Can we have more comment fragmentation please!

Comment fragmentation is a hot topic in the blogosphere right now. There are tons of discussions on it. If you search on the topic you can see that every blogger has an opinion on it. There are tons of blog posts written on it. Today even Seesmic is being accused of hijacking threads of comments. I myself have commented a bit fragmented, here and there ;-) ,  so I thought it would be a good time now to provide you with my 2cts on the topic.

Many people seem to have a problem with comment fragmentation. I am going to try and avoid SEO debates on this. Not my thing really although I can understand and appreciate that being important to some bloggers. If we forget any SEO implications most bloggers seem to want to be able to track an entire conversation, preferably in one place. Most would like it on their blog, but if that doesn’t work then there are all kinds of tools around that will help you (or the toolmaker) to centralise it at another place. Friendfeed, Disqus, IntenseDebate, they are all at it.

While the idea of being able to track and follow a conversation that you might have started sounds good, I personally believe that centralising discussion is not a good thing. Conversations are by definition not bounded by time or space. They happen here and there, now and then. It is an illusion to think we can centralize discussions. One of my Friendfeed comments in one of such discussions was:

I just left a comment somewhere, can’t remember. And I saw a guy in an elevator and talked to him about it, my wife is in, and I think I might have dropped the subject somewhere at this party I was at last night, although I can’t remember if I was actually there or not. O yeah, and I just placed this comment here too. What is this fracturing all about, not a big deal obviously ;-)

While I ended it with a ;-) I did mean everything I said. At the very same time I’m writing this blog post I know there are people out there thinking the same or opposing thing. Writing it down or keeping it to themselves. Talking about it with others or installing software in order to try and get a grip on it.

You may provide an argument following this line “I wrote a post on a subject and I’m interested to follow and interact in the discussion that it started”. I get the part of wanting to be able to know and participate. It is fun, provides insight and helps our self esteem move up a notch or two.

“Did I just start that amazing conversation? Oh wait, is Robert Scoble paying attention to it, wow.  ;-) )”

Be honest, we all love that.

It’s even better if all of this conversation would take place on the original site, the place where the author published his blog post.

But social media technology and services have ensured that the conversation can take place anywhere. That’s the power of social media. It isn’t about media, content or distribution. It is about being able to interact anywhere we want. Web 1.0 and even 2.0 are about building destination sites. Concentrating traffic and users in one place, preferably with walled gardens. Social media is our great escape. It helps us to move away from destinations. It helps the user and the conversation to be set free. It enables what I call the user centric web. The web where the user, and not the destination is important.

Would I love to be able to track conversations I might have started? Sure. Would I love it when people would comment more on my blog than at other places. You bet. But some things should not be forced into central destinations. And conversation or comments are on that list. They need to be set free. They need to scatter around this wonderful universe. One giant conversation. Who cares if we can’t follow it from beginning to end. The great thing about it is, we can always start a new one!

Can we please have more fragmentation!

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See my about page, http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/about/ ;-)
This entry was posted in Disqus, fragmented comments, Friendfeed, IntenseDebate, Seesmic, social media, user centric web and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Can we have more comment fragmentation please!

  1. Well put. Comment fragmentation doesn’t bother me either considering how it maintains and reflects real life properties, something worth preserving in the online environment.

  2. Robin Cannon says:

    I think people are missing the point that fragmented conversation tends to mean *more* conversation. And it’s better to have more conversation even if it’s happening on a wider basis. Social media has removed a lot of the limitations to our discussions, with the result that even the less well known bloggers can find their articles publicised and discussed by the “bigger names”. Their overall profile develops through fragmentation. Basic SEO is becoming less and less relevant I think, and developing a profile and reputation via social media (at least in the early-adopter sphere) is becoming more important.

    And, it’s worth noting, that its possible to follow a fragmented conversation. YackTrack is a cool little tool for following the wider discussion on a single blog post, or indeed on relevant search phrases.

  3. Shey says:

    Alexander, I agree — I’m all for comment fragmentation , and I’m sure folks are tired of hearing me beat that ol’ drum again. But I think the fragmentation can be taken a step further. Not by centralizing comments, but by centralizing the different discussions taking place. That way users are able to see which conversations they want to add to.

    I’m not saying that the discussions should be centralized on the blog; I don’t care where they are — just the potential for user interaction is maximized.

  4. Shey I’m not sure if I agree with that. Centralization of comments/conversations taking place. it all adds up to the same thing. Conversations need freedom, not centralization.

  5. Shey says:

    How does aggregating the discussions restrict the conversations?

    This is essentially what Yacktrack does, but on an ad-hoc basis.

  6. Shey, it’s not so much restrictive, it’s just not very valuable to me. It’s impossible to get all these conversations in one place. It makes that place a destination site, something that we need to get rid off. Social media allow interaction anywhere. It isn’t restricted or centralized. Centralization will need a business model that is destination based. And that limits our options. It doesn’t set us or the conversation free. A bit theoretical perhaps, but I firmly believe in freedom.

  7. tara_h says:

    there are about a billion cubed conversations happening right now. probably more than all books ever written or some other poignant stat.
    can anything on the web that uses algorithms to find and organize content be manipulated?
    organic discovery is nice. if you love something you make it your life. if you love everything stay open. indexes are good. but filing systems are limited by dimensions?

  8. Corvida says:

    If more conversations mean more places for me to sign up, count me out. If you’re already on a bunch of sites as an early adopter, you might say “what’s one more?” For me, that’s one more too many that I can barely manage as it is. My conversations aren’t the only one’s I’d like to follow. It’s a tedious chore for any reader in the end to go from place to place to keep up with the conversations regardless of who the author is. I think a central community would be a great productivity tool, especially for bloggers who are trying to remain active and keep up. After a while, I just don’t pay attention to many conversations because I want to know the entire scope of it, not just bits and pieces here and there.

    Though I wonder if there will be a tool in the future that aggregates the conversations from each service like Yacktrack does.

  9. @Corvida, thanks for dropping by ;-)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t need to sign up for one more destination. Just go with the flow. if you see something you like you follow it. If you don’t see it, no harm right. Let the conversation flow like a river and dip in whenever you feel like it :-)
    Centralizing is a myth. if Yacktrack can centralize conversations, someone is bound to take a sidestep Yacktrack can’t cope with. What then? Nothing of course, let it be ;-)

  10. Rob Diana says:

    We all know how I feel about conversation fragmentation. The conversations will always be distributed. The important thing is knowing they are there. So, you can follow the conversations if you want, regardless of where. I do not think centralizing the comments is a good thing, as that will change the conversation.

    And thank you to my users! Robin, Shey and Corvida, you guys are awesome.

    Corvida, for my sake, I hope no other service aggregate conversations :)

  11. Rob Diana says:

    @Alexander
    YackTrack is not meant to centralize the conversation. It is meant to allow you to track the various conversations better. So if there is a conversation on FriendFeed, you can see that and hop over to FriendFeed and join in. YackTrack will never attempt to centralize everything, but being a point of contact for the conversations is definitely helpful to some people.

  12. Rahsheen says:

    Bloggers that get paid for visits complain that visitors will discuss their content elsewhere. They may as well go ahead and adapt. There is no stopping it.

    Others don’t want conversations to be occurring in multiple places because they are trying to keep up with all of them for one reason or another. Not only is this impossible, but this isn’t something that “normal” people do. Anything that attempts to aggregate conversations across social media services is only a specialty tool for those greedy for information.

    There is a “happy” medium here, but it’s slipping away fast. As services that allow your content to be commented on elsewhere increase, bringing those comments back to the content source becomes more and more ridiculous.

  13. Pingback: notes, thoughts, ideas and responses » A Desire To Preserve Conversation On The Web

  14. bentrem says:

    There was coComment … and then DisqUs, and IntenseDebate, and on and on … this concerns me. A lot.

    The “fragmentation” you address here has been central to my thinking since the 70s, when I realized that thousands of people discussing an issue in hundreds of venues could, in the end, produce a whole lot of heat without a whole lot of light. If there are 108,000 discussions of global warming there remains 1only1 planet Earth; if there are 84,000 discussions on the war in Iraq there remains 1only1 Iraq.

    I actually went back to U in my late-40s to try to get a handle on this. What I came up with?
    The social utility (read: “fun”) of inchoate discussion (read: “chatter”) is actually greater than that of productive discourse. It’s very natural to fiddle while Rome burns.

    Absent effective tools, we play … and the heavy-lifting is left to a mythical group of “others”.

    I’m reminded of this, by Confucius:
    “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, and what is meant is not said, then what ought to be done remains undone.”

    The “participatory deliberation” system I’ve devised (it’s like a discourse-based document portal) can aggregate knowledge, but it can’t compete with the fun of chattering.

  15. Pingback: Nick Cowie » A quick history of conversation on the web

  16. @Bentrem You are somehow reminding me that life should;t always be taken so seriously. A trait which many bloggers seem to have forgotten ;-)

  17. Alexander, this is an interesting post. This is definitely a hot topic and one that we’re heavily involved with at IntenseDebate.

    To my mind there are some definite drawbacks to content fragmentation. As a musician, I’m spread out across at least 10 different online mediums. If I update one, I have to update them all.

    On the other hand, establishing myself on all of these platforms puts me in the best possible position to have my content discovered. It would be ideal if my site was the one stop shop for all of my music, but it would restrict my reach.

    However, I think we have a better chance at centralizing comments with 2-way syncing. As a blog comment platform, we’ve realized that we have the potential to bring comments made about your content back to your blog, while not removing the conversation from the original platform (FriendFeed, Twitter, etc.). While we’re still hashing this out, we’ve taken the initial step of pulling comments made in FriendFeed (in the context of your blog) back to your blog.

    While defragmentation is part of the goal, we have no intention of restricting where the conversation takes place. There’s definitely an opportunity to create a tool that enables a conversation to take place in several locations while still giving people the ability to centralize their content. We’re always up for feedback, so please let me know your thoughts. We’ll see how this plays out…

    (sorry for the essay)

    Cheers,
    Michael Koenig
    IntenseDebate

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