I read an interesting study published by bitly recently that I both wanted to share and examine. The study considered the length of time that internet users remain interested in links that are shared across various vehicles, e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the rate which that interested declines. Appropriately, the term dedicated to the phenomenon of a link’s fading interest is “link decay.”
Take a look at this image:

The link that the above graph represents is to a story about a baby orphaned otter that is befriended by kittens. The two vertical grey lines represent the period of time that is known as a link’s “half-life.” A link’s half-life is the duration of time in which a link will experience half of the clicks that it will experience over the course of its entire life (life meaning the amount of time it will exist on the internet).  The half-life of the baby otter link is 70 minutes.
The next image represents a link of a different nature:

The title of the above link is “East Coast earthquake: 5.8 magnitude epicenter hits Virginia.” The contrast of the two stories is self-evident. However, the trajectory of the two graphs is surprisingly similar (save the fact that the half-life of this link was only 5 minutes).
Bitly hypothesized that the disparities both in click volume and in link half-life could be explained by the nature of the links themselves, i.e., “with a very timely event” as opposed to the story about an orphaned otter: more people are interested in current events but lose interest quickly as time moves away from the event in contrast to the more universal and temporal appeal of a story about an orphaned otter.
That was only part of the story. Take a look at bitly’s density graph below:

It turns out that vehicle of distribution plays a more significant role than the nature of the content. Popular social sites have a mean link half-life of between 2.8 hours (twitter), and 3.2 hours (facebook). The following remarks from bitly capture what unfolded next, “The surprise in the graph above is links that originate from youtube: these links have a half life of 7.4 hours! As clickers, we remain interested in links on youtube for a much longer period of time. You can see this dramatic difference between youtube and the other platforms for sharing links in the image above.”
Businesses everywhere are constantly attempting to determine what the best vehicles are for delivering their content to their audiences. What we’re learning in the industry is that content distribution strategies need to take into account not just the target audience and the nature of the content, but how the content fits into the chosen vehicle. It seems evident that distribution strategies for content created for the purposes of living for a long time should be carefully distinguished from other, more time-sensitive strategies.
**images are the property of bitly**
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