The Rebirth of Conversation

I really enjoyed Mitch Joel’s recent post (The End of Conversation in Social Media), and a few other posts touching on the same theme (by Dave Winer, Leo Laporte, and Joseph Jaffe).

Instead of just spinning our wheels about whether or not we’re really having solid conversational engagement on blogs, Twitter, etc., it seems to me that we could better spend our energy fixing the problem.

I’m betting some smart little start-up could pull off a cool alpha version in 8 weeks.

What we need is a platform that overcomes the asynchronous aspect of blogs/Twitter/Facebook etc., AND allows us to have smaller, more intimate conversations with a select few. Here’s how it could work.

Your Twitter (or Facebook, or LinkedIn….) contacts are imported. The user is able to classify each contact into one of say, 4 categories (Intimate; Friend; Acquaintance; Waved-at-your-avatar-in-passing-once-or-twice).

Let’s say you have 1/2 hour one night that you’d like to devote to REAL, real-time conversation. When you login, the platform detects who is on-line, sorting them by your levels of familiarity. You can choose to be in the lounge (wide-open room, like Twitter or a tweetchat), or in a private room. If you choose to have a conversation with one or a few friends (pre-planned or spontaneous), you take it into a room, which can then remain open for others, or closed off.

So, I might login, and see that my friend Lisa Petrilli is having a conversation with Liz Strauss and Tom Martin. All of these are already close friends of mine (Intimates), and I see that the link shows that the door is “open” – so I join in. But if this was a private session for just those three, I wouldn’t even see it.

A conversation struck up in the lounge could easily move to a private room, of course – and people hanging out in the lounge can be privately invited to a smaller-scale conversation in a side room when the participants see that this friend has logged in.

I guess you could also have a setting where a group could conduct a conversation/interview and others could “lurk” but not participate.

We wouldn’t go to this platform to promote blog posts or share links (primarily). It’s for conversation. A tie-in to video and/or audio Skype would be a huge bonus.

Really, this is not new technology. It’s a marriage of existing capabilities we already have. But it’s a scalable and controllable way to bring real-time interaction back to social networking.

What do you think?

(Update 1: Jaffe points out that much of what is described above is built into the design of Second Life. True – but what we need [in my opinion] is that approach without the confusing overhead of the 3-D interface. Simple, fast, mobile-friendly.)

(Update 2: here’s an interesting new app under development that does part of this, AND includes a “local” aspect – nice!)

(Update 3: Mike Sansone picks up the theme that blogging is still very much alive at the center of networking – a perspective with which I agree)


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Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

4 Responses to The Rebirth of Conversation

  1. Some people might say that a platform like Disqus may be close to that… but I haven’t spent enough time with it.

  2. Mike Sansone says:

    Interesting (and kudos on noticing the trend of this thinking). Similar to the old People Connection chats on AOL, but different by the setup of lists. Real-time may prove difficult for some (time-zones, schedules, etc) so an archive still allowing engagement would be nice. Is this a bit of Google Wave?

    Disqus or IntenseDebate offers a bit of this, but not real-time. Does TinyChat do anything close to what you envision?

    Worth more conversation:-) Got me thinking

  3. David Perdew says:

    Bravo, Steve, for putting a positive spin on an evolving atmosphere under which social media is likely to keep on changing. Your idea is encouraging, and reminds me of the old post forums and BBS days where such conversations were monitored and taken in just fine, without all the fancy bells and whistles we have at our disposal today.

    I understand a true marketer’s concern that core conversations may never develop the way face-to-face ones do. But surely one of these platforms or the app developers using them has the power to do what you suggest, to widen the scope of “What are you doing?” type one-liners.

  4. William Beil says:

    Steve, that is an outstanding idea. I only wish I had the programming skills to put an app like that together. And I agree with you in that anyone who does would make a killing. Hell, I’d be among the first to buy…I can tell you that!

    William “Bill” Beil

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