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Gordon Cameron

It’s not just another Internet fish tale, I swear

I received an email from Stoney Creek News editor Mike Pearson last week drawing my attention to the fact that a story he wrote on an Ontario government program to allow residents to fish without a licence for a week had received 690 “likes” on Facebook. (As of press time that number was up to 1,360.) Naturally, I immediately went into our analytics package to see how that translated into visits to our website and I was amazed to discover that in the five-and-a-half days the story had been on our site, it had generated almost 20 per cent of the total pageviews.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. People like fishing, people like free so put the two together and voilà, pageview gold.

But I have to admit, even though I’m paid to know what stories our readers want, I was a little shocked by the reach of this little piece.

What’s truly amazing is that things like this happen all the time.

Last year’s most clicked story was an interview Mountain News editor Gord Bowes did with Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson. Now, I enjoy “Thick as a Brick” as much as the next guy, but unlike the other nine of the top 10 stories, it had no local connection beyond Anderson playing at Hamilton Place.

When I was working in Toronto I’d notice every couple of months a decade old story about the closing of a neighbourhood video store would start creeping up the list of most viewed content. Naturally, this got me curious and I asked my colleagues (none of whom even remembered the story), I searched online for the names of the people involved, the name of the shop and anything else that might lead me to discover the answer to this enigma, but to this day I still don’t know why people were interested in it.

The biggest pageview surprise came in 2009 also when I was working in Toronto, and came from the most unlikely of sources: a calendar of events listing.

Events are popular and in fact our events page consistently ranks as our second most viewed page on our website, but this was well beyond what was to be expected.

This one event increased our number of visitors by 180 per cent over the previous month and caused a 39 per cent increase in total pageviews. (The next month the number of visitors increased by a further 55 per cent and pageviews by a further 39 per cent.) To put that into perspective, it wasn’t until the 2010 municipal election over a year later that the site saw comparable numbers.
The event in question was for Shen Yun Performing Arts and was sponsored, in part, by the Falun Dafa Association of Toronto. Falun Dafa (a.k.a. Falun Gong) is a suppressed group in China where it just so happens that almost all of the event’s hits originated. I don’t know if the visitors were trying to find information on the banned practice, or if the traffic came from government sources trying to figure out if we were a subversive organization, but it shattered all previous records.

The next year, when a similar event was posted, no one seemed to care.

I guess Internet users are fickle.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News

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