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June 3, 2010, 10 a.m.

Is 70 percent of what we read online really by our friends?

Last month, we tweeted a remarkable stat:

Of everything under 40 year olds read online, about 70% was created by someone they know http://j.mp/bb0jgN

Our source was this article citing a recent panel discussion at an SEO conference in New York. Here’s how the stat was presented, in a piece in the newsletter Publishing Trends, as a product of Forrester Research:

In one of several panels on social media and search, Patricia Neuray of Business.com cited the Forrester research finding that 70% of the content read online by under-40-year-olds was written by someone they know.

(Someone who livetweeted the panel seemed to also attribute it to Forrester, although with a cryptic hint of IBM.)

It’s obviously a remarkable statistic if true, but I wanted to get a little more detail — like how the study defined “someone they know” and “content read online.” Are they talking websites, or are they including things like email? Does “someone they know” mean someone they know in real life, or does an Internet friend count? I engaged in some vigorous Googling, but couldn’t find the original study. Then I emailed Forrester to see if they could produce it. A spokesperson got back to me:

That statistic does not come from a Forrester study. We heard about it and investigated it as well to find out that the original author of the article that used that statistic was in error. I just rechecked his article – he removed Forrester as the source but did not cite another source other than a speaker from IBM at this conference: http://www.publishingtrends.com/2010/04/making-search-convert-search-engine-strategies-2010/

And indeed, now the reference in the original article is thus:

In one of several panels on social media and search, Leslie Reiser of IBM cited the recent finding that “70% of the content read online by under-40-year-olds was written by someone they know.”

I contacted Reiser last week to see if she has a cite for it; my very quick Googling didn’t turn up an obvious IBM reference for the number, either, but that doesn’t mean much. I’ll let you know if I hear back from her. In any event, since by tweeting it we played a part in spreading the number, I thought we should note that the original source is still a bit up in the air.

POSTED     June 3, 2010, 10 a.m.
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