If you’ve been following the podcast’s recommendations over the past few years, then odds are you’ve ended up somewhere on Line Webtoon once or twice.
Webtoons offer a great reading experience for webcomics: posting multiple pages for each chapter means you can blitz through really meaty chunks of a comic each update, and the way the posts flow into one another (particularly on mobile devices) leads to a real sense of ‘just-one-more’ishness equalled only by a packet of crisps or free booze at a work Christmas party.
But as you’re scrolling to the bottom, waiting for that little arrow to bump and tick you over into the next strip, you go past the comments. And inevitably, you see some variant of the following:
“Witty comment pertaining to the latest update. (Edit: OMG! This is my first top comment you guys! Thank you, thank you, please remember that [cartoonist] is the real hero here, please like and support their work. Who thought this little thing I dashed off with barely any thought would be so popular haha I love you alllllllllllllll)”
The psychology behind commenting on the internet has been subject to a number of investigations, articles and academic papers over the years – but it seemed to me that this phenomenon was a little different to the standard trolling or ‘First!’ comments that plague other creative platforms like YouTube. So why do people feel the need to edit their comments once the original achieves some popularity?
A good first clue comes from a list of comment types developed by researchers Amy Madden, Ian Ruthven and David McMenemy in 2013. Under their classification system, internet comments (specifically for YouTube) can be sorted into ten broad categories, three of which seem pertinent here: Impressions, Opinions and Responses.
According to Madden et al, ‘Impression’ comments tend to be brief, off-the cuff responses to content, and are a kind of stand-in for something someone might interject in conversation. This is pretty close to the types of comments in the original, unedited posts that tend to rocket up the like chain – often these are additive jokes, or situational humour based on the strip their attached to, broadening and adding to the joke like someone might build off a punchline at a party, sending the audience into further gales of laughter.
‘Response’ and ‘Opinion’ comments, however, follow a more deliberate set of rules. Responses to other people’s comments on YouTube (and one’s own, for our Webtoons analogue) tend to be reflective, with the broad range of response types often including additional information to the original posts such as justifications, explanations, challenges or refutations. ‘Opinions’ are equally reflective, with a higher proportion of comments classified thus indicating research, specific examples used in the comment, and tend to be both longer and with better spelling/grammar (indicating greater time spent and perhaps even editing).
‘Response’ and ‘Opinion’ comments reflect the types of comments one might see in the EDIT: of the ‘Top Comment’ on Webtoons. Explanations of why the initial post was made, or a call to action on behalf of the author are broadly a (good) opinion of the comic itself, after all – and are definitely a response to the success (or perceived success) of the initial comment.
Unlike the YouTube research, however, the edited top comments on Webtoons all share one commonality: thanking the readers/voters of the webcomic for their appreciation of the commenter’s addition to the source material. Whereas YouTube comments might descend into banter between various commenters (for good or ill), the Webtoons communication is one-way, with ‘responses’ taking the form of the up/downvote buttons on a given comment. So why, when they know people won’t be able to respond, do commenters take the extra time to go back and edit their responses once they hit ‘Top Comment’ status?
In 2008, a study by John Paolillo on YouTube commenting behaviour indicated that the majority of substantive comments on the platform were put there by authors who have either a personal connection to the author, or a personal connection to the platform itself (ie – fellow content creators). Whilst 2008 is basically the Cretaceous in Internet Time, it is only three years after YouTube’s official launch – which is broadly analogous to the three years since Line Webtoon also launched globally, from the earlier Korean-only version of the site – so at this point we can probably expect that these trends may be holding for Webtoons as well.
Taken together, Paolillo’s and Madden et al‘s research suggests that the people who are most likely to comment on a Webtoon post are those who either create webcomics themselves, or who feel personally attached to the creator. If the commenter is also a webcomicker, then the urge to ‘further the joke’ and the delight of seeing that joke be successful is no doubt the same kind of success one would feel when their own webcomic is received well – and with an understanding of the effort involved to produce high-quality comics on a regular schedule, you can see why that fellow creator might want to respect this in an edit of their comment. As a creator, they would also be used to the one-way communication of presenting something for an audience (whether that be a comic or a commentary below it on one’s personal site) and thus, it doesn’t seem out of place to pop in and give a thank-you, even when you know nobody is going to respond back (and have most likely moved on to the next comic right after giving their thumbs-up).
But even when the commenter is not a fellow creator, the ‘personal investment’ angle highlighted by the research is something we readers are all too familiar with. We get invested in the comics we love, coming back day after day or week after week to see what our favourite author/artists have left for us. So it stands to reason that, if a witty comment gets some love by a community of like-minded readers, we feel like we share in some of the webcomic author’s process. We feel like we’ve added value to the comic – and now we have a platform to speak of our love for the comic to its community like never before. People reading the comic we love will see what we have to say about it.
And all in all, that’s pretty great.
Have you ever crested the heights of comment success with a ‘Top Comment’ rating on Webtoons? Did you go back in and edit that to thank the comic’s readers? We’d love to hear your reasons why in the comments below or on Twitter – and if you’re someone who’s seen these comments but has a different interpretation of why people might do what they do, let us know!
And until next time, always remember: don’t eat the clickbait!
Paolillo John, (2008) “Structure and Network in the YouTube Core”, Proceedings of the 41st Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS 2008), https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/4438859/
Madden Amy, Ruthven Ian, McMenemy David, (2013) “A classification scheme for content analyses of YouTube video comments”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 69 Issue: 5, pp.693-714, https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-06-2012-0078