How Snopes and Google Kill Chain Email

In 2011 I received a copy of the Warren Buffett chain e-mail from a neighbor. It read as something that could be plausible but was obviously canned and many of its assertions seemed incorrect. With coffee flowing and my lawyer instincts in full gear I decided to research and rebutt the e-mail. After the original draft became large, I decided to clean it up and posted it to this blog. After Google picked it up it quickly began drawing traffic. However a few weeks ago I noticed a big drop-off in my visitors. Using Google’s tools I have developed a theory about what happened.

The following graph gives a general idea of what the traffic to my blog looks like: Google Webmaster Tools for

The spike in impressions and clicks you see peaks on October 4, 2013 and then traffic plummets by the end of October. I reviewed Google Analytics which told me that during the week of the spike the landing page had 609 visits, compared to the second best performing page at 106 then 100, 73, and 55 during the same week. In other words for about one week my website hit the Google lottery.1

I was happy to see visits to the blog increase but then sad to see them collapse. After hitting the lottery the visits dropped off. I wondered why there was this explosion in interest then a sudden collapse. According to Google Webmaster Tools the search position of my result did not change dramatically over time. This meant that people should be seeing my website when they search for the email title and text.

So the next tool in my toolbox was Google Trends. Google Trends is a great tool for seeing general interest in a search term. I inputted the keywords that Google Webmaster Tools told me people were using to find my site and it quickly became obvious:

There was a spike in interest among United States searchers in the chain email. This was followed by a dramatic collapse. Why would this occur? On Oct 2, 2013 snopes updated their article on this topic. It appears that snopes new treatment was read by searchers, widely publicized and shared on social media, and killed the chain email.

While I am disappointed to no longer be receiving as much traffic to the blog, this turn of events does give me some renewed faith in people. While an obscure blogger like me only made some small waves in killing this rumor, a site with a big reputation and lots of traffic managed to put it to bed.

  1. I also hit the Google lottery with a page about a Tweetbot error that spiked interest when Tweetbot went down back in June. 

Planet Money's T-Shirt Project

An awesome web production from NPR.

Open Government is a Value that Liberals and Conservatives Share

Some excerpts from today’s Hartford Courant starting with their editorial:

The panel is stacked with officials indifferent if not hostile to the freedom of information ethic. Any compromise they might negotiate with the minority FOI advocates on the task force could not help but give too much away to those most comfortable with letting government operate behind closed doors.

Colin McEnroe:

Wednesday brought a meeting of the Freedom of Information task force, whose very existence and composition is an attack on open government and whose current dialogue amounts to: “Which of your existing rights would you prefer to surrender?” The answer “none” appears to be off the table.

And finally Kevin Rennie:

The Danbury prosecutor’s taste for secrecy contains other dangers. It emboldens the nasty loons who arise after every public tragedy to give voice to denials that the event ever happened. Governments that disdain public access laws feed rampant suspicion and countenance lawlessness.

Privacy and open government are two areas where liberals and conservatives can come together because they are values that both share. The questions are not always easy, but this is not a case of the government peering into your bedroom or sharing private facts about individuals with the public. There is strong precedent for releasing the kind of information the Courant is seeking, and I have seen little evidence to suggest it has caused trouble in the past. When tragedies happen the only thing we can do is grieve and learn from them. It would be a shame if we were denied the ability to do even that.

Kickstarter for The Magazine

One of the publications I enjoy is The Magazine which has been described as The New Yorker for nerds. Started by Instapaper and Tumblr Founder Marco Arment, The Magazine publishes several medium to long articles every other week. If you have not had a chance to read The Magazine I recommend checking out their Kickstarter project where they are raising money to publish many of the articles in a physical book.

Should Stores Open on Thanksgiving?

My friend Matt Lesser recently proposed a bill to discourage retailers from opening on Thanksgiving. Although some people suggested Connecticut ban stores from opening the way Massachusetts does, Lesser proposed forcing employers to pay their employees triple overtime if they work on Thanksgiving. This would discourage the practice without banning it. It has been interesting to read the backlash including the Courant editorial page but I still agree with Lesser on this.

It was only a little while ago that independent liquor stores were lobbying to keep in a place a law that barred alcohol sales on Sundays. Their argument was that it gave them a day off and they did not experience greater profits by opening on Sunday since most people would just buy their liquor on Saturday. I see no reason why this principle would not translate to Black Friday shopping. I have yet to see the data but I doubt retailers make more money by opening early if all of them do so.

Some have argued that it is fine because people in the armed services or in essential professions work on Thanksgiving. I think that having those people work on the holiday is less objectionable because they are essential and they get into the profession understanding they will be needed. For many, retail is a job of last resort. Retail employees taking Thanksgiving off will not endanger the public.

Finally regardless of whether it is good for the workers, as a shopper I dislike the creeping of the store openings into the holiday. I would prefer to shop on Friday and I would prefer the deals be available then. So I am declining to shop tonight. I will probably do most of my shopping online and may hit up some stores tomorrow.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.