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Negative Emotion Builds Online Traffic -- Just Like the Nazis

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“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one,” Mike Godwin proposed in 1995.

In 2010, a team of British and Slovenian researchers has come to a less historically specific but equally likely conclusion. Posts that stir up negative emotions lead to longer threads -- indeed, the longer the thread, the more negative it’s sure to be. Furthermore, if you want to build a strong online community, you need only a core group of very active, very negative posters. The more active the online community, the greater the site traffic.

In two studies published by Cornell University Library, “Quantitative Analysis of Bloggers’ Collective Behavior Powered by Emotions” and “Negative emotions accelerating users activity in BBC Forum,” the team found “strong correlations between the excess of negative emotions and the evolution of communities.”

One study followed and the other the BBC forums. The team used a "sentiment analysis," not unlike Twitter’s, to “study emergence of the emotional behavior among Web users.”

Researchers calculated a “happiness score” for each post based on an algorithm that measured emotions, using cues like typos, the repetition of certain signal words, and the dearth of sideways smiley faces.

For conversation and community-building, the researchers concluded, happiness is bad -- hardly news to Gawker Media, which created a successful business model around this reality.

The researchers characterize their study of the BBC forums as “empirical.” Given what they “observed” about flaming, it’s hard not to suspect that, like the CIA infiltrating 1960s protests groups, the call is coming from inside the house.

One researcher, Mike Thelwall, offered the New Scientist one of his “empirical” discoveries: "We've seen that the least vigorous discussions tend to be about aging rock stars." Wonder who started that thread?
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