In a very clever piece on Medium titled “29 Reasons You’re Reading This Article,” Gilad Lotan, the chief data scientist for New York’s Betaworks, has concluded that 29 is the optimal number for a Buzzfeed listicle.

Save room on the shelf for that Nobel Prize next year, Gilad!

Lotan noted about the famous silly lists that have propelled Buzzfeed to the top of the online content heap:

“If we look the bar chart by audience score we see a completely different picture  —  odd-number-length listicles (highlighted in red below) tend to have a higher audience score on average, where in our dataset, the number 29 tends to have an advantage over the rest.”

Those paradigms of modern journalismism include “29 GIFs That Might Get You Pregnant,” “29 Totally Adorable Etsy Items for People Who Really Love Wombats, “29 England Things That Are England-ing So Hard Right Now,” and — stop the presses — “29 Times Siri Was a Bit of a Dick.”

Here’s one of the interesting charts Lotan uses about audience score:

Actually, it is a super interesting post, with Lotan making clear this kind of data-cruching has bigger implications:

As a data scientist I am tasked with finding techniques to optimize performance, not only for algorithms, but for businesses. Part of the commonly used tactics involves this type of behavioral analysis, comparing datasets based on parameters that may be descriptors of the data itself (such as listicle length) or based on user metadata (your typical user segmentation). By building a recommendation system that gets users to interact with more content than they typically would have and spend more time on my site, am I crossing an ethical boundary? What if I tweak the recommendation system to affect user purchase behavior? Or emotional state?”

Just ask Facebook about that thorny issue.




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