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.
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.
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@example.com.
Head to the Dinner Table anytime using the Dinner Table tab at the top of the site.