Monday, January 24, 2011

Negatives attract

A few days ago I tried to post a link to my latest column on Facebook. My attempt was quickly rebuffed, with the notation that the content had been previously reported as abusive. Prayer, solitude, Henri Nouwen? Abusive? OK, maybe referencing the rock opera Tommy and Karl Rahner in the same breath is a bit beyond the pale - but abusive?

I dutifully filled out the form to contest the decision (by a human? which human?) and within a day all was resolved.

Meanwhile 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!)

Robin and I were wondering about our guest book blogging adventure, which we wished had excited a bit more conversation. Clearly we are too nice!

And I did roughly assess the emotional tone of my post (word cloud above) to find that 7% of my words were tagged "positive," 1.5% negative and less than 1% "hostile"!


  1. I refuse to rant at my blog, oh well. I don't dig it a lot in real life so why take it to my blogging life. The last thing I want is a bunch of folk using my blog to rant out their views.

  2. Well, ranting isn't my style either...

  3. Negativity may be more popular (after all, they do call it "hits"!) but I prefer a different, more thoughtful approach.

    Especially in the written word.

    What I've learned from Lectio is that words can be huge containers for mystical and mysterious energy. Those negative words hold something I really don't want to pour into my life.

    Just saying.