Ask any “social media consultant” and they’ll tell you – “you’ve gotta be part of the conversation.” This is typically about the end of the advice, though it probably also includes things like “get on Twitter”, “respond to comments”, and other recurring uses of the word conversation. And now for a new media interlude…
Here’s the issue I have: I don’t see much conversing. I see a lot of one-to-many and one-to-nobody content sessions, but rarely do I see anything that comes even close to a conversation. In a conversation, when one person talks, everyone else involved is listening. At the end of the individual talking, another person talks (though there may be a little overlap to determine who is being the most forceful about talking next). Again, while this second person talks, others are listening (or possibly checking sports scores on their iPhone). The pattern repeats. If you feel lost, read this fun article for more help on “conversing”.
Online, however, it’s extremely rare to see anything that resembles conversing. One person gets the ball rolling, either by a blog post, twitter, or posting first in a discussion forum. After that, havoc ensues. Multiple respond simultaneously, instantly fracturing the original discussion into numerous threads. Newer visitors see the additional comments and either (1) skip/ignore them completely, or (2) reply to one of them. Also, since many of the discussion systems (or commenting systems) don’t use visibly threaded replies, it’s difficult-to-impossible to create a single thread of discussion. Most, if not all, commentors do not return to see replies, and rarely actually engage with the original author. And then there’s Twitter, which is pretty much the ultimate in non-linear discussion.
I find this more than a little frustrating. First, it create a near-zero value reward system to anyone who “participates” in any form of discussion/conversation/comment thread. Why bother adding value or debating, when you probably aren’t even coming back to see what people write? Instead, commenting is basically a huge dumping ground, where people show up, drop some clever remark (psst, it’s not that clever), and then leave, having made the Internet just slightly worse than it was 17 seconds prior. “Bad commenting” is so commonplace there’s even a funny list defining the worst kinds out there!
The worst part of all this is it applies equally to the “thought leaders” that preach all the virtues the “social web” (social is no longer needed to describe the Web, it’s just social all the time, okay?). It doesn’t matter if you’re on a monster truck fan page or the freshest Web 2.3 blogger’s microvlog – the content is equally disorganized. And it’s just as much a mess on Twitter and FriendFeed, by the way, so it doesn’t matter how much of an “early adopter” you are – the “conversations” are just as screwed up as anywhere else.
So if you want to give anyone advice, it’s probably more likely to say “You’ve gotta be part of the shouting match!” I guess a better way to have said it all would’ve been “It Seems like Internet Discussions are being Moderated by Jackson Pollock.”