Is social killing conversation, or have we just found other ways to talk?

killingEvery once in a while we stumble upon a blog post or article that grabs hold of us and really makes us think; one such post recently came from Ian M Rountree entitled "What Happened to Blog Reactions?" Ian asks why we no longer see chains of blog posts with authors directly responding to the thoughts of others via "high caliber blog engagement actions".

Perspective

In the past we had bulletin boards, IRC and forums - we talked to each other, meaningful threads of dialog going back and forth over and over every minutiae of the given topic.

Blogging gave a permanent home to our thoughts under our own control, a record where we could fully explore an idea at length. IRC became less popular and forums became fractured places - often full of aggressive confrontation rather than proper conversation - but little else existed. It was therefore not surprising to see blog conversations - long form reactions to a specific post

As I have said before: the social landscape is changing, but it's gone way beyond just the social networks we use - it is the fact that we have the social networks as alternatives to our blogs.

Now, for all our protestations that we are social and more in touch with our "friends" than ever before the fact remains that true conversation has significantly reduced - many are looking at the quick win with short form networks; appearing to talk to many but actually saying very little.

The conversation

The discussion around changes to the global conversation have been ongoing for years and the ability to read posts elsewhere (RSS readers, social tools) negates the need to visit the originating site - this has had a massive impact on "in situ" comments. Where anyone is commenting these don't necessarily get back to the originating author (Facebook, Google Buzz, etc.)

We now have access to far more information and it is quicker, and easier, to reply by short form messages such as tweets, Buzz posts and Facebook updates.

There seems less need to resort to long form responses due to the low barriers to entry to social networks but these options did not previously exist meaning your only options were via on site comments or your own full posts.

Quality

Short form responses are often throwaway one liners - immediate responses with little consideration.
It may be simple to publish a short form response but this is no guarantee of quality - just look at what Tim Berners Lee has to say about how twitter only amplifies the extreme points of view "the emotionally charged" as he puts it.

Often, reasoned debate is not something that tends to be noticed; we are becoming children of a sensationalist age - gossip junkies after a quick fix. Social networks run the risk of becoming the online equivalent of tabloid newspapers.

Change

It has been a common theme recently but change is inevitable. Our tools alter and develop, and our usage patterns adjust accordingly. The sheer quantity of information we are now exposed to pulls our attention in different directions; we are permanently distracted and, therefore, not always able to devote the time that we should to individual items.

Ian mentions that we are in a "rush for personal authority" and I would argue that, for some, the act of curation is a means to achieve this. By continually sharing relevant, interesting news the aim is to build a community around the feed but there must be balance - if we are all curating the news then no-one is really reading it, taking the time to digest it and react.

It is argued that having our news curated for us saves us the time and trouble of finding it ourselves but we are often presented with so much that it is, in fact, counter-productive. We skim through longer posts and how often do we see "DRTL" in the comments - if we are too time constrained to even read blogs how are we to expect ourselves to reply?

Downsizing?

Perhaps we all need to rein ourselves in, follow fewer people, subscribe to fewer feeds and start focusing on the quality of our interactions rather than the quantity. We cannot possibly hope to keep up to speed with everything so must focus on what is most important in order become less distracted.

Perhaps by downsizing we can all devote more time to high calibre blog engagements and, once again, get the conversation going. Alternatively, have we reached the tipping point and web culture has changed such that blog conversations are no longer deemed relevant or necessary?

What are your thoughts?

Image by Emanuele Rosso

  1. I'm in the process of downsizing. Having gone for quantity rather than quality in the past, I fount it almost impossible to interact on a personal level with everybody. So now I aim for a smaller audience, more quality content and personal interaction.

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