Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I need to write more negative posts!

My New Years wish for this blog is that it would attract more comments online. It now has several hundred pageviews per day, but rarely generates much discussion; except when it is occasionally provocative. It turns out there is some science to this. Read below a post Negatives attract  from another blogger
while doing some research for a piece in an upcoming Nature Chemistry column on the roll of blogging in chemistry (due out in March), I ran across a fascinating paper in the European Physical Journal B: "Networks and emotion-driven user communities at popular blogs." The authors mathematically analyzed the topology (connectedness) of a large network of blogs and posts, assessing the emotional content along the way. (If the word bipartite doesn't scare you, read the paper.) They noted that large communities grow around posts with very negative language - and in the absence of such posts, there ends up being far less "cross-talk" between blogs. Nasty posts acted as glue.

Their data suggests that being negative also makes you popular in the blog world. More negatively worded posts attract more comments. Negative language in the comments attract more comments. Being obnoxious acts as a amplifier.

When I look at blogs — on any topic, science, theology, parenting — that provoke rather than explore or reflect, I've noticed that they tend to have many comments. (A couple come to mind, but I find myself reluctant to name names…though it strikes me it would be an interesting experiment to stir things up and see what happens to my comment box!)


  1. I, too, wish for a bit more conversation, but it seems reaction stems mostly from provocation, and I'm not willing to do that. I wonder what kind of cultural shift it might take to have it be otherwise? Ideas?

  2. This observation is very true in the sense that dictators and tyrants were/are/will be the most popular political figures. See, people still do discussions about Atilla the Hun after his death 1557 years ago! (more recent figures may give some more heated discussion) So, the more provocative you are, the more "popular" you become indeed.

    The question is, do you want that kind of popularity?

    and then again, some people (actually quite a bit I've met in my time) love very much to be mind-dominated in the brutal, provocative way. Perhaps some deep lying gene-coded form of ancient social constructs with alpha males and such...

  3. I suggest posting something critical of cold fusion. It seems to bring out vocal responses.

  4. I note that even this post was a positive review of a blog post about a research article. You could have tested the theory by attacking it.

  5. Well this post got quite a few comments, so no controversy necessary.

    Lots of comments is fun, that's for sure, but i'm hesitant to think that this negativity glue is a reflection on some deep cultural evil. If you say something i agree with, i will read the post, nod my head, and move on. If you say something i didnt know, then i've learnt something, i nod my head and move on. If i need clarification, i can look it up in the literature (and you, Ross, almost(?) always have references). Indeed one of the only times when it's relevant to comment, is if i disagree.

    That being said, the other blog i check daily is Female Science Professor. She gets roughly 30 comments per post, and is rarely particularly inciteful (certainly never obnoxious). I think she asks a lot of questions of her readers, puts up clicker type polls, and addresses an extremely wide audience. It's not a research blog, but an academia blog, so it's all accessible, so a direct comparison is unhelpful. But i do think it's possible to attract comments without being an ass.

    If you pose a question on your blog about charge transfer salts, very few people will have something to say (i certainly wont), but i think raising issues in any field including CTSs should attract comments. I think the difference between this and obnoxiously negative blogging is the difference between profanity and wit. It's much easier to be funny if you're profane and shocking, it's much more difficult to be genuinely clever.

    One blog post that i still often think about is your question 'what do we know about condensed matter that we didnt know 10 years ago', and i think topological insulators was the only comment(?). It was a good question and one that i still think about at times... But i have no offerings other than TIs, so no comment to make :D