I just finished reading Keith Burtis’ great guest post on Chris Brogan’s blog, “Twitter- To Converse or to Broadcast-THAT is the Question.” As I scrolled and skimmed through the comments to get down to the bottom and add my own comment, it dawned on me how strange it is that the participatory medium of blogs that are all about conversation and collaboration do not allow people to comment on comments.
Sure, you can explicitly refer to what commenter “Starfish” said when you, yourself, are commenting, but this requires others to scroll back up and try to find “Starfish’s” comment, then scroll back down to your comment and then down again to insert their own comment. This is cumbersome, not collaborative.
I often find the same challenge in using Twitter: I @reply to someone’s tweet to start or continue a conversation, but maybe I’ve been in meetings for the past two hours and the tweet that I’m latching on to is a tweet from much earlier that day. I feel the need to sort of recap the initial tweet and then add my insight or addition–tough in 140 characters. From being on the other side of some of @replies I know it’s sometimes difficult to to figure out to which tweetstream they’re referring.
As I commented–yes, linearly, because what other choice did I have?–on Keith’s post, the broadcast problem is threefold. First, we Digital Immigrants, are still getting our sea legs when it comes to participatory media. Collaboration is not our comfort zone. We want try out the latest social networking tool, but find it uncomfortable to put ourselves out there, trust “strangers,” and give away our ideas for free. It’s a cultural issue.
The second issue is the adoption continuum. Remember 1994 when email was still fairly new? Little by little friends and family members were “getting on email,” as we said back in the day. The user habit was to write an email letter–yep, these were long messages–to your friend. Then once you’d gone back and forth a few times and had nothing else to say, the “forwards” would start. From jokes, to consumer warnings, to limericks, you were one recipient on your friend’s mass distribution list. At first this was funny and you, too, would forward these inane messages along to your friends who were “on email.” But “funny” quickly soured and turned into annoying. You moved on. You started using email as a productive communication tool rather than as a toy. It became a seamless part of your daily communications.
The same adoption continuum exists for social media. First we sign up for a service and then probably forget about it for awhile. Then we passively observe the landscape. Next we dip our toes in and blurt and broadcast, “I had pizza for lunch!” Then we settle in and start sharing useful and mildly interesting information with our followers…but we’re still operating in a 1.0 broadcast paradigm. As we build our follower networks, we begin to see the value of social media. Suddenly we “get it”: we have this mindshift that it’s not about us, it’s about them. Broadcast is about increasing value for the creator; social media is about increasing value for everyone else.
The third and final piece of the broadcast problem is that the blog and microblog platform infrastructures are, too, still evolving and are not yet truly conducive to the collaboration that their content is trying to encourage. I’d be interested in hearing if anyone knows of a blogging platform that truly facilitates collaborative discussions. I can envision a clickable mindmapping kind of visualization.
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