Ask AI: How not to kill online conversations

At least on Reddit, certain responses may leave you without an audience

reddit page

WELL-RED A computer code that studied over 60,000 Reddit threads offers new insights about getting responses in online conversations.


A new artificial intelligence could tell whether your next post to an online forum will engage others or fall flat.

Computer scientist Qiaozhu Mei of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and colleagues trained a machine-learning program on about 63,000 Reddit threads to learn what dialog-ending responses look like.

This kind of chat-savvy computer code, described in a paper accepted to the 2018 Web Conference in Lyon, France, could someday notify users before they hit “submit” if a post is likely to shut down discussion. Such feedback could lead to more satisfying and productive online conversations.

AI’s guide to being an online conversationalist

  1. Stay on topic. Posts that repeat words used elsewhere in a thread or use more related terms are less likely to end a conversation.

  2. Share experiences. Comments that include words such as “talked,” “heard” or “seen” are liable to incite further discussion.

  3. Keep it moving. The more time that elapses between a post and a reply, the more likely that reply will go unanswered.

  4. Elaborate. Unlike in-person chats, where long monologs can bore those within earshot, lengthier online posts tend to get more responses.

  5. Be polite. Posts that include words like “Mr.” and “Mrs.” are more likely to encourage a back and forth, compared with responses that address people with insulting or intense language, such as curse words or an all-caps “YOU.” 

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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