How to Succeed on the Internet Without Really Trying

By Sean Carroll | September 9, 2011 8:24 am

Keen eyes will notice tiny improvements in the look-and-feel of the Discover blogs today, thanks to behind-the-scenes work of our crack website team. One improvement is that the social-media buttons at the bottom of each post are a little more clear and logical. They also let you know how many people have passed along a post via each medium.

Which leads me to an entirely unoriginal observation: the internet loves Top Ten lists. Perusing our home page, it’s easy to be struck by the giant numbers for the Things Everyone Should Know About Time post. It’s true that I like to think the post was actually interesting. (People seem to be divided between whether #4 or #10 is the most striking entry.)

But still, I’ll be honest: being at the conference I hadn’t been able to blog much, so I thought it would be good to write something that would be popular but not too hard to write. Thus: a top ten list. Box office!

So why exactly is that? I’m not disparaging: a good list is a way to convey a substantial amount of information in a well-organized form. But still, would it have been as popular had it been Top Seven? What if each entry were three times as long? What if the exact same words were presented without the numbers and bold-face labels?

No grand theories here, just idle curiosity. Enjoy the tiny aesthetic upgrade.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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