My story on the survivability of a checked laptop drew hundreds of comments from readers online, proving out a well-known law of online discourse. Called the Wilcox-McCandlish Law, it essentially describes the inevitability of a forum discussion devolving into a Black Hole.
The wonderful thing about the web is that anyone, anywhere, can comment on anything – and those comments are out there for the whole world to see. Needless to say, that’s having an interesting impact on editors like me. We’ve gone from experiencing a more confidential type of feedback from a few readers to at times being on the receiving end of literally hoards of strangers weighing in on our prose.
Some editors eat up every word. Some editors can’t stand the scrutiny. For me, it’s a little like picking at a scab – what people say about my writing can be enlightening, absurd, and at times quite venomous and, yes, painful. But yet so compelling it’s almost impossible not to keep on reading.
Take my news story “You Can Claim Your Busted Laptop on Carousel #2.” News last month that the British government thwarted an alleged terrorist attack planned for flights from the U.K. to the U.S. left many travelers that day with no choice but to check their laptops. Or cancel their trip.
As Road Warriors everywhere frantically tried to figure out the best way to protect their Apple Notebooks and pricey Sony VIOs, I wondered myself as a former design engineer whether my laptop could survive in checked baggage. That was the inspiration for the story, which included interviews with luggage companies, an expert in packaging design, and an engineer with two decades of experience in “shake and bake” testing for Digital Equipment Corp.
The story was picked up by various online sites, including Slashdot (www.slashdot.org), generating some 60,000 page impressions to the article. Slashdot is a site that founder Rob Malda described in an interview with Design News in 2003 as “a kind of Cliff Notes for the lazy.” It points readers to articles it deems relevant and interesting to the techie community and manages the flurry of discussion that follows. My story generated 413 comments.
Some readers took me to task for being too late to the party with an outdated story (the ban had been lifted) -- ouch! Others proposed that theft was of more concern than damage, including one very funny comment about orangutan fecal samples. A baggage handler even weighed in on the discussion, defending his profession and the unfair reputation he and his coworkers have of being brutes and thieves. I was also accused of being a shill for the luggage industry (I am not).
All in all, highly amusing and a bit of a skin-thickening exercise. See all the comments (unfortunately you can’t pile on yourself, the discussion has been archived) on Slashdot.
Or if you feel the urge to comment, feel free of course, to just email me. But no comparisons, please, to Halliburton (the luggage) to Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s former employer).