1019: First Post
Title text: 'Nuh-uh! We let users vote on comments and display them by number of votes. Everyone knows that makes it impossible for a few persistent voices to dominate the discussion.'
Many news websites allow users to post comments on an article. The intention is that users can debate the stance(s) or implication(s) made by the article. On most sites, comments are displayed in chronological order. This puts the oldest comments at the top and newest at the bottom.
There are many pitfalls to allowing comments, but this comic refers to one in particular: most users are too busy to read more than just the top few comments. Therefore, if you were able to control the content of those comments, your opinions would be the ones that the majority of users read. If you pay people to do nothing but read the site, you ensure that they will be the first ones to see the article and that their comments (that you pay them to write) will be at the top of the page. In this scenario, the comments being posted appear to convey a particular political belief. The advantage of this is, according to Randall, that it would be much cheaper to employ a college student to perform that task than pay a website for an advertisement. Also, the fact that it is a comment posted by another reader would make it seem as though the opinion was coming from the general population and not a politician or company, as an advertisement would imply. And $20/hour was (and as of this writing still is) significantly higher than the minimum wage, so you'd have no trouble finding willing participants among college students (who are often broke).
This comic is a continuation of 937: TornadoGuard which stated "the problem with star ratings". Apparently, every possible comment ordering policy has its own problems.
The title text refers to systems like Reddit's conversation threading which allow users to vote comments up or down and to sort them by the resulting "karma score" (total up-votes minus total down-votes). The hired students could easily be assigned to also upvote each other’s posts. Even without collusion, the same problem persists to some extent: after a few comments are posted and some votes are cast, the handful of comments having received the highest scores among the first dozen of so will receive far better chances at being seen and voted on than comments posted later, and will solidify their places in a positive feedback loop. In this way, a few persistent voices can still dominate the discussion, contrary to the claim in the title text, thus creating irony.
The comic's title refers to a once-common form of online posturing where the first user to see the article will comment "First post" or even just "First". The intent is that everyone else see that they were there first and, therefore, must be somehow better than you. This is referred to in both 269: TCMP and 1258: First.
In 2159: Comments, this strip is mentioned, along with the text "This dynamic is so easily manipulated and it freaks me out."
- [Single panel showing a bar graph with two gray vertical bars, a dollar amount above each bar, the vertical axis on the left side with tick marks every $250,000, and the horizontal axis at the bottom with a descriptive label below each bar under the axis. The first bar is much taller than the second.]
- [First bar:]
- Amount: $1,500,000
- Label: Cost to buy an ad on every story on a major news site every day until the election
- [Second bar:]
- Amount: $200,000
- Label: Cost to pay five college students $20/hour to camp the site 24/7 and post the first few comments the moment a story goes up, giving you the last word in every article and creating an impression of peer consensus
- [Caption below the panel:]
- The problem with posting comments in the order they're submitted
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