I love The Economist.

You may scoff at their Web site, but there are few sources that analyze business and world affairs as well or as soberly.

On March 6, they published a story called, “Hold the Front Page,” which described an HP Social Computing Lab study that tried to answer the question: How do you maximize attention for stories on a Web page?

To conduct the experiment, researchers Fang Wu (no relation) and Bernardo Huberman simulated the behavior of stories on Digg, pitting popularity against newness.

They discovered that while a fresh story may drive a lot of traffic at first, there will come a time when story popularity matters more. As I understand the conclusion, exactly when that happens varies from site to site, depending on each site’s reader patterns.

The full text of the Fang-Huberman study (written for scientists), makes for some really interesting reading if your head doesn’t explode over the math, and makes a case for news organizations to study traffic patterns closely.

As The Economist states:

“…You would be wise to learn more about exactly how interest in your stories cools off, if you want to display those stories in a way that will entice the largest number of people to read them.”