January 18, 2008

Before There Was Content, There Was Conversation

Brian Solis has a great post on conversation and value that talks about how to get a fresh drink of water from the firehose of content streaming across the Web. While the proliferation of living online content started with "pushbutton publishing for the people," (thank you Ev and Blogger-of-old), it's come to a point where we're losing the 'people' behind the 'pushbuttons.'

According to Brian: "...the barrier to entry has been lowered to a point where new user-generated content is only going to increase in volume and frequency and not necessarily in value along the way. But, for those who pay close attention to the shift in the behavior of adoption, creation, and consumption of media in all forms, it is also blinding with insight."

While I bristle old-school-style at the word "value" as it relates to conversation -- conversation being something so subjective and personal to a hippie blogger like me that talking about distilling value from it feels creepy -- I have to, at the same time, admit he's onto something. And that's NOT just because we work together in the PR-osphere.

Because while I agree with him, I have to find a better word than "value" so I don't trigger another episode of hives.

Not so long ago, Scoble and I tossed around the idea of engagement. I called it the likeability factor. Sure I'll bring you my little piece of traffic when I hit your site whether I like you or not. But unless you engage with me in some meaningful way, in a way that goes beyond content into context and relevance to my experience, my heart, my passion, then my little piece of traffic is worth far less than someone who actually comes toward you because they like you, they think they like you, or even because they like to hate you.

Brian gets to the crux of it here:

"It’s not just about the source, it’s about the dialog that ensues and the ideas and discoveries that emerge along the way.

"This goes beyond the original premise that anyone with an important idea or thought will simply blog it. In my experience, the most enlightening part of any topic is always the conversation…and in the world of Social Media, that conversation is in the form of the very actions that are triggered by the original topic."

In talking about mechanisms to help sift through noise, to find every participant's strong and true signal, Brian makes a valid point about what's downright exhausting for those of us trying to participate in discussions on blogs and other social media:

"...you find brilliance, perspective, and new opinions that allow a topic to genuinely flourish. At the same time, you can also find a series of comments that are completely pointless and distracting--that take away from the value of the conversation."

At the same time, again, combining "value" with "conversation" does make me a bit hivey. I have to ask: Whose value? Whose conversation? And who's measuring?

It is critical that the mechanism for discerning 'value' or 'engagement' or whatever we call it never, not ever, throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Let me say that again: It is critical that the mechanism for discerning 'value' or 'engagement' or whatever we call it never, not ever, throw out the baby with the bathwater.

That's what concerns me about the idea and exercise of discerning value from conversation. BUT it is also where new technology and tools can level the playing field so that Big-V-Value does NOT equal the Gold Standard Techmeme-type algorithm.

What we need are ways to ensure that even the quietest, meekest voices can be heard, and that even the most critical, contrary opinions are voiced. Without that, we become a little dumber every day from the resounding homogeny of our wham-bam discourse.

The annoying leaderboard popularity metric can be changed forever if we find new ways to elevate voice based on participation ACROSS the continuum of social media, and across the length and legacy of our online lives. If our history mattered, if our track record and reputation was part of the living web.

I want my conversational legacy, I want to control it, I want to track it across media types and tundras, and I want you to know me. I want to give you a bridge to me now, then, and later.

That way when I end up in a kurfuffle, debacle, or literal Federal Case, let's just say, you've got the proof in my pudding that doesn't demand you sift through six years of blog archives here, five years on Blog Sisters, five other sites, and thousands of comments I've made to make an informed opinion on Who I Am.

Brian makes a great point about losing ourselves and our friends within the layers of archives, about how we've sacrificed substance for currentness:

"...we’re groomed to think that older posts are also aging in context and relevance. Unfortunately, rather than continuing to live, breath, and evolve, these discussions are often buried by new content often to be recreated from scratch elsewhere. How quickly we move away from what could become timeless masterpieces."

I've been searching for a way to easily organize my most meaningful content for years--WAY before we called it content. And it would be even better if my friends and readers were the ones doing that for me as a natural part of their participation.

Anyway, there is more to think about here, but I wanted to get started on thinking it through, and point you to Brian who takes it further than I have brain cells or time for at this late hour, EST.


January 16, 2008