Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Myth Of Online Conversations: Lots Of Chatter But Not Much Discourse . . .

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 26, 2009

On the eve of the NewComm Forum in San Francisco I've been thinking about how our new media technologies are being used, and the unique two-way nature of our communications.

Internet 1.0 meant we could publish to any computer screen be it mainframe or pocket. Now we are in Internet 2.0 and that means that any computer platform, be it mainframe or pocket, can publish back. We now have a two-way Internet, an Internet on steroids.

But what is so striking about the online world is how little conversation takes place, how little two-way communication happens. One comment to an article is not a conversation. 300 separate comments on an article is not a conversation. If you look, these interactions peter out within one or two exchanges -- is that a conversation?

There's a lot of 'preaching to the choir,' which doesn't encourage conversation because the choir agrees with the sermon. I rarely see an online conversation that moves beyond one or two exchanges, or that doesn't degenerate into name calling. [Here is one example of a great (rare) online conversation that is well argued, reasoned, and fascinating: Goodbye Dubai | Smashing Telly - A hand picked TV channel.]

Twitter: not much conversation going on because it's not set up for that. Facebook, has a little more room for conversations but I rarely see much. All we have in social media is all still very much a "broadcast" media/communications channel. Yet we hear so much about "conversational marketing" and so on. But it doesn't (yet) exist.

The next phase of the Internet is when we have lots of conversations, that's Internet 3.0. (That's the real semantic web.) We don't have it yet because we're not yet used to it. Our most recent media communications paradigms are all broadcast based.

With Internet 1.0 we complained about information overload. Wait until we, most of us, complain about conversation overload.

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