't mean to imply some freak in Ann Arbor, MI had REAL Jedi type powers? lol. If so, could the BBC Editors find out who the guy is, because I sure would like to learn some of those tricks myself.

    Best,

    Alexander Scott Crawford

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    I agree that there is too much wasted white space. Also sad to see that there are many problems on standards compliant browsers. Some links are late in being updated. Pages can be very slow to load.
    Nice to see the waste of space created by the left navigation menu has been removed.
    Very nice to see long articles are not split into separate pages. Clicking is so much harder work than scrolling: (Sorry about the following wasted white space.)




    SCROLLING
    Click the centre mouse button (Usually the wheel.)
    And move the mouse down a little or a lot as required.
    Click any mouse button to stop it.
    It is easier to do than explain.
    This even works with Internet Explorer!
    (American users do the same except use the center mouse button.)

  • Comment number 35.

    If only you could get rid of the program adverts masquerading as news item so easily.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    If only you could return to the old format. This new format is messy and very unfriendly. I hate it. I'm missing news now because your site is so disjointed and badly planned - is this a new Tory idea to keep people uninformed ?

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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