Conversation = Content + Connection

Let’s start with four statements about conversation(s).

  • “Conversation is a profound act of humanity.” That quote is from a wonderful essay, the wonderful title of which provides the next statement.
  • Markets Are Conversations (Searls & Weinberger).
  • The naked corporation should have naked conversations with customers and other stakeholders. (Each of the naked terms is a book title: the first is how Tapscott & Ticoll describe the transparent and trustworthy firm, while the second is how Scoble & Israel describe corporate blogging done right.)
  • Conversation = content + connection.

The above statements set the stage for some thoughts prompted by Alex Iskold’s remark (on Read/Write Web) that blogging just isn’t that hot anymore, in part due to “competition from social networks and microblogging platforms.” My first reaction was what I now think of as a knee-jerk defense of blogging: microblogging is still blogging, blogging is conversation and hence social, a blogroll is a set of links in a social network, as well as a set of web links, etc.

Taking a step back enables a clearer second thought. Conversation is still vital to the web, to society, and to human nature. What’s changing on the web right now is the relative emphasis between two ingredients of conversation: content and connection.

Traditional blogging emphasizes content. The “average” blog post is like a short article, with a few paragraphs, such as the most popular recent post on this blog. There is of course a lot of variation around this average: some of my posts are far shorter, some are rather longer, and posts at RWW tend to be in-depth, and hence on the long side.

Social networks, of course, emphasize connection. But if you look at a page on, say, Facebook, you will see not the person’s connections, but also content. Compared with blog content, Facebook content is more likely to be compressed. For example, the top of my profile includes status, which is rather brief, and links to some of my recent web activity, which happens to be blogging. It compresses each post down to author, post title, and blog name.

I could now take the paradoxical step of expanding on various forms of compression. But I won’t, since to do so might cannibalize a follow-up post, would make this post longer than I want it to be, and would dilute the main point of the post.

The point is that conversation is vital to us, that content and connection are two of the main ingredients of conversation, and that there is currently a trend on the web toward conversations heavier on connection and lighter on content. To be more specific, that’s the point I’ve tried to make in this particular post, and the point around which I’m trying to get a conversation started.

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