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Why do we suspect that rec.humor.funny may be the most widely read material on USENET and the internet?

Nobody's been measuring things for a while, but there used to be monthly statistics gathered on the number of readers for newsgroups. Rec.humor.funny lead the pack for many years, but more recently, it was surpassed by a couple of different groups, notably "alt.sex" and "news.announce.newusers."

The alt.sex newsgroup certainly does have more readers, but it also has almost 250 messages/day. Based on typical reading habits, most people in alt.sex will only be reading just a small fraction of those messages, perhaps as little as 5% on average, if that.

With rec.humor.funny at only 2 messages per day, we figure that almost all readers read every message, except for the long postings and perhaps some of the administrivia. So the readership of a rec.humor.funny message is vastly greater than that of an alt.sex message, and of just about any other message on the net. The group "news.announce.important" is another contender for the top spot, but since it gets messages only a few times a year, it's hard to measure the readership. It also is affected by the factor described below for news.announce groups.

The group "news.announce.newusers" soared way up the charts before they ended. It may be the most widely read group, but there is strong reason to believe that it does so well because many sites put it in the default subscription for a new user. That is the idea behind the group. People read it when they start on the net -- and a lot of people have been starting on the net these days -- and then they stop, but it sticks around and shows up in just about everybody's reading list when the measurement is done.

Nobody really knows how to compare the top newsgroups with the top web pages. The top web page is probably Netscape's home page, at least when it comes to glancing. Yahoo says about 250,000 people visit their page each day -- with many more "hits" than that. These are of course directory pages, not pages to read, but even so, their readership is quite large. Some web pages may well be the holders of the top spots. Nobody knows how accurate the 500,000 reader figure for rec.humor.funny was either.

Also, pages like the entry screens for online services like AOL and Compuserve may have a claim for the title. They claim millions of subscribers, but how many actually log on regularly is not revealed.

The main conclusion is that if a short joke is posted in rec.humor.funny, it's going to get a lot of readers.

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