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Continuing the Conversation

Dave Pollard’s flowchart for bloggers.

But in the absence of these appendages, blogs remain primarily one-way communication media. Comments threads, especially when they get long and divergent, are very clumsy ways of carrying on a communication. As a result, back-channeling (taking a comment thread ‘offline’ and continuing it by private e-mail) deprives the rest of the readers of the benefits of the conversation, and e-mail threads aren’t very good conversational vehicles themselves (compared to face-to-face, telephone, chat or IM).

Why can’t we enhance blog software so it allows a discussion, at the author’s discretion, to migrate simply to other, more powerful conversational tools without losing the connection to the initial blog post that provoked it? I could (as lots of bloggers do) add applets and links for chat, IM, voice-over-IP, a webcam, desktop videoconferencing, my forums and groups, and my Ryze and LinkedIn pages. But they still wouldn’t be connected, and I’d expect few readers to comfortably jump to the other ‘channels’ to continue a discussion started by a blog post. Or to use these tools ‘cold’ to communicate with me out of the blue. This probably shows I’m just not used to these other tools and their codes of behaviour, but I’d bet most of us are in the same boat. What’s needed is a seamless migration path between the ‘channels’, and an accepted and intuitive protocol for deciding which ‘channel’ to use when.

Not all bloggers will want or use this bi-directional communication functionality, of course. The blogosphere has multiple information cultures, and many bloggers are perfectly content with one-directional communication. Some don’t even turn on their commenting capability, following the historical magazine dictum of only allowing readers to write ‘letters to the editor’. And I respect their right to do so.

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