Sometimes, a ‘wisdom of crowds algorithm’ needs the wisdom of a lone editor

A five-day old story is popular with readers, yet the "news" has lapped that story.

The website of the Wall Street Journal,, has a feature most news sites have, a leader board that ranks the popularity of articles on the site. The ranks “Most Popular” by articles Read, Emailed, and Commented on. It also has a ranking of videos that are being watched.

Sometimes, such algorithmic determinants of popularity go nuts, however. Like now, for example. A few minutes ago (Tue., Feb. 21 and 3:52 ET), I snapped the accompanying screen grab showing that the #2 most popular “read” article now on is one dated Feb. 16 at 12:58 ET with the headline, “Colbert Report Suspended.

Anyone not living under a rock (which apparently a lot of readers do) knows that, according to the WSJ and every other news outlet on the web, Colbert’s show is back on the air.

Leader boards of trending or popular news stories can be helpful in giving you an idea of what people are interested in.

But as my favorite online “popularity tracking” algorithmist, Gabe Rivera of Techmeme, MediaGazer,, et al, discovered a long time ago, even algorithms that track popularity of content need a little editing now and then.

  • Don’t disagree with your premise, but to be fair, it’s showing “most popular” not “most recent.” It is noteworthy to see what other humans on a website have consumed, even if said consumable was produced 5 days earlier.

    Your overall point, though, is absolutely well taken.

  • I think we agree – and you’re right — it’s clearly not marked as something “trending” — that would suggest both a time frame AND popularity. I just think there’s something that’s a bit of a disservice to the reader when events overtake a newsstory’s accuracy — but when the less accurate story is the one getting promoted on such a list. It’s an interesting dilemma, if nothing else..  That’s why I mentioned Techmeme. They’ve discovered that democracy may not always work best when it comes to helping readers discover what’s both popular *and* timely..

  • Totally agree – let the bots serve up some options, and have a human make the final call. Plus, it’s still somehow nice to know that someone made a decision for me. They’ve sifted through the bots work and plucked out the relevant, timely and popular piece. Yes sir, we do agree! 

    And after reading tons of your posts, I think these are my first comments here!

  • For months, the #1 “most popular” story at has been a November 8 story on firing people.