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Why NYT and Yahoo News’ need to track their stories is losing them readers

Aug 2005

Have you ever wondered why so few people bookmark New York Times stories on del.icio.us? I mean they hardly ever appear on the del.icio.us popular list. Not even the recent Karl Rove stories. There is a simple reason. If you have a look at the end of the url of each NYT story, there is a unique session id stuck on it (after .html). It serves no purpose except for NYT to track which pages you visit on the nyt.com site. But not everyone has the patience or the know-how to remove the unique session id data before they post the article to del.icio.us so that only the real url remains.

That means the same article may get posted to del.icio.us hundreds or thousands of times, but because the url is different every time, del.icio.us assumes they are all unique web pages because del.icio.us tracks them by url. As a result, it will appear as if the article has been unpopular.

This is not to say that NY Times articles don’t get passed around. They do. But only when some really popular site like Kottke or Techdirt has linked to them. Then the url they used (with the unique id) will get posted and re-posted. The unique id is great for tracking the popularity of stories and the flow of traffic on nyt.com, but the stories would be even more popular if people knew they were popular. That’s the whole point behind social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us. To share articles you liked and to read articles recommended by others.

But NYT is not the only purveyor of this mistake. Yahoo News also adds an unnecessary user session id to the end of its urls. So no matter how many times their stories get posted to Fark.com or Metafilter.com, they never make the popular list either. It’s unnecessary because it would be just as simple to embed any user id into their webpages when they are dynamically being generated. And although it isn’t their problem, the admins of del.icio.us could take the initiative to strip session ids from urls. Why, because superfluous data is being added by their users into their database and this is causing errors in the popularity of articles on their site. So there are a few possible solutions, but it doesn’t look like any one is going to make the first move. So it’s up to you. The next time you post a NYT or Yahoo News article to Del.icio.us, please do remember to strip off the unique session id first.

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