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…

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Comments on “Are Blog Comments Like A Laser Pointer To A Cat?”

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moore850 (profile) says:

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!

MLS (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Seth (user link) says:

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.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

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.
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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