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Online comments maybe not total waste of time

Conversations on news sites show how information and ideas spread

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1:35pm, November 12, 2010

There’s a science behind the comments on websites.

It’s actually quite predictable how much chatter a post on Slashdot or Wikipedia will attract, according to a new study of several websites with­ large user bases. And the thread of an online conversation — whether it sticks to the original topic or users comment on each other’s comments — can be modeled as a tree with discussions veering off on branches, researchers report online November 2 at arXiv.org.

The findings give hope to social scientists trying to understand broader phenomena, like how rumors about a candidate spread during a campaign or how information about street protests flows out of a country with state-controlled media.

“The fact we have good fits allows us to think people react to news in a universal way,” said study coauthor Vincenç Gómez of Radboud University in the Netherlands.

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