Speak up or the bloggers won't listen to you

17 January 2006

It was inevitable that a column that described blogging as nothing special in the world of writing should open up a further bout of collective self-delusion by much of the blogging community. With a smattering of exceptions, such as Adrants, bloggers ganged up on AdAge columnist Simon Dumenco: giving him the same message many times over, that blogging is different.

How is blogging different? Why it's the conversation, they argue; it's all about the dialogue (I put the links in at the bottom to make the post easier to read). The blogging = conversation assertion stands alone as the greatest of the lies of blogging. I fail to understand why the word has stuck like a leech to this particular invention of the late 20th Century. It has reached the level where people complain about having to email and then post a blog entry because a particular site does not have comments on the same page as the article. Ask yourself, are those people after a conversation - something that can be carried out using email as well as any other two-way medium - or something else? And if it is something else, why do bloggers persist in the use of the word "conversation", other than the word gets top billing in the Cluetrain Manifesto?

In fact, blogging offers a way of avoiding conversation without offence; a method for forming apparent social connections without actually engaging with people directly. People only occasionally get worked up about bloggers not responding to comments or making corrections based on comments. If someone ignores emails, the other party is likely to get a lot more annoyed than if a comment goes unremarked on a blog. That's the thing about conversations - they demand the active participation of at least two parties. A lot of blog conservations are pretty much one-way affairs. The blogger posts something, people comment - often pointing out errors - and the blogger has disappeared, having moved onto the next post. How does this function as conversation? It does not. But it does function as debate. Why are commenters so insistent on having their opinions published if they do not believe they are engaged in a public debate or forum? Why is a private email or phone conversation not good enough? Because those people are trying to convince an audience of their position: that is surely the characteristic of a debate, not a conversation.

The distinction might seem to be pedantic. You could argue that conversation as a word is close enough to what is going on in blogging. Other words have been given bigger twists than this. But it ill serves a community to lecture commentators who are not part of the club on what blogging is or isn't when that community cannot be honest or analytical enough to understand the process in which it is engaged.

As to Dumenco's headline about blogger being a cooler name: just wait until the fashion cycle rolls round and the name is as chic as parachute pants, I guess we'll be seeing a lot more 'writers' online.

The conversationalists:

Brain of the Blogger

Ad Age Says There Is No Such Things as Blogging..But The Name Is Cool

Blogging Isn't Just Writing, It's a Dialogue

Bloggers Should Explain Blogging Technology

Blogs are (public) conversations, almost like a giant party - This post at least emphasises the public nature of commenting versus emailing.


hey chris,

the reason i'd rather use comments to respond to an article than email is because i'm not only interested in the one on one "conversation," but the discussion that might ensue from other netizens as well. i truly feel that the more perspectives shared help elicit progress on the smallest level, no matter the topic.

that's my complete MO.

now let me ask you: why do you think the majority of the MM has dragged their feet in opening their online columns to allow commenting? simon's point about antiquated publishing systems might have something to do with it, but *i feel* that editorial departments, and possibly traditional "writers" want no part of it.


The answer was so long, I turned it into a new post.


Hey Chris -- thanks for commenting on these issues on my blog, The Right Conversation. You raised some good points, and I'm glad you elaborated on the theme here.

I just wanted to let you know that I responded to this comment of yours: http://snipurl.com/lp4d

I'm also writing a follow-up post that addresses some of the issues raised by you and others in that thread.


- Amy Gahran

OK, Chris, I think this posting takes some of your points into account:



Thanks :-)

- Amy Gahran

The blogosphere's "conversation" is not just about comments on an individual thread. It's more than that. When I use the term, I'm referring to a more global conversation, which takes place in the inter-linked universe of blogs. I see your post, I might post a comment, and I post something at my own blog. Someone else sees that and gets another idea, and posts something at their own site after emailing me. A fourth person decides to interview you for a podcast, which generates more comment.

Blogs are not different because they encourage one-on-one conversation. They are different because they encourage global conversation by their relative ease-of-entry.


Admittedly, the post makes it looks as though I thought the only problem was with single threads. That was not the intention. However, I think the distinction between single threads and what is, admittedly more important, the cross-linked commentary that we see, there is a lot of talking but sometimes not all that much answering. In a normal conversation, that would be a problem. With blogging, it isn't: because people feel their opinions have been aired and are getting read (if not commented). For me, that has more the characteristic of a debate than a conversation. And it's not a bug, it's a feature - I'm aware I'm writing this comment for an audience, albeit a small one. If I just wanted the conversation, I'd be sending you an email.

I don't want to say: "Hey people, stop conversing, start debating, it's a blog." But I think people need to be clearer about what blogging has enabled and what it means. People looking in from the outside are getting confused because what they recognise as conversation in conventional life is not what is happening on many blogs. I think that is something that contributes to misunderstandings about blogs.

I should also have written that there are blogs where conversation is the norm. What this says to me is that there is no one answer to the question "what is blogging?" How the different branches of blogging separate - and you may disagree on whether there will be any such separation - will be interesting to see.

I seem not to agree on all your points. For one, in blogging, the atmosphere is very conversational. You share your beliefs and views on the topic that both interest the reader and the author. But I am not saying that everything works the same way in all blogs. There are actually some bloggers who remain very distanced to its readers even if there is a direct question already thrown at them. I guess, with these kinds of bloggers, there is still a lack of "understanding" on the nature of blogging. You have to be one with the culture itself if you are going to write for blogs.

With some blogs there is a lot of conversation. With others there is nothing you could call a conversation in the conventional sense. Does that mean those bloggers are wrong? That the system allows quite a lot of flexibility in communication seems to me a feature rather than a bug. My argument is with the mantra that blogging = conversation. It just does not sit well with me.

Given that the roots of blogging lie in the keeping of a public journal - not something that would be associated with conversation in the world of paper - I'd hesitate to try to get all bloggers to do everything the same way just because people have, in effect after the fact, decided that it is a "conversational medium". Flexibility is a strength of the format: it would be a shame to kill that off for the sake of making it fit a certain type of usage.