This weekend an interesting discussion arose around the new RSS service Shyftr. Louis Gray started the discussion with a post , Robert Scoble, Tony Hung, Mark Evans and many others, including myself chipped in our 2 cts. From there on I could the conversation moving around Twitter, Friendfeed and many different blog posts and blog comments. It’s been at the top of TechMeme for quite a while.
In my post I argued that once an idea has been written down in public it’s impossible to control the conversation around it r even know if there is a conversation taking place. One of the unwanted side-effects of these new RSS services is that they essentially live of the traffic that could have gone to the original blog poster. This is especially frustrating if a blogger is trying to make a living out of his passion. I recommend reading a very thoughtful, personal, honest post written by Steven Hodson on that issue.
After reading through all the different inputs in all the different places (and I’m sure I’ve missed a whole bunch of them) I started wondering about the effects of conversations exploding in all directions, places, platforms. A lot of bloggers asked themselves the question if it would be possible to centralize all these comments/blog posts/conversations, so that nothing would be missed (see here for example). While it would certainly be nice for the original blog poster to see what the spin off effects of his blog post were, I am convinced that it would be a bad idea to try and centralize these type of conversations.
One of the most important reasons for me to blog is to be able to inspire people. To write something down I’m passionate about, and then seeing others willing to invest the time to read it, and even react with a comment, blog post or tweet. It is truly great of be aware and part of a conversation that kick started because of something I have written down. Interaction leads to better understanding, opposing/similar views, deepening of the issue, or plain old fun. It therefore sounds like a great idea to centralize these discussions.
Tony Hung replied to my blog post with a great comment (he wasn’t agreeing with me, which is fine!). One of the things he said was:
Not many people will be happy to put in the time if the most humblest of things — the conversation — is happening away from their blog, without them even *knowing* where it might be happening.
And he is right. We want to know about the conversation that takes place. If we know about it we can become part of it. So why not centralize it? I’m sure the technical capabilities to do so are there. Someone is bound to think of and build something that tracks down reactions/comments/trackbacks/discussions to blog posts and centralize them in one place. A bit like the Disqus comments centralization, but taking it much further than just comments.
I believe that there are two reasons for not wanting to centralize conversation, control and diversity. While the argument of being able to follow and participate in conversations is valid, I cannot help but feel that there is also an underlying behavior of wanting to be able to control the discussion that follows from a blog post. It provides the blogger with a sense of power or control to have everything centralized. Being able to follow everything being said, being able to react/counteract/take part in the discussion gives us the illusion that we can influence or control its outcome. It also feeds our pride (look what I’ve started), which is a perfectly human reaction. Being able to control, or even have the illusion that a conversation can be controlled, is not a good idea. It means that we are putting boundaries around it, that the outcome is limited to some extend, because we are trying to control or influence it. It’s like a walled garden social network. Once you are trapped inside it’s nearly impossible to get out. If anything it will provide limitations to the social interaction and that is not right.
Having the conversation centralized doesn’t necessarily make it better either. That is where the diversity comes in. If a blog post, or any content for that matter, ignites interaction in many different places with many different people, then the outcome of this interaction is unpredictable for sure. My goal in blogging is to inspire people to think and form their own opinion about something I am passionate about. The best thing for me as a blogger is to be able to unleash discussion, even to places I don’t know about. Knowing that I might have started thinking, creativity, discussion is what makes it a great experience for me.
I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea that I might never know about the effects. The conversation will find its way to people who can form their own opinion about it. It might be a much better opinion, might lead to a blog post that is way smarter than mine. It might lead to new ideas I hadn’t thought about. It might also lead to copy behavior, or even theft. It might lead to new businesses being started, people becoming rich, or it might even lead to nothing at all. But I believe that this chaotic, unpredictable and uncontrollable process in the end always leads to something better.
A good idea doesn’t become better because the people you already know talk about it. It doesn’t necessarily get better when like-minded people respond to it. It gets better through diversity. Diversity in people, in thinking, in opinions. Centralization will most likely lead to like-minded people coming together “controlling” the outcome, mostly unintended. Fragmentation leads to ignition, new ideas, new insights, new people taking it further than you could have imagined. In most cases I’m probably not even aware of that. But in those rare occasions that I am, it gives me a great feeling to be a part of that.
So for once, let’s not try to get a grip on the conversations taking place. Let’s not try to centralize it with a web 2.0 interface, a destination site with a great API, desktop applications or browser plugins. Accept that social interaction takes place everywhere, on-line or off-line, and understand that the uncontrollable manner and the diverse interaction is what makes life so valuable.