Predicting the Weather
Michael Parekh compares the unpredictability of identifying a best seller to the problem of designing a highly-trafficked site. "The book industry has had to live with the realities of the long-tail ... for centuries. Their customers have generally had so much product to choose from at a time and place of their choosing, at relatively affordable prices." Millions of readers may flock to a given site but at times driven by a confluence of factors that are difficult to predict.
Rupert Murdoch's New Corporation executives found that:
For every print reader a newspaper loses, it currently needs 100 online readers to generate the same amount of revenue. ... Another slide posited that of the millions of readers who come to various newspaper sites in a given month, a huge majority come only once, a consequence of all those referrals from search engines and aggregators.
An online site is different from a newspaper not only in that it has to interact with its readers (who are sometimes its contributors) but it also affected by other online objects, such as referrers or even the news events themselves. Those factors existed in the print age too, but the Internet's speed makes it possible for storms of traffic to move from one virtual site to the other within hours.
To some degree being online means giving up a degree of control over your site. On some days you will have a huge amount of traffic and on others very little. Despite the best efforts of online editors it is sometimes difficult to see what changes on the page have contributed to a particular result.
While it is tempting to think that some blockbuster post, some spectacular article may have driven the traffic for that day; and while this may in fact be the case -- it is probably more correct that the long term factors count for more. A site's information architecture, its interface, its design and the general level of its content may be the final determinants of its relative success. What happens on a given day, evidence of monster posts to the contrary, is probably a matter of luck or more precisely of a complex condition that is difficult to understand.