Friday, June 12, 2009

The richness of on-line political debate

Yet another cool networks paper: Sandra Gonzales-Bailon of the Oxford Internet Institute analyzed the structure of discussion networks on Slashdot, broken down by category. She looked at the width (number of different comments) and the depth (how many different levels of discussion each comment produced) of postings. A truly deliberative discussion, she reasoned, should be both deep and wide, producing a wide range of comments, each of which involves an intense series of arguments and ripostes.

As it turns out, the topic “politics” produces the deepest and widest conversation threads. The only topics similar to politics in these measures are “interviews,” “Apple,” and “yro” (your rights online). I would describe the last two items in that series as basically political in nature. At the other end of both spectra (both shallow and narrow) was “games,” suggesting that people treat politics more as an area for deliberation and less as a game.

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