Last week's post on facilitating conversations between commenters on a blog post opened up some great discussions, both in comments here and at other blogs, that I wanted to try to pull together a little. Warning--ill-formed "process post" ahead.
As you'll recall, I started with asking some questions about what we as bloggers could to to expand conversations so that they didn't just occur between the blogger and the commenter, but also between commenters on a particular post.
I mentioned that I thought part of the problem in doing this is the very nature of blogs, but Christy Tucker said it far more eloquently than I did:
Part of it boils down to the fact that blogs really are designed more for the conversations around one person's ideas than around each other's ideas. Conversations that are really in-depth are often more suited to become actual posts, either on the original blog or on the commenter blogs. And blogs in general are more for parallel dialog than direct dialog; George Siemens wrote about this idea last January on his connectivism blog. Much of the conversation with blogs isn't through comments, but through other blog posts responding to those ideas.
True. Blogs, by their nature tend to be a one-to-many type of medium, despite our best efforts to turn it into something bigger and more community-oriented. I still control where the conversation goes by virtue of the fact that I'm the one who starts all posts. If I'm responsive to readers, I'll obviously take their interests into consideration. But reality is that I'm still the one in control. If I want more of a community feel, then forums are probably more suited to that because they allow others to start up their own discussions.
Related to this issue is the current state of blog technology, which doesn't allow for very effective or efficient managing of conversations that occur not only in comments but also in responses to a post that are posted on other blogs. Yes, tools such as coComments and plug-ins that allow you to sign up to be notified of subsequent comments to a post can help you keep track of what's happening in the conversation in some ways. But, as Atul Sabnis notes
If we go by Christy’s thought — which I completely agree with — and in-depth responses to posts are presented as posts on the commentators blog, then we have a small problem of tracking the entire posts as responses — and someone who is tracking the topic, now needs to go many places to see what people are responding.
Is it possible for RSS to become slightly more intelligent such that it tracks (a) the comments on Michele’s post, (b) the response posts to Michele’s post, and (c) the comments/responses to the response posts on Michele’s post?
You can see that pretty quickly if we bring up a juicy topic, there are so many strands of discussion to follow that can add to our knowledge on all of this--the original post, blogger responses to that post and all comments to each of those responses. These different strands potentially add to our exploration of the topic, yet we don't really have a way to keep track of all of that or at least I haven't seen anything that will allow us to have that level of tracking. But maybe I'm missing something? Anyone know?
David Wilcox raised some new and interesting questions, too, about how to spread blog conversations beyond blogs into face-to-face, Facebook, mainstream media, etc. Interestingly, this entire discussion originated in our Building a Better Blog social network and I pulled it over here for further musing and comment. It has since spread to other blogs, including to Sue Waters who has some additional ideas on how to facilitate interactions with readers.
So even without a lot of facilitation on our part, we're starting to see a bleeding of discussions into a variety of social media, beyond just blogs. It was complicated enough trying to keep track of things when we're talking strictly about blogging platforms, But now I think we may be looking even beyond that. Atul's idea of figuring out how to pull all of these conversations together into a single, easy-to-use interface that is automatically updated as people respond to the conversation will be an important value-add to facilitate discussions. Not sure what this will look like, though or how it might work. I don't think that just having feeds is going to work. It will rapidly get too complicated to really manage all the potential information coming in. So I think that there needs to be some "intelligent RSS" as Atul calls this.
Right now this is still kind of fuzzy. I'm thinking that a graphic of some sort might help.
What ideas do you have about all of this?
UPDATE--Lisa Junker emailed me to suggest that both the size of a blogging community as well as the length of time a blogger has been writing can both impact the sense of community that will be more likely to result in cross-commenter discussions. In particular, I think she's right about the size of the readership. If only a small percentage of people online are actually commenting, then you have to have a pretty sizable audience to get that level of community going.
Also--Beth Kanter is taking this conversation even further. She has a nice graphic on the intensity of sharing and how we have to create a framework for sharing that encourages and supports those who are new to blogging or else there's no room for growth. She also points out that bloggers have to "weave" new conversations by synthesizing conversations and then adding to the discussion. Good stuff--definitely go read it.