Hi Col,

Interesting problem.

> Are there any other approaches I've missed? 

Off the top of my head, how about this:

1. Add a new unsigned int column called "SortOrder" to the table of widgets
or whatever it is you're listing

2. Fill this column with randomly-generated numbers between 0 and whatever
the unsigned int max is (can't remember exactly but 4.2 billion ish)

3. Add the SortOrder column to the end of all your ORDER BY clauses - SELECT
foo ORDER BY TypeOfListing, SortOrder will give you widgets sorted by
Gold/Silver/Bronze type, but in a random order for each type

4. Every hour/day/week/whatever, update this column with different random

Advantages: practically no hassle/overhead/maintenance for you; provides
same ordering sequence for all users at the same time; only breaks "third
one down"-type references when you refresh the SortOrder column rather than
on each session or page view; reasonably proxy- and cache-friendly
especially if you send a meaningful HTTP Expires header.

Disadvantages: breaks user persistence if they visit before and after a
SortOrder refresh ("I'm sure the one I wanted was at the top of the list
yesterday..."); more effort to demonstrate randomness to the client ("OK,
see how you're in ninety-third place today? Well, check again tomorrow and
you should be somewhere else on the list").

Hopefully food for thought anyway.


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