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.