Introducing the Dinner Table

A blog is like a piece of internet fly paper.

The internet is swarming with billions of people, and when one of them ends up on a blog, it’s like a fly landing for a second on a piece of fly paper. But internet fly paper isn’t like normal fly paper, which catches every fly that touches it. Internet fly paper is only sticky for certain types of people, depending on the type of content it puts out there and how useful or enjoyable that content is.

When someone ends up on a blog or another kind of content site for the first time, reads something, and likes it enough to remember to come back later, bookmark the page, subscribe by email or follow on social media, they stick to the paper. Everyone else lands once, flies away, and never comes back.

If you took a close look at the fly paper of any blog and who’s stuck to it, you’d see a group of people who are a reflection of what the site is putting out there, whether in their interests, needs, sense of humor, general wavelength, or any other way a person can connect to blog posts.1

The fly paper of a cooking blog will collect people who like to cook. A Pakistani cricket site will collect a lot of Pakistani cricket fans. It’s pretty simple.

Except what if your blog sometimes talks about aliens, but sometimes it talks about relationships, but sometimes it talks about bunnies, but sometimes it talks about Iraq, but sometimes it talks about how much to tip the delivery guy when it’s raining?

What kind of odd fucking group of people do you end up with on that fly paper?

Meet the Wait But Why community.

So what defines the WBW community?

1) They’re smart, curious, and thinky. WBW posts are longggg and often dive way into a not-that-concrete topic—which turns off anyone who doesn’t like to think hard and deeply about things. And the posts tend to include a lot of facts and science and math and psychology, and even the posts on silly topics tend to be full of graphs and stats—which scares away all of the people who used to say “Um we’re not in class anymore” in high school when people would talk after school about something they had learned in class.2 We consider WBW a brain playground, which collects the type of people who like to brain play.

2) They’re not that serious. Wait But Why posts—even the serious ones—are riddled with silly drawings, curse words, and jokes. Really serious people can’t stand the site.

3) They can’t be put in a box beyond #1 and #2. The post topics are all over the place, and one fun side-effect of that is that the fly paper doesn’t hone in on any one group of people, so the WBW community is incredibly diverse—there are readers of all ages and all kinds of backgrounds, and because of the good fortune that the language we speak happens to be widely spoken throughout the world, the community includes people from literally every country on Earth.

So let’s look at where that leaves us—we have a group of smart, curious people who like to brain play, but they’re also kind of immature, and they come from a vastly varied group of worlds and life experiences.

Um—

Love you all

We’re not just guessing about what our readers are like—there are rich and interesting community discussions every week in the blog’s comment sections and on our Facebook page, and we get lots of emails from people every day. Our readers keep teaching us things, inspiring us, and making us laugh. And all of this keeps confirming 1, 2, and 3 above about the people who read this site.

I’ve also gotten a large number of emails and comments that say something along the lines of what a reader named Rebecca wrote in a comment on last week’s post:

I wish we had a WBW community in which we could make friends and share ideas.

I agree. The comment sections are a start, but we want to do a lot better at enabling the WBW community to interact with each other and with us. We have a number of exciting ideas about how to do this, and we’re going to launch one of them today:

Dinner Table

There’s no one I’d rather have dinner with than the WBW community. But since that would be logistically difficult, we’ve created a virtual version called the Dinner Table, and we want to use it to bring the WBW community together to discuss things, ask questions, be weird, and learn from each other.

Here’s how it works

  • Once a week, on Sunday, I’ll put up a new Dinner Table discussion topic or question.
  • It’ll function like a forum, with a comment section below, and comments can be upvoted or downvoted.
  • Comments will be automatically sorted with the most recent comments at the top, but you can also toggle to sorting by “best” to put the comments with the most votes on top.

We like Sunday because it allows the people who like to hang out on the internet on weekends to dive into the topic then, and people who’d rather dick around while they’re at work can jump in the next day or anytime that week.

Topics

Dinner Table topics, like WBW posts, will widely vary. We want to discuss mind-bending thought experiments, current events, the human condition, riveting science facts, useful life tricks, our personal struggles and triumphs, our anonymous secrets, big world issues, etc. etc. I’ll closely watch which topics get the most activity and produce the most interesting discussions, and that’ll help me get better and better at picking good weekly topics.

But it’s not much of a dinner table if only I can bring up new topics. That’s why we’ve created [email protected] as a way for readers to send topic suggestions to us. If we love a topic a reader sends, I’ll make it the weekly Dinner Table topic (we’ll credit the reader with First Name, Last Initial, City—unless the reader specifies otherwise when they email us).

Feel free to get completely creative with topics you suggest—anything’s on the table.3

Rules

1) Don’t be a dick.

The good news is that if you look at a bunch of internet comment sections and then look at WBW’s, you’ll see how pleasant ours is. Very little hatred or idiocy going on, which makes it very different than other places. Again, not a surprise because it’s a great community.

No other rules. Answers can be as short as one word or as long as 20 paragraphs. They can include pictures, further questions—whatever you want. When you like an answer, you should upvote it. If you really don’t like it, downvote it. Pretty straightforward.

Most importantly, engage! This is only fun/interesting/useful if a lot of you show up at dinner ready to talk.

Email Notifications

If you want to be notified by email when the new weekly topic is up each week, enter your email address below. (This is different from the normal email subscribe list that sends out new posts.)

Any of this may change—we’re testing this and we’ll iterate on the original idea as time goes by. But this seems like a good starting place. As usual, we welcome any feedback now or as time goes on about this at [email protected]

Head to the Dinner Table anytime using the Dinner Table tab at the top of the site.


  1. The exception in the “stuck” group is the site’s anti-reflection—sometimes people come back to a site again and again because they hate it so much.

  2. I never liked those people.

  3. Pun not originally intended but then I was thrilled with it.

  • mmKALLL

    I feel like starting the discussions on Saturday or Friday due to time zones would be much easier on those who spend weekends on the interwebs but don’t have the possibility to stay up in anticipation until 3 am.

    Other than that, this seems like a wonderful idea!

    • Tim Urban

      Good points. We thought a lot about it and decided that posting early on Sunday was the best compromise for weekend and weekday people. But there’s also nothing wrong with waiting until the next weekend to jump in.

  • Eric W.

    So when you say “Sunday,” do you mean “Sunday?” Or do you mean “some-indiscriminate-period-of-time-that’s-nominally-supposed-to-be-sunday?”

    (either is totally fine – great idea, I’m just going off of past experience with the site 🙂 )

    • Tim Urban

      Well posting a Dinner Table topic is about 1/280th the work of posting a post, so hopefully keeping this schedule regular is less of a problem.

      Hopefully.

  • Rebecca John

    I haven’t even read the post yet- but as soon as I saw the title i just HAD to say – THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!

  • Dano

    Thanks for turning the mirror on us. Very cool. What I love about WBW is that you put a voice to the part of my consciousness that rolls its eyes about life and society. It’s my smart rational self that doesn’t think linear. I’m a lithe scared about how well you nail my thoughts and observances–that I could never articulate. I love geeing out with you. Thank you.

  • Rebecca John

    Tim Urban mentioned ME in his post. I’m going through this very weird fan girl moment right now- and I am not sure if I am dreaming. OMIGOD.

  • bbroome62

    That was ONE LONG mission statement. 😉

  • Renzo Fantini

    Sunday or Sunday(ish)?

  • JStreet

    I’ll play. When do we start? Now? Ok. If I was 22 again (long time ago), I realise that the few songs I was writing were pretty good. In fact I still do some of them at shows. Then I’d have more confidence, ask for better gigs, and get a manager. Now I can write some songs that are even better, due to my many and varied experiences, but I’m not in very good repair, and am a little old to really work. Having said that, I think the very inefficiency of my approach over the years has allowed me to be the most honest, and given me the fuel for better writing. My thought is, whatever you’re doing – might as well believe in it. It’s you.

  • Fantastic Mr Hank

    Great to see WBW is growing and now evolving into basically a brainier Reddit type community!

    • Fantastic Mr Hank

      Nevermind, just got back from there, it’s quickly devolving into just like the regular Reddit… LOL!

      • M.B.

        Please elborate?

        • Fantastic Mr Hank

          Not much to elaborate, just go check it out yourself, there’s some circle-jerk going on over here, some bickering going on over there – just like Reddit, don’t get me wrong, I love Reddit, but that’s not why I come to WBW, I come here to seek knowledge, learn new, interesting, maybe obscure things from a proven researcher who’s an expert in his craft of delivering information. Not another Reddit.

          • M.B.

            Im not familiar with reddit (at least I barely ever visit the site) but I felt like the discussion going on was pleasant and calm.. maybe I have the wrong impression of reddit though.. always thought reddit was all about bashing and name calling etc. 🙂

            • Fantastic Mr Hank

              Don’t get me wrong, when I said The Dinner Table is turning into Reddit, I was not knocking it, Reddit and WBW are literally my 2 favorite sites, I can’t even tell you whether one is better than the other, they serve two entirely different purposes, they are like 1A and 1B to me.

              There is a reason they call Reddit “The Front Page of Internet”, because it is. There are millions of people on there contributing millions of topics every second of every day, the bright corners of Reddit are very bright (the threads devoted to Dr. Jonas Salk and Nicolas Cage) and the dark corners very dark (threads devoted to Beastilaity and Nicolas Cage).

              WBW on the other hand, is like attending a very spiritual, enlightening lecture given by an authority on a different topic every week(ish).

              I couldn’t live without either one!

            • M.B.

              Ah I guess I should check it out sometimes.. I guess at some point someone send me a link with something very disturbing and I wrote off reddit for ever haha.

              unfortunately, i cant visit the page while procrastinating at work.. its blocked. 🙁

              Thanks for the info though!

            • Fantastic Mr Hank

              They block Reddit at your work?! What kind of Communist company do you work for? LOL!

            • M.B.

              Hahaha! I work for a german IT company.. I guess that says it all. :))

  • Steven

    I love the idea of a forum type discussion. One thing I saw that may improve the content layout is that if all the subsequent comments for the initial poster be collapsed and only expand if a user wants to see more or reply the original poster. This way, we can see more ideas from more people instead of 1 idea and 10 comments before we see the next person’s idea.

  • AngelaK

    Oh Tim! I have read all the WBW posts but none has given me as warm, happy and fuzzy a glow as this! I can’t wait to have dinner with all you curious, irreverent, thinky, brilliant and fun folks!

  • JessicaLF

    I love this idea. When I share your posts on Facebook, the same two people like and comment. I have felt a kinship with them based on this common ground. My people! Cheers 🙂

  • Krusty Shakelford

    I was waiting for something like this. Hopefully next a convention.

  • Djyo

    Now that you mention a new tab.
    There’s something that bothered me more than it should, why isn’t the first letter of the tab titles in capital?
    (maybe i’m starting to have OCD)

    • Tim Urban

      We were trying to be edgy.

      • Djyo

        Damn right !

  • d

    When I was 22, I would have liked to know that I will have had myself and the world fully figured out and the next 22 years will have been spent uselessly trying to prove myself wrong. On the other hand, I will not have been able to figure out how to post comments in the dining table section of this blog I read like a complete Old Person.

  • Katattack 65

    There is a normal post coming? Wait but why? Lol.

  • Sooty Mangabey

    Cool beans!

  • Cliff

    Great idea, and I’ll probably join in a few discussions.

    Along these same lines, WBW users should all check out Quora. It’s like Yahoo! Answers, if YA didn’t suck. I’ve been quite surprised at the level of intelligence there, and the general civility of the debates that occur. It re-instills my hope for humanity.

  • Sophie

    I think that’s the best looking stick figure you’ve drawn yet. He looks confident but also capable of vulnerability.

  • budg

    I wish I had known that I am just like everyone else and that I shouldn’t have gotten my ego so blownt up. (I still gotta learn that now.)

  • W

    At 22, I was in my first year of medical school and surprisingly not too stressed about the future. I wish I had the foresight to make really, really good friends because school was a little miserable and soul-crushing at times. I didn’t think that I’d really need anyone but I definitely did.

  • Rena

    This is lovely, Tim. Are you going to sit at the table too? I just think that Friday evening would be so much better because of the time zones, as mmkall said. I’m the the east and your Sunday is my Monday – the beginning of a new, hopefully productive week. But the weekends could be nice to relax, debate and reply. 🙂

  • anotheroptimist

    Is it an offense to this dinner table idea to ask if it makes sense to have a WBW reddit sub set up? I have just been new to that scene for a while and like how its set up. I would be surprised if a lot of your followers aren’t familiar at least with Reddit. Anyway I would be down for that. I’ll stop my rant and read today’s table discussion now. I am sure you know what you’re doing 🙂

    Love your posts btw and am happy that you are encouraging discussion even more than before! Maybe I will stop being a lurker.

  • Karen

    This is a great idea. I would like to engage. The Sunday thing though… You see in Israel the work week is Mon-Thu and then there is the time difference. So if you post a topic on Sunday we would see it Monday morning, well into the our work week… Any chance of posting on Saturdays?

  • Andy Ross

    Great idea!

    Interesting sidenote: I was gobsmacked to mutually match with a WBW fan on Tinder, of all places.

    We shared a quick flirty conversation, but she didn’t want to meet me in person for real-life dinner table chat.

    As I had thought WBW was for people who are “smart, curious and like to brain play” as Tim says, I was bemused at the rebuke. The other girls on Tinder are like the “um we’re not in class anymore” type.

    Neither did I like those kind much!

  • Aki

    The Dinner Table is fantastic! The one topic so far has gone in so many fascinating directions.

    But PLEASE add some way to view expanded/contracted threads and replies – it’s impossible to follow which replies are to which previous comments when there are so many nested replies in between….

  • Jayden Huynh

    Hooray I’m 22! GRANT ME YOUR WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND I WILL BRING GLORY AND HONOUR TO THE DINNER TABLE IN AN UNSPECIFIED NUMBER OF YEARS.

  • Diya

    I learnt, after I passed the age of 22, that every year just got more difficult that the previous, in some way or other….So yes, with enjoying while you are ‘in the moment’ it would hurt to prep for the uphill challenge that each year brings.

  • Innocent Bystander

    I had the same thought as Logos Ratio did in the FaceBook comments – that this was going to be a way to allow us to physically get together and have live discussions. Online is nice, but an actual discussion group with fellow WBW readers would be fantastic. Come on Tim, make this happen! Too bad that Logos is in Colorado and I’m in New Jersey. Any other readers from South Jersey or Philly-area out there?

  • YOberyn Martell

    Will there be debates? I love debates.

  • Steph Lewis

    Tim- I love this idea. Two questions:
    – Will you tell us what you learn? About the WBW community and anything else?
    – Also, are you going to collect data from the posts? If so, what data and how will you use it?
    Just curious- I love your candor AND your stats.

  • I love the idea, I was wanting to have a little more engagement with the WBW community for a while. I always read lots of the comments because I think it’s kind of part of the post, so being able to read different points of views on different topics by the WBW community makes the webpage (noted how I didn’t say BLOG) so much richer!

  • Veleno Maleficarum

    What about brain foreplay?

  • Lorenzo

    When I was 22, I got arrested for large amounts of illegal drugs and was facing a lot of time in jail. Thankfully, a lot of money and knowing the right people got me off with no jail time and about 5 years ago a new law was passed that expunged my record. It’s been 12 years now and I have a great life. I have a great job, making great money, a great supportive family, and recently engaged. So to answer the post directly, when I was 22, I wish I knew the years of tremendous difficulty and negative impact a felony record would have on your life. Jail is serious and for the small amount of time I spent there while I was arrested made me realize that life is precious.

  • HeartBlossoms

    At 22, I wish I had known more about the Internet and entrepreneurship. It kills me to think about all the money I could have made when getting ranked on page one of a search engine was as easy as using the same keyword 20 times on a page!

  • Timelagged

    As a curious onlooker from a distant galaxy who ignores Fermi and has FTL communication, the comments arrive before the topic which is interesting and something of a challenge. By the way the answer is 43 not 42.

  • R1ckr011

    Damn you for sucking me into even more time on your blog T_T

    Also, for some extremely-obvious-but-not-to-be-discussed reason, I thought you said “kinky” instead if “thinky”. Then again the brain is the bodies biggest sex organ. VERY few animals have anything close to fetishes.

    Also: fetishes is a technical term for a type of idol or votive statue. I am curious as to your aspirations to delve into the development of religion. There was a VERY particular article I’m having a bitch of a time finding on micronesian/pacific island cultural evolution and the relationship of state religion and state government.

  • hozana

    Is an interesting topic. What is the best dinner table?درب اتوماتیک

  • bajilan

    It was an interesting story.نمایندگی ایران خودرو

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