What lies in conversation?

When Jay Rosen proclaimed that in 2004 News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation” it’s clear that he values conversation. I’m still holding out for a good conversation on his PressThink site, so fortunately for us, Shelley Powers has submitted her own thoughts on conversation. I thought I’d ask some questions about conversations and news.

First, what are the factors that lead to conversation?

David Weinberger made a passionate speech where he said that for conversations to happen within the blogosphere, they needed to be anchored on incomplete blog posts. He seemed to suggest that conversation outside the blogosphere didn’t matter as much– be it on online forums, private emails, at the proverbial water cooler, or the local watering hole.

I tried to engage Weinberger in conversation regarding the speech; he gave one response about being mis-interpretered and then moved on.

So I took the time to transcribe the climax of his speech, and wrote a response around it entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging. I added it via trackback to his site, posted it to the Webcred link log in case David or anyone of his fans wanted to respond.

But no response from Weinberger. Funny, he didn’t have time to respond though he did have time to post a link to a video parody of the conference, which, at 15 minutes, was about 14 minutes too long. In the last week, David’s posted 32 times. Combined they have attracted 32 comments.

Now, maybe David’s Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization blog isn’t the hub for discussion about blogging and ethics. So let’s look at a couple of popular places where a link to my Inclusiveness report was posted.

Dropping by the communinal politics blogs

Tuesday night I wrote up a special short post (short for me being 900 words) for Daily Kos, expanding on the theme of liberal participation in media ethics. I thought I’d get somewhere near the 121 comments that the Who is Jon Garfunkel? thread for.

Instead, there was one brief dismisal from Armando, who just a couple of weeks before had asked for more liberal bloggers at the conference. Now his response was: “We’ve been following the goings on in Washington pretty closely here, not so much time for the blogging ethics thing.” At least they determined a few weeks ago that Jon Garfunkel was not “the love child of Art Garfunkel and Jon Arbuckle.” I’m glad for the sake of the goings on in Washington, that that was cleared up.

How about website of The Blogging of the President: 2004, also known as “BOPnews,” where Christopher Lydon sometimes holds court? In his final post of 2004, Lydon wisftully looked back on the the year that could hav been: “I’d like to have broken more news on BOPnews, and even more I’d love to attract more historians, philosophers and essayists who think in long paragraphs and thousand-word themes.”

(One response to Lydon, J Thomas of Virginia, did weigh in at eight hundred words, confronting the ever-present bogeyman the “MSM”– mainstream media– with some highly incomplete thoughts. In his conclusion, he took an abrupt: break he took from the blogsport of media-bashing: “The Web lets you find people who’ll act like your friends. That’s something worth having.” Lydon did not respond)

For all I know, Stirling Newberry was one of two peple to read it off of Kos, for he soon posted a link on BOPnews. Normally BOPnews blog writers write an introduction to the piece or an excerpt, but Newberry wrote simply, “He’s invited comments.” This was one of three posts of thirty on BOPnews for the week that didn’t get any comments.

Finding friends

It seemed like good advice to “find people who’ll act like your friends”– and if I was lucky, they wouldn’t even have to act. I ended up having great conversations around the Inclusivenes piece– witht he people I talked to for source information, before and after I wrote it. Mostly these were in email; here were some of the public responses they provided: Rebecca Blood of San Francisco, Seth Finkelstein of nearby Cambridge, Jeneane Sessum of Atlanta.

As for my piece on Conversations, blogger-essayist Shelley Powers of St. Louis wrote a essay-length piece herself called Conversations, which took reactions to Weinberger’s philosophies by Rebecca Blood and me. Unfortunately, it was two essays mashed together– six people picked up on her comments regarding the technical aspects of protecting her site against spam, while only three responded on conversations– one of them being me. We’re getting somewhere.

Was it that my pieces were as thorough and complete as the above people said it was, maybe there was nothing to add? Probably not. The one distinction in whether people responded was how well they trusted me. I met Rebecca, Seth, Jeneane, and Shelley over email, over the course of the last couple of weeks, with varying lengths of conversations between us. We found out that we shared a common creed about the blogging evangelists, and perhaps as a result we developed an affinity for each other. If they were “acting,” as was suggested as a model for Internet socialization, I can live with that. It may be a stretch, but I’ve gotten to know Seth and Rebecca fairly well on this particular topic, that I can almost predict what they’ll say on something. Leading me to wonder…

Second: what’s the aim of conversation?

Back to PressThink and Jay Rosen on lectures and conversations. Jay trotted out this bromide from the annals of journalism school. “Republics require conversation… The task of the press is to encourage the conversation of the culture, not to preempt it or substitute for it…”

The strawman cometh. I just have a hunch that we as a society (in the Jewish culture, this goes back to the development of the Talmud) always had conversations– the prevalence and variety has like grown as media literacy has grown. That’s a fairly straightforward hunch. I would be very curious to learn whether there was some dark ages in the last century where this nation was a mass of zombies getting instructions from the news. Prove me wrong.

Maybe sometimes “incompleteness” is shorthand for a half-written post that some reader needs to finish. Here’s one such post where I supplied some historical context (while Weinberger complains tirelessly about the Dewey Decimal system, I went to the main branch of the Brookline Public Library and browsed section 302, Media studies, picking out 302.23 F196b, Breaking the News by James Fallows.)

Recall the 32 comments on Weinberger’s blog over 32 blog posts in the last week? 7 of them came when in response to his request for help on presentation. 4 were in response to a blurb about elections in Iraq. 4 were on a link to a piece by Shelley Powers on tagging. (Shelley’s essay drew over two dozen comments. So much for the David’s theory that thorough pieces do not nurture conversations). Oh, also, 2 came in response to a post about someone dialing a wrong number.

On PressThink, most of the conversations seem to be about Jay battling his critics. One could do a textual analysis of all this, but why bother, if I’ve developed an easier way to do it?

What I’ve set up with ViewPoints is a way for an the readers of online journal to qualify what they’re saying. Are they agreeing? disagreeing? Critiquing the logic? Dismissing something as irrelevant, already covered, or a personal attack? Or, have they posted, as Rebecca Blood pointed out to me, as a common gambit, simply to get the Big Author to notice them?

Third: what do you want to talk about?

This was originally supposed to be a “question” piece, so I try to raise more questions than do provide answers. But it so happens that I have plenty of evidence at hand that it would have been foolish to omit.

The end result is a thousand word essay. And I haven’t answered a damned thing. Is that all we need to start a conversation? But what’s the point of conversation if there’s some direct research we can do? I can form the hypotheses better, and we can deploy the ViewPoints on some conversation-rich communities, and then we can measure what it is people are talking about. Maybe we should converse about how to do that. Don’t make me lecture.

the point of conversation

are you asking what is the point of any kind of conversation? Or are you asking what is the poing ot blog conversations? I would put forth that different conversations have different points: sometimes I converse with someone simply to express emotional energy – to get that energy to move out of my system and free up space sometimes I converse to connect to someone, to no feel so lonely sometimes I converse to get input sometimes I converse to put my ideas in a pool with anothers and see where the alchemy takes us sometimes I converse because my mind is going round and round and I think I’m stuck until I speak out loud. This is my short list. What are you trying to get at with this exploration?