About a week ago I got an alert telling me one of our articles had 3,000 people reading it at the same time.

It’s not weird for one of our articles to have that many concurrents, but it is weird for one from 18 months ago to get that kind of attention.

The article itself, about a father who called the cops on his son, leading to the son’s death, was noteworthy, but I didn’t see any direct reason for such a spike. Yes, there have been headlines around police shootings recently, but the circumstances around this one seemed different.

So I took a look at the article’s history. It turned out that this spike hadn’t just happened because of a recent post: it had been building up slowly over the last week, shooting up to over 50,000 page views in an hour the morning of the 7th.

While this looks like a spike on May 7th, if we look at the same data on a log scale, we can see that the primary jump happened late at night on May 1st, with constant exponential growth until a secondary jump on the 7th. The article had been growing under my nose for almost a week!

(A quick note: viral might be the most overused word in media. When we talk about things growing ‘virally’, we’re talking about a bunch of things, but exponential growth is a big part of it.). This is an outlier for us: certainly our stories spread and pick up readers over time, but sustained viral growth on this timescale is not common for us.

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I took a look at the breakdown of traffic: it seems like this was completely a Facebook phenomenon, until about the time of the secondary spike (‘dark social’ is a term for direct traffic to the link via social-like sources coined by Alexis Madrigal).

Here’s the data by source, graphed linearly on the left, logarithmically on the right.

It seems like the secondary spike coincided with the story making it into our ‘Trending on Kinja’ module (in the ‘other’ group of traffic). The headline was suddenly exposed to readers on all Gawker Media homepages. As I am writing (on May 12th), it’s our top article for the month so far.

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Also, if you happened to be the person who posted or shared this story on Facebook between 6PM and 7PM EST on May 1st... Thanks!