Single word forum comments: Why?
October 12, 2008 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Why do people leave inane comments on forums?

I'm specifically talking about comments like "lol", "that's awesome", "that sux", "nice", etc. I understand if people are leaving those comments for people they know (sort of like, "hey, person I know, I'm acknowledging what you wrote because we're friends"), but I suspect that a lot of it is just random people leaving random comments.

What motivates someone to do it? Is it the online form of small talk? Is that how people start building reputations in their favorite online communities?

Yes, I've done it, just because the cool people were doing it.
posted by mpls2 to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's just like real life. Some people have to get their opinion or comment in, no matter how insignificant.
posted by DMan at 8:21 AM on October 12, 2008

Many forums also keep track of how many comments someone has made (and it's good to have a lot) so there's incentive to leave a comment on everything.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:24 AM on October 12, 2008

Best answer: Some people will do anything to be in the mix. Or maybe they like the idea of people looking at their profiles and seeing that they've left 2000 Comments! or whatever. I have to admit, sometimes I'm impressed when I see a MeFi member has left thousands of comments. Until, that is, I pull up a list of their comments and a lot of them are just what your question is addressing. But yeah, I think they do it because they want to be recognized or they think other members want validation and so they give them a mercy lol.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:27 AM on October 12, 2008

because they don't find them to be inane. Its a forum look up the definition for forum.
b. A public meeting place for open discussion.
c. A medium of open discussion or voicing of ideas, such as a newspaper or a radio or television program.
posted by antisocialiting at 8:29 AM on October 12, 2008

If you post some information, it's nice to know that someone found it useful or interesting, rather than just appreciating it in silence. It can be a kind of feedback.
posted by Not Supplied at 8:37 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

This happens a lot to me in instant message discussions. A friend sends me a neat link and even if I have nothing interesting to say about it, I'll reply with an inane "ha" or "nice" or "neat." Something to acknowledge their message. On forums, I imagine it's the same idea: something to acknowledge that you appreciate the post but have nothing to really add.
posted by yeti at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2008

but I suspect that a lot of it is just random people leaving random comments.

See, I could be way off on this, but part of me feels like some of it is bots, basically building a directory of sites they have the ability to spam. Not ready to spam yet, so just leaving the innocuous comments, but then some day in the future they'll shoot out some viagra/whatever spam to all the sites they've found.

I might just be paranoid, though.
posted by inigo2 at 8:44 AM on October 12, 2008

First! (Or sixth, or whatever.)

I've understood it to mean that they're the most dedicated, in that they are obsessively watching that forum for the first possible moment to comment.

For other things, yeah, it's a matter of giving some feedback, of whatever sort, perhaps just to let people know that they've been heard.
posted by jeather at 8:45 AM on October 12, 2008

It's the online version of real-world social lubricant between human beings --- in a real-world social situation you would smile or chuckle at something funny, you would frown or reach out to someone for whom you felt empathy, hug or high-five someone who did something awesome, etc. and your gestures would solidify and deepen that connection between you and the other human. We've been doing it for a long long time and new modes of communication aren't likely to change those deep-seated impulses.
posted by headnsouth at 8:46 AM on October 12, 2008

because they don't find them to be inane. Its a forum look up the definition for forum.

Point taken. But when you visit a forum, do you actually read all those lols, ha has, cools, awesomes, neats, nices and suxes? You probably scroll right past them--they're clutter. So what's the point of leaving them?

If I post an awesome or lame comment or link, I'd rather read nothing than a bunch of single-word comments thanking me or admonishing me.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:02 AM on October 12, 2008

How would you know if your comment or link was awesome or lame?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:11 AM on October 12, 2008

posted by infinitywaltz at 9:16 AM on October 12, 2008

Because they're responding conversationally, rather than trying to add information or their viewpoint. There are some forums in which *not* doing this is perceived (or people think it's perceived) as self-centered.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:21 AM on October 12, 2008

Best answer: One possible factor: A lot of forums have some system of ranks or titles awarded based on post count, where those with a higher post count implicitly command more respect. I've seen some forums where it's kind of an in-joke to write "post count++" (or "PC++") when leaving a relatively content-free post.
posted by dixie flatline at 9:22 AM on October 12, 2008

Having operated BBSes in the old days, forums more recently, and various other communities of both open and closed nature one of my observations is that this behavior is common even where post-counting doesn't exist. Why? My pet theory is that "lol" and "haha that suxs" just happens to be the limit of literacy for some people, but they don't let that stop them from "participating," if you can call it that.
posted by majick at 9:41 AM on October 12, 2008

There are some forums in which *not* doing this is perceived (or people think it's perceived) as self-centered.

Sounds like the YouTube user base.

How would you know if your comment or link was awesome or lame?

If no one comments, it's probably safe to assume it's lame.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2008

The buzzword out there on the interwebs these days is community. But becoming part of an established community takes some work and a certain skill set. If you don't have time or inclination to put together something thoughtful you can dash out a quick, "Dude, ThaT RoX!" and you'll be part of the community!

It's like the cargo cults. They didn't really understand what they were seeing, but these GI's built runways and towers and stuff and pretty soon the gods blessed them with modern goods. So they cleared a runway and got some bamboo and lashed up their own control towers and radar dishes and waited for gods to bless them with cargo of their own. It's all style, but none of the substance.

(It wouldn't take much to make this an answer describing the implementation of every quality management system I've ever heard about too!)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:53 AM on October 12, 2008

Because in some communities, it's a lot of fun- celebrity gossip communities thrive on that kind of stuff.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:57 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have an (unsubstantiated) theory that 90% of human communication is the equivalent of "I am here, you are there, I hear you, now hear me". It's not intended to communicate information so much as presence -- in a place, in a time, in a discussion. I suspect inane forum comments follow a similar pattern.

What amazes me is that the noise/signal ratio isn't even higher, considering that the vast majority of internet forums boil down to:
If you like Q, this forum is for you!
I like Q!
I, too, like Q!
Q sucks!
You, sir, suck for asserting that Q sucks!
Q was cool until Y, but now Q sucks.
Y? Don't derail the thread! This is about Q!
Y rocks.
Y sucks!
It has nothing to do with conveying actual information and everything to do with telegraphing the presence of a critical stance.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:58 AM on October 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you think of a forum as a place to discuss such-a-topic, sure "lol" comments make no sense. If you see it as a social venue, it makes plenty of sense. In meatspace, if there's a newcomer to your weekly pub quiz meetup, it's friendly to go out of your way to make them welcome by making idle chit chat with them or laughing at their jokes. You don't go to the pub quiz only to talk about the pub quiz - or even mainly to talk about it - indeed the purpose of the pub quiz isn't really the quiz. It's making connections with the people around you. For some people it's the same with an internet forum.

This difference of viewpoints seems to crop up as a generational thing: younger folks who have grown up with the internet instinctively understand that the other people on it are real people just like them, and treat it as an extension of the real world rather than some shiny new and different thing.
posted by emilyw at 10:12 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Communication is a mix of short and long sound/word bytes. For example, when people are talking one may describe something and the person listening may nod their head, simple acknowledgment of having heard what was said, "I hear you", "Yup", or express shock, "No way!", "Really", Seriously?!, or disagreement, "That's bs" or amazement, "Wow", "Cool".

I think one word comments are very much part of the banter, give and take, the dialogue cadence of a conversation. Not all communication needs to be lengthy to be meaningful.
posted by nickyskye at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2008

I think it's because they are laughing out loud, or they think the thing in question sux, or is awesome, or is nice.

There is some validity to trying to up post counts and all that, but basically people say things because they feel it needs saying. "Inane" is a matter of perspective; it may be inane to you, but not to the person saying it, or not to the other people on the message board.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another thing to consider is some of that behavior crossing over from chat and IM, where things like that are commonly said and don't hang around "forever".
posted by O9scar at 10:49 AM on October 12, 2008

Complaints about one-word posts go back to the days of limited bandwidth. I remember usenet thread derails about dial-up time and pay-as-you-download etc. "Me-too" posts were verboten. Back then Internet users took their posts and themselves very seriously. Unlike now of course.
posted by headnsouth at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2008

See also: "Bikeshedding" / Parkinson's Law of Triviality.
posted by trouserbat at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2008

On wordpress blogs, the default comment form asks for a URL which is then linked to on the commenter's name. Many inane comments like "Great post. I fully agree." are simply a lazy attempt to publicize a URL and increase their google juice.
posted by kamelhoecker at 11:30 AM on October 12, 2008

Meh. Pwned.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:39 PM on October 12, 2008

Response by poster: The "community" answer would make sense if there were a relatively small number of forum contributors, but on a site like YouTube or even Engadget, your "lol" isn't going to make you a part of the family.

Come to think of it, why do people cheer at football games or vote in major elections?
posted by mpls2 at 12:57 PM on October 12, 2008

Because at YouTube or Engadget its perfectly acceptable to leave these comments.

Different boards have different cultures. A more youthful culture comes from the world of texting and IM and just wants to make superficial comments to fight off teendage boredom.

You may come from a ponderous 5 page comment tradition learned from FidoNET in the 80s.

Arguably, the older someone gets the more serious they become and put on a more serious face. They may not see webforums as chatrooms but as something they want to contribute to in a way that reflect their current needs.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2008

i offer a comic strip brilliantly illustrating a possible answer to your query.

Sorry for double post, forgot to close a bracket. CLEANUP ON AISLE THREE
posted by micawber at 2:30 PM on October 12, 2008

A better question is why people post INSANE comments on the internet. I thought that might be what you were referring to. The short little messages of approval or quasi-empathy/sympathy aren't really that inane. People post them because they want to provide their feedback, and many online are soliciting feedback from strangers.
posted by fructose at 6:28 PM on October 12, 2008

Some people are just chatty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 PM on October 12, 2008

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