Do blogs really enable conversations?

The contrarian in me wonders whether blogs really enable conversations. I mean real, meaningful dialog. Many blogs allow comment posting. But most of those comments are unrelated to each other, and it’s rare that there is a discussion that a visitor can follow, let alone participate in. If a blog was a dinner party, it would be full of people simply speaking their views without listening to the others. Small pockets of dialog would occasionally break out but be drowned by the others and separated in time. Not really what one would call proper discourse.

Blogs such as TypePad blogs also offer Trackback functionality, which links posts together. But try explaining the concept of Trackbacks to non-bloggers (i.e. most blog readers), it’s utterly baffling. They’re supposed to help readers glide to related content, but many Trackbacks simply lead to a conversational cul-de-sac, which points you back to the place you’ve just been.

Of course it’s still early days, but to really engender conversation, the technology needs to make a leap forward to:

  • Allow conversational threads to be followed clearly by readers so we can see which comment relates to which.
  • Enable those conversational threads to leap from blog to blog.
  • Update us automatically when a replying comment is posted to an initial comment. I’ve seen this at Shel and Neville’s For Immediate Release blog, but nowhere else (and even then it’s just comments to the same post, not in relation to the comment thread).
  • Add presence to comments so we can have a ‘live’ conversation – on-blog or privately.
  • Simplify the Trackback functionality so it is understood by bloggers and readers.

Of course, blogging does spark interaction in a way that websites do not, but true conversations are full of nuances and social norms which we’re not capturing at the moment. How will this be addressed? Now there’s a topic for debate.

  • Comments and Trackbacks in Blogs, A True Conversation?

    Morgan McLintic asks, “Do Blogs Really Enable Conversations?” It is a thought provoking post. On the subject of comments he says: Many blogs allow comment posting. But most of those comments are unrelated to each other, and it’s rare that…

    Morgan: I have been reading (and studying) blogs for a while now. I’ve been doing that for two reasons: (1) I am interested in learning about blogging for my own business interests, and (2) I am genuinely interested in reading, and participating in, what others have to say across a wide range of topics.
    In my experience, I have learned much more from a lively conversation with someone who has an interesting point of view than I would have by only reading their “book” or through some other static presentation of their ideas
    Many bloggers appear to “post and move on”…and though comments are welcome, it’s exceptional to see a dialogue develop around the post where the blog author actively participates… and where a real conversation develops. Some do very well in responding, but I feel the majority are merely acting as billboards of information and points of linkage. Scoble, Rubel and Jeremy Wright are good at replying to comments, and I think it’s because they “get it” about the value that is represented in discussion and interaction. As do many others, so my point isn’t about how “bad” some bloggers are, it’s more about what blogging could aim for as it goes through these early stages.
    We all might benefit from the story about the reputed comment made by Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemmingway when she said something like: “Ernest, you must learn that conversations are not literature.” I submit that the opposite is true for our unfolding blogging universe, and that conversations ARE the literature that will make this wonderful new medium a classic and lasting form of meaningful communication.
    I think the questions you raise are partly due to the technology of trackbacks, threads and linkage that might impede dialogue or cause confusion; but on the whole, I feel that if a blog raises a question or asks for comment, then the author has a responsibility to remain engaged with his or her readers.
    Thanks for the post; it’s a timely subject.

  • Hi Joe,
    Thanks for your insight. I think you might be right – some blogs are simply a billboard for the author’s view and any comment or discussion merely an adjunct. I agree if you want to create or continue dialog then it is beholden on the author to engage in that conversation where possible. At least if you ask a question, it’s polite to listen to the response.
    Perhaps this is exaggerated by the fact that bloggers (or at least I for one) often reply via email to comments. Certainly if it’s a more private comment, or just a simple thanks. A reader then may assume that the author doesn’t respond, until they post a comment and realize there is a backchannel of one-to-one dialog.
    Most of the issue at the moment, I think revolves around the technology, which is at once frustrating, but also encouraging since I’m sure it will improve. Already if you use a Yahoo 360 blog, you can include IM presence so that readers can ping you when online for direct discussion. I hope this comes to other blogging systems such as Typepad, which powers this blog.
    I also think that there will be better conversation thread technologies which link the debate better across blogs. BlogPulse is good but not really a ‘live’ conversation tracker.
    Appreciate you taking the time to share this comment. Very helpful.