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On several occasions while browsing Meta Stack Overflow, I have encountered the phrase information porn, typically used by Jeff Atwood. What does it mean?

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7 Answers

up vote 41 down vote accepted

This is a particular instance of the X porn meme template. I'm not going to provide a link for that, mostly because I don't relish what Google will try to show me if I search for it. In general, however, X porn is material of type X presented in an excessive, highly attractive format designed to elicit a strong reaction from the viewer. For example:

  • information porn (your example) would be tons and tons of information, laid out in an attractive manner that far exceeds your actual need or use for that information
  • food porn is the sort of stuff you see in cooking magazines, where gorgeous close-ups of delicious, fresh-cooked food are plastered on page after page
  • torture porn in an unfortunate trend in recent horror films where physical pain and torment of the characters is shown in excessive, nauseating detail.

And of course there's regular old porn porn.

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I believe you mean "pornographic porn." –  KitFox Aug 8 '11 at 17:39
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@Kit: Conventional porn sounds nice. –  Cerberus Aug 8 '11 at 18:11
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Yes, this extended usage of x-porn is on the verge of requiring a new term for standard pornography (a la porn porn). –  The Raven Aug 8 '11 at 19:58
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Apparently the word "porn", if not the original referent, has now been "sanitised" for general consumption. –  FumbleFingers Aug 8 '11 at 23:38
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Maybe old-style porn is "sex porn"? –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 9 '11 at 2:55
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Generally, X-porn, for any X, is kind of like... a really blatant hedonistic enjoyment of said X. e.g. watching the food channel or reading cookbooks and gazing at the pictures could be called food porn. Feasting your eyes on the visual delight and technical specs of the latest computer model could be technology porn, etc. (You might not want to google image these items with the safesearch off if you're at work.)

so information porn might be just loving to look at statistics and stuff, not because it's useful, but because you just like looking at it / reading up on non-useful things.

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I remember Joel Spolsky giving a definition of porn as, "Looking at things you can't afford," which I always found amusing and apt.

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I hadn't noticed this usage before, but given even the minimal context directly implied by the question, I think the meaning is pretty clear.

Basically, it just means information that's presented primarily to titillate or alleviate boredom, rather than to inform. Not exactly the same thing as Jeff Atwood's other bug-bears (jokes and "smut" on EL&U), but you can see how some information doesn't really play much of a role in enlightening seekers after knowledge.

Here is as good a definition as any: information as entertainment.

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Thank you for identifying a wonderful website with which I was not familiar prior to now. –  Feral Oink Sep 16 '12 at 20:36
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Daytum and the personal annual reports of Nicholas Felton might be a good example of information porn. But I'm inclined to call that stuff data porn. Information porn, well, that's just a good way to describe the addicting qualities of Wikipedia and Stack Exchange...it doesn't have to be glamorous.

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I agree with your answer re Daytum. I agree, grudgingly, re Nicholas Felton personal annual reports. Grudgingly, because you are right about the annual reports, although his other work is meaningful, and well-regarded. Re Wikipedia, I'm not sure HOW to describe that. Stack Exchange, I'm uncertain. I don't say that out of site loyalty, but because I like writing answers and editing. Particularly the latter, I find... the most compelling. Very scary confession to make... hmmm. –  Feral Oink Sep 15 '12 at 22:39
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JSBangs answer summed up the most common usage. Here are some alternatives.

  1. Information that makes you feel dirty. Overly salacious details of a celebrity altercation, or graphic details about an accident. Something that catches our interest and we want to read or hear, but afterwards we feel guilty about it.

  2. Information that is designed to provoke a strong reaction. Most often it is slanted or overstates something that makes for a good sound bite, or social cause. Its intent is to motivate action through semi-deception or sometimes even outright deception. See this news story for an example.

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I think this case is strictly a misuse.

Porn is inherently information (text, pictures, etc) of something sexual or sexualised. Historically pornography translates as "pictures of whores*", but the extension into other forms of information such as text or video is well-established.

By extension, X Porn is information of something enjoyed rather than X. Food-porn therefore is pictures of food that are enjoyed in itself, rather than if one says "that looks nice, I think I'll try some" and actually enjoying the food. (And just like real porn, what looks best in a picture may not be what tastes best when actually experienced).

Information porn would therefore be information about information enjoyed instead of the information. But even if one e.g. enjoyed the way information was put into an infographic, one can't help but also experience the information itself. To really be information porn then, one would have to enjoy the infographic etc. while completely ignoring the information itself. While people certainly do this, it doesn't seem to be what is meant.

*I'm not just being crude, there's several ancient Greek words for different types of prostitutes, and this is an attempt at matching the nuance.

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