As 2015 turns into 2016, one way we are taking stock here at Vox is by looking back through our numbers and seeing which stories were popular with audiences and in which ways. These 25 are the top stories we published in 2015 in terms of the number of people who came to them via sharing on social media — mostly Facebook but also some Twitter and a dash of other platforms.
The main lesson is that it's hard to generalize about what people will share. Content calling out racism and Islamophobia did well, but so did content worrying about out-of-control political correctness. There are quick aggregation pieces on this list and multi-thousand-word essays. There's servicey stuff and newsy stuff and totally random stuff. There's happy stuff and there's angry stuff and there's funny stuff and there's even a detailed explanation of a math problem. But there's no Donald Trump.
25) "Watch: a 5-minute history of Syria's war and the rise of ISIS"
Vox's most-watched videos of the year were mostly seen natively on Facebook or through our YouTube page, but this video explainer of the Syrian civil war by Johnny Harris and Max Fisher was so compelling that the article page for it cracked our top 25. Five minutes is on the long side for contemporary web video, but it's an incredibly short amount of time in which to explain a complicated and important subject — time that millions of people have found was well-spent.
24) "Democrats are in denial: Their party is actually in deep trouble"
Donald Trump and the generally shambolic Republican presidential primary process was the dominant political story of 2015. But in this feature-length argument, I make the case that the truly important political story is the dominant position the Republican Party has achieved in Congress and state government.
23) "I lost 100 pounds in a year. My 'weight loss secret' is really dumb."
It's no secret that lots of people are interested in content about weight loss, and as you'll see Vox consistently had success with our First Person narrative section in 2015. Alasdair Wilkins's account of his weight loss experience is a vital counterpoint to the mumbo jumbo that dominates most media on the subject.
22) "25 maps that explain the English language"
People love maps. And people who read things in English are interested in the English language. Put them together and it's a no-brainer. My favorite map of the set is this one, showing which countries have the English-language version of Wikipedia as the most-read version of it, an indicator that is in some ways more telling than the vagaries of where English is and isn't an official language. The use of English Wikipedia in places like Denmark, Laos, and Mongolia that have few native English speakers and no colonial ties to the US or UK is a good measure of English's dominance as the global common tongue.
21) "Common Core math, explained in three minutes"
Another video post, this time demystifying new Common Core approaches to math problems that have befuddled many parents around the country.
20) "I spent 2 years cleaning houses. What I saw makes me never want to be rich."
Stephanie Land's powerful first-person account of what she learned cleaning rich people's houses: "The bigger the house, the more they worked to afford it, the more prescription bottles they had. I started to see the fact that I couldn't afford to buy my daughter fancy electronics as a luxury. We went to the beach and looked for crabs under the rocks instead. We spent rainy Saturdays doing a 25-cent puzzle."
19) "Will Smith's new movie Concussion terrifies the NFL. Here's the trailer."
The modern content game tends to reward a certain amount of genericness — everyone has access to the same movie trailer embeds, and when any new one is released dozens of aggregation posts will follow it.
But Joseph Stromberg leveraged Vox's evergreen publishing model to make a trailer aggregation post that is much bigger and deeper than a trailer aggregation post, offering 1,000 words of science and history on football and concussions mostly drawn from his earlier coverage of the issue.
18) "I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it."
This was one of our more polarizing articles of the year. Just from the headline you're probably already either intrigued or deeply annoyed.
17) "Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture"
Bernie Sanders has repeatedly put the Nordic social mode of Sweden and Denmark on the US political agenda, but Switzerland — which is considerably closer to the United States in terms of overall tax burden and hours worked — arguably offers a more plausible vision for transforming the United States in a more humane direction. Certainly Chantal Panozzo's account of the good Swiss life struck a chord with many readers.
16) "Obama just tweeted the perfect message for Ahmed Mohamed"
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
Clock kid content was huge this year.
15) "The scariest fact about the Disneyland measles outbreak"
To be perfectly honest, I had sort of forgotten that this even happened since it was way back in January. But the scary fact is that six of the kids who got sick were too young for the measles vaccine. We count on children getting age-appropriate vaccines to create herd immunity in the population in order to protect the lives of those who are too young for vaccination. When parents opt their kids out of vaccination, they take risks not only with their own kids' health but also with the health of lots of other children.
14) "12 powerful political cartoons responding to the Charlie Hebdo attack"
The cartooning community rallied around the French satirical publication after it was viciously attacked.
13) "This tweet perfectly captures why it's appalling to blame refugees for the Paris attacks"
To people blaming refugees for attacks in Paris tonight. Do you not realise these are the people the refugees are trying to run away from..?— Dan Holloway (@RFCdan) November 13, 2015
Refugees and attitudes toward refugees have roiled politics on both sides of the Atlantic, and many readers strongly embraced the pro-refugee message of this tweet.
12) "I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery."
The historical memory of slavery in the United States is still deeply contested territory, as seen by everything from a statue in the US Capitol honoring Jefferson Davis to the remarks Margaret Biser recounts in her story about leading plantation tours.
11) "Chart: the 12 actors that voice over 100 Simpsons characters"
If you like The Simpsons, you will like this chart.
10) "Barack Obama is officially one of the most consequential presidents in American history"
Dylan Matthews's argument on this score is convincing, whether you like Obama or not. Of course there's nothing literally official about it, but since the meaning of "literally" has changed there's no reason "officially" can't change too.
9) "Stanford just made tuition free for families earning less than $125,000 per year"
One of the big lessons of the social internet is there's extensive reader appetite for "good news" stories even on hard news subjects like college tuition dynamics. Libby Nelson's coverage notes that most universities don't have the financial resources to go as far as Stanford did, but argues there are some important lessons that could be learned elsewhere.
8) "Re-reading is inefficient. Here are 8 tips for studying smarter."
Study these tips on how to study more effectively, and you could maybe get into Stanford and pay no tuition.
7) "Every Serena Williams win comes with a side of disgusting racism and sexism"
Serena Williams is very good at winning tennis matches. She's also an African-American woman. That means her wins end up revealing a lot of the dark side of American society.
6) "Melinda Gates has the perfect response to the anti-vaccine movement"
"Perfect responses" were big in 2015, and Melinda Gates's was a really good one: "Women in the developing world know the power of [vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine, because they have seen death. [Americans have] forgotten what measles deaths look like."
5) "Here's how a Texas school explained arresting a 14-year-old Muslim boy for making a clock"
Islamophobia really boiled over as a mainstream story in the United States in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino that came paired with political attacks on Muslim refugees and, at times, all Muslims. But the story of Ahmed Mohammed earlier in September showed that the phenomenon was already alive and well.
4) "I’m Latino. I’m Hispanic. And they’re different, so I drew a comic to explain."
Terry Blas's cartoon does a great job of breaking down these terms, which are often used interchangeably but have subtly important differences.
3) "I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me"
"Political correctness" on college campuses was a huge hot-button topic in 2015, and this first-person account by a college professor of the intersection of left-wing politics, student entitlement, and increasingly precarious academic employment arrangements was one of our most widely shared stories of the year. Amanda Taub's response piece was good, too.
2) "Deaths from gun violence vs. deaths from terrorism, in one chart"
Vox's two highest-performing social posts of 2015 were both about gun violence. In this one, Zack Beauchamp took up a challenge to the media from President Obama to put terrorism deaths in context alongside gun deaths.
1) "Australian comedian perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy"
The very top post of the year notes a Jim Jefferies comedy routine about the differences between US and Australian approaches to gun violence. The comparison has been weighing on the minds of American liberals because in so many other ways the two countries appear to be very similar — both English-speaking settler-states with frontier traditions and deep cultural attachments to rural practices even as most modern-day people live in suburbs. But the Australian political system responded to mass shooting with a huge political campaign against guns — led by a conservative prime minister — while in the US, nothing changes.