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Bursty Blogging – Studying email, letter writing, and blogging

I teach nature photography, and one of my favorite subjects is teaching patterns in nature. When Mandelbrot came up with fractal theory which introducted the ability to actually measure clouds, mountains, and rugged coast lines, it was very exciting for me. Now I had a name for these patterns.

Well, the math and sciences have attacked letter writing and blogging and come up with some results. In Email and Letter Writing Share Fundamental Pattern from New Scientist, a researcher came up with the “bursty” pattern to describe writing and email methods.

Both Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein relied on pen, paper, and the postal service to communicate with correspondents around the world. But researchers have now found the pattern of their replies is the same as that of computer users answering email today, with both following the same mathematical formula.

The pattern could reflect some basic biological encoding that shows up in everything from humans at work to birds foraging for food, according to Albert-László Barabási, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US.

In previous work, Barabási looked at how long it took people to answer their email, and found a “bursty” pattern – most emails are answered fairly quickly, but a few sit around for a long time, and some sit around for a very long time.

To describe the pattern, Barabási created a mathematical model in which people prioritise their emails, then respond to the high priority emails quickly and the low-priority emails more slowly. When he crunched the numbers, his model fit the observed results perfectly (Nature, vol 435, p 207).

This could easily apply to blogging. Do you tend to post a lot in a burst of frantic energy, and then let it ride for a while? I do, though I struggle not to. It does come in great bursts.

According to their study and comparisons, co-author João Gama Oliveira, University of Aveiro in Portugal, studied the letters of Darwin and Einstein.

These two icons worked in a time when scientific communication was largely by written letter – Darwin sent at least 7591 letters in his career, and Einstein sent 14,500, writing an average of half a letter and one letter per day, respectively.

Yet despite the differences between electronic communication and paper, the same pattern held up – both men answered most of their mail quickly, within about 10 days. But some of the answers took months or even years to send (Nature, vol 437, p 1251). “From the scientific point of view, the interesting thing is that there is a fundamental way that we do things,” Barabási says.

So if Einstein and Darwin did it, and I’m just like them, what does THAT say?

Do you recognize this “bursty” pattern when you handle email and blogging? Think there’s a measure of truth here?


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3 Comments

  1. Posted November 6, 2005 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Interesting perspective! Thanks for tipping us about it. And I tend to post a lot in a burst of frantic energy as well :D

    It’s sometimes intimidating how these folks are studying our behaviour :( There might come a day where there won’t be any surprises left :(

  2. Posted September 30, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes it’s the important messages that require a longer time to answer, because the answer is not routine and it requires careful thought.

  3. Posted September 30, 2007 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I sure garbled the grammar on my last comment! Guess it’s time to go to sleep!


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  1. […] Ok, alright, the title was just a hook. Nonetheless this post by Lorelle is quite interesting as it gives a more scientific base to my behavious regarding postings, especially the pattern of posting a million posts at a time and then laying low for a month:) […]

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