Frivolity can be a beautiful thing.
And the Internet loves frivolity.
Think of how it has changed journalism and online content. Think of how many articles now are devoted to nostalgia, pop culture, and the highbrow interpretation of seemingly lowbrow material.
Storytellers occasionally get these stories right, and when they do, they succeed with either a detailed behind-the-scenes look, a thorough guide, or a scientific slant. (Sometimes they use a combination of all three.)
Here are three stories from last week that tackle such topics with unquestionable rigor:
How Gmail happened: the inside story of its launch 10 years ago (4/1/14, Time): Mark this one under “detailed behind-the-scenes look”.
And boy, is it detailed. Time writer Harry McCracken travels back a decade to when leaders at Google wanted to invest in an e-mail service.
That service, otherwise known as Gmail, changed our culture.
What’s more remarkable, it did so largely in the same ways its creators predicted.
McCracken shows a screengrab of Gmail at its inception, and it actually looks relatively similar to the product in 2014. More impressively, McCracken identifies the hurdles Google’s programmers faced in creating Gmail, and then he neatly explains how they solved those issues.
This is a long read but a great one.
A complete guide to New York City pizza styles (3/20/14, Eater NY): From the “thorough guide” camp comes this piece, which will make you either very hungry, very eager to visit New York, or both.
Nick Solares, a writer for the Big Apple branch of eater.com, pens a comprehensive, photo-filled piece about the numerous varieties of pizza available in the city. This is honestly the best such piece I have read; for each style of pizza, Solares explains its history in New York, its signature distinctions, and its foremost purveyors in NYC.
Such an article should not be so difficult, but rarely is it this complete in its scope.
(On a side note, please excuse me for a second while I buy a plane ticket to New York.)
Why the Trix rabbit looks down on you (4/2/4, FiveThirtyEight.com): Finally, we reach a strong example of the scentific approach to frivolity.
This article answers a question you likely never thought to ask.
Mona Chalabi and Allison McCann, writing for Nate Silver’s new fivethirtyeight.com web site, delve into the importance of eye contact in relation to kids’ cereal. Specifically, they examine, why do cereal mascots look down instead of straight ahead?
The quick answer: because they’re looking at the kids, not their parents.
Chalabi and McCann discuss a study that tested this premise and found it to be true. (Interestingly, the site does not link to said study; perhaps it only exists in print?) They describe how it worked and then do their own research on which cereals sell the most and which aim their advertising at children.
Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at email@example.com.