Are Blog Comments Like A Laser Pointer To A Cat?

from the join-in-the-fun dept

Despite writing Techdirt for over a decade at this point, I still can't predict very well which stories will actually get a lot of comments and which won't (also, by the way, more comments often does not correlate to more page views, though I haven't quite figured out why). However, certain stories have a cascade effect, where they suddenly start getting a ton of comments, and the conversation goes on for quite a while. Take this story from last week, which racked up over 200 comments. There's an interesting column by Lee Gomes in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that blog comments on thought-provoking posts are sort of like a laser pointer to a cat. That may sound marginally insulting, but the idea is that for many types of people, our brains are simply hard wired to not be able to turn away from conversations like those held in the comments sometimes. I'm not sure that the cat:laser pointer analogy fully holds, but it does seem like some people just can't turn away from a comment debate (and, yes, I'm guilty of this). Personally, while sometimes those debates get frustrating (and repetitive) they also help keep me sharp -- rethinking, reformulating and revising my arguments to make sure they really make sense.

However, it is rather interesting to think about this from an evolutionary standpoint. As Gomes notes, "new" pieces of information that get you to think about things differently didn't always come along very often. So people's minds became somewhat hardwired to pay attention and think through the ideas more thoroughly. However, now, with information "abundant" it's much more difficult for people to actually turn away. While I tend to think that the term "addiction" shouldn't apply to things like the internet, this actually gives a reasonable explanation for why some people may feel compelled to keep digging for information beyond the point where it's no longer healthy. As Gomes suggests in the end, in many ways (beyond being similar to the cat and the laser pointer), it's similar to the obesity epidemic, where our bodies are trained to eat as much as possible now on the assumption that there may not be food later. But in an age where there's abundant food, that causes problems -- and combining that with abundant information that causes people to sit immobile in front of their computer screens for hours on end probably isn't helping. So, for any contribution we've made to information obesity, I apologize. But I'm not putting away the laser pointer any time soon...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 10:18am

    So does this mean you fired Tim? I really liked the guy.

     

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  2.  
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    Ray Trygstad, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 10:39am

    Hands down best set of comments anywhere...

    ...are the comments on the page on Amazon.com where you can buy Uranium ore. Trust me. Prepare to laugh. Go read them.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 10:58am

    Ha ha!

    Another good one is the eBay Feedback-Left-By-Tryork5ip

     

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  4.  
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    dorpus, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:06am

    Where statisticians come in

    Might be interesting to regress the number of comments against keywords in a Poisson regression model.

     

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  5.  
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    Le Blue Dude, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:12am

    This would certainly explain...

    This would explain the behaviors of certain trolls.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:23am

    This is why you don't feed the trolls

     

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  7.  
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    moore850 (profile), Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:23am

    Chance at Fame

    Many people that post blog comments are aware that an impressive-enough comment may yield some amount of lasting fame, and a regular record of great comments will definitely cement a place in history, possibly to include entries in the dictionary of slang for a commonly-used phrase. In that vein, I must add that in Soviet Russia, blog comments laser-point YOU!

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:28am

    meow

     

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  9.  
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    MLS, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:33am

    Blog Comments

    I wholeheartedly concur that provocative topics many times present information in a new light that can challenge one to reconsider long cherished notions. While I may disagree with some of what is being presented, I would be foolish to not give it thoughtful consideration for the very reason you note. Sadly, far too many who do comment do so out of a visceral reaction that rapidly devolves into name calling and insults. Occasionally, however, a truly thought provoking comment is made that seems to make the process all worthwhile.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:38am

    Best comment I ever read was on a sex-toy website (*cough*). For one of those fake vagina things.

    It was this beautifully written, eloquent prose written as if the buyer was a lord who'd just bought this thing.

    I'd link to it but it's probably inappropriate, and I think the site has pulled that product from their line so the review was deleted.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:44am

    OMG OMG OMG!!! It's red! And it moves!

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:48am

    No comment ;-)

     

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  13.  
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    Seth, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 11:57am

    I have looked into this myself. Sometimes the dumbest posts have the most comments.

    As an experiment I posted the same exact thing on two different blogs. After almost a day I had no comments from either. I posted two comments to one of the blogs and made it appear to be two different people. In the morning I had 3 more comments on that blog and none on the other.

    The results aren't perfect because the hits per day for each site weren't exactly the same and I didn't do enough trials to be conclusive but my hunch is that people for the most part are sheep and are more comfortable doing something that other people are already doing. It just takes one adventurous person to start the wave.

     

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    interval, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 12:01pm

    Yes. Next topic.

     

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  15.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    Eh, my cats are too fat and lazy to chase a laser pointer. Maybe he meant kittens.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 12:12pm

    Already explained

    Mr. Monroe as already delved into the basis for this particular effect.

     

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  17.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Mar 13th, 2008 @ 1:16pm

    To AC poster #3 and Ray Trygstad post #2

    Thank you much for those links.
    I was not aware that Amazon sold Uranium Ore.
    Kind of shocked.
    And that poem there that Amanda wrote is priceless!

    Even more priceless are that ebay member's feedbacks.
    Zomg.
    It is just awesome that he gets away with leaving all of those. Soooo entertaining. Am emailing that link to many people when I get home.

     

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  18.  
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    Crazy Coyote, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 1:51pm

    What color laser?

    Red or Blue... Do cats have a preference?

     

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  19.  
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    mirQtio, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 2:32pm

    This seems relavent:

     

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  20.  
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    Lord, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 2:57pm

    Perhaps

    it is because the comments are often far more entertaining than commonly repetitive posts, but perhaps that is what laser pointers are to cats.

     

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  21.  
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    Juan Ponce de León, Mar 13th, 2008 @ 7:19pm

    Searching for Grilled Cheese...

    Has anyone seen Alfred E Neuman lateley?

     

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  22.  
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    sooran, Sep 17th, 2009 @ 12:50am

    tancks
    this post very very helped me !

    Good Time

     

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  23.  
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    arkadas, Jul 24th, 2010 @ 8:53am

    are blog

    thank you for sharing and good post

     

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  24.  
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    Andyone, May 10th, 2011 @ 10:40pm

    Science

    Well done, I got some useful information from this article.By the way, have you ever tried a laser pointer pen? I need you some information about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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