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The tangled web of blog conversation

Conversation for The tangled web of blog conversation

Published: 2003-06-23T18:14:52-05:00


The tangled web of blog conversation


Last week I blogged about the new Forum View that I have added to this blog. It seems like there is some interest in this approach. Thanks in large part to links from Marc Canter and Many-to-Many, the entry has garnered 9 links from other bloggers (see the cosmos for the entry here), which is a record for this still-dawning weblog. However, despite the interest, there has been only one comment posted in the "forum" for that entry. I find this very interesting. One of the main goals behind the forum view idea was to encourage comments and discussion, and to make it easier to monitor discussions (to see if someone has responded to your entry or comment). Well, it didn't work... at least not yet. Perhaps this says a lot about the way bloggers prefer to engage in conversation: rather than post comments on another blog entry, many blogger choose to talk about it in an entry in their own blog (inter-blog conversation). There are both good and bad elements to this type of conversation. On the positive side, it inevitably results in more people reading the orignal entry (directly or indirectly). On the negative side it is not the most conducive to an interactive conversation, in which a person replies to one or more messages - like in a discussion forum. One significant difference is that the orginal author might not even realize that a 'reply' has been made in a another blog. Thanks to things like Trackbacks and Technorati, discovering replies is easier (I use the Cosmos Explore Bar daily for this purpose). Other replies can be found by digging through referer logs, but that requires even more effort. By now, some of you reading may be saying "but trackbacks are comments!" Well yes... and no. I do agree that inter-blog conversations are valuable, and that the resulting links can be considered 'remote comments'. In fact, I thought about this over the weekend - as I have in the past - about merging comments and trackbacks together -- using the forum view, if possible. I am not the only one to think about this, of course, and I found the SimpleComments MovableType plugin which does exactly this. But this led me to think more about the differences between on-site comments, and remote-site comments. There are significant differences. A major difference is that a remote-site (trackback) comment assumes that the reader has not yet read the orignal blog entry. This is a reasonable expectation, naturally, and the first course of action is often to describe to the readers what the original post is about. The original post is often quoted in part, or even in full. This differs from a discussion forum-style of conversation that assumes that the reader has read not only the original, but also the subsequent messages in the thread. So less explanation is needed, and quoting becomes more selective, used mainly to respond to a particular point. Imagine a discussion thread where the majority of posts spend two paragraphs describing and quoting the orignial post -- it makes it difficult to see the real comment. Wait a minute, perhaps that's a better description - rather than say that trackbacks are comments, I think it's more accurate to say that trackbacks contain comments. This particular 'intro' issue causes a specific problem when displaying trackbacks as part of a discussion: trackbacks only include a short excerpt from the remote entry, which is often this introductory element which further reduces it's value as part of the discussion view (because the actual 'comment' isn't even displayed). And what if you want to reply to a trackback? Do post a comment to the original entry, thus preserving the discussion thread? But if you do that, there is a good chance the author of the trackback will never see your reply, because it doesn't show up on their comments or trackbacks for their entry. I think some of these issues contribute to keeping most discussions short, in this tangled web of blog conversation.[...]

The tangled web of blog conversation


the whole post a response on your blog rather then as a comment thing is a bit frustrating isn't it. A few random thoughts:

- A lot of it is ego isn't it? Its not always a bad sort of ego, although sometimes it is. Your readers are more likely to see your words on your own blog. And its going to be a lot easier for you to find what wrote if its on your blog.

- A blogger with a large audience could easily transform the conversation so that it centers around their site.

- Political bloggers are dramatically more likely to have extensive comments on their sites. Perhaps this is because their audience is less tech savvy and thus less likely to have a blog.

- Posting a comment has a much lower eloquence threshold then posting a blog entry. People will think less about their comments.

- Blog posts are more likely to be positive then those in comments, perhaps because people have more invested in their identity as a blogger then as a random poster?

- While conversation in comments is far easier to follow then conversation spread over many blogs, its also far more likely to go of track, get trolled or generate an overheated argument.

- There has to be a better way. Nothing I've seen yet has reached the point of simplicity necessary to take of though.

The tangled web of blog conversation


I think that is why I like to use wikis. The conversation can be refactored to help make the points better. You can refine a conversation. (in one wiki, but across wikis, there is still this issue.)

The tangled web of blog conversation


Abe, all good points - I agree with all of them.

One of the things I thought of was a way to post both a comment and a blog entry at the same time - a single 'submit' would add the response in both forms. But this would ineviatbly fork the conversation quite quickly, unless each subsequent response was 'multi-posted' as well. This becomes even more complicated as more bloggers make combined comment-entries, and each subsequent response needs to be posted to many places.

The tangled web of blog conversation


This is one of the things ThreadsML hopes to solve. QuickThreads enables disjointed conversations to come together. This could be done with blog posts - as well.

The fact is - folks want flexibility - so I may comment on your blog - AT your blog, on on MY blog. Obviously it would be perfect to have the same comment - used in both places.

And to be notified whenever someone responds. But the significant point here is - ThreadsML is a format that can support this - AND - otehr applications and usages - as well.

The tangled web of blog conversation


Marc, I knew you would mention something about ThreadsML :-)

I agree, ThreadsML and related tools have the potential to go a long way in this regard. I think the ability to edit and merge threads will be key to aggregating blog conversations with ThreadsML. The major challenge will be with regard to adoption - getting bloggers to embrace threadsML and the conversation aggregation that it makes possible, encouraging readers to read and engage in aggregated discussions vs. same-site discussions. I am excited about the possibilities.

The tangled web of blog conversation


Mark: First, let me say that I really like your forum view. If something like it doesn't end up a default template in a future version of MT, I'll be shocked.

RE: the relative lack of comments...

Forum view (as currently implemented) doesn't help me read comments. Nothing new is added (threading, for example), and I find black-on-white easier to read. So it ends up a very cool add-on that requires an extra click... but with no direct payback. If your permalinks pointed to the forum view, OTOH, I'd be writing this there right now. Push me where you want me to go. If I don't like it, let me change it.

As for ThreadsML, it's a non-starter for me. Community is my priority, and community is dependent upon a sense of place. Your blog, Sam Ruby's blog, a cluster of blogs, a dicussion forum, whatever... the members of a community need a central, shared experience that binds them together. ThreadsML ignores that fact, and is thus useless for the formation of communities.

The tangled web of blog conversation


It's an interesting point. I prefer to write responses as comments and, if I have (or am about to make a blog posting of my own) written a blog posting already, to include a brief synopsis of my posting in the comment and include the link to the full posting.

It's in the nature of blogs to follow a few very different paths and types of discussion, and there is value to each of them. Linear, "forum view", discussions are obviously a feature of comment fields (although one comment does not necessarily have to be a direct comment on its predecessor). Trackbacks allow for an overview of the more disparate threads that occur when others start posting on their own blogs - this obviously means that we have moved from one discussion to a number of discussions. Whether we are talking about linear monologues (blog author's thread of blog postings), linear dialogues (comments to a blog posting), non-linear multiple dialogues (postings on different blogs linked by themes and/or trackback), each type has a particular value accrued to it - this is all without mentioning wikis, where commenting/revisions are more heavily embedded in the function and "flow" itself.

I also kind of agree with Roger's last paragraph in his comment - while at the same time finding significant ground with Mark Cantor's mention of flexibility.

There's more on the subject of blog conversation flow on my blog, as well as Plastic Bag, Ross Mayfield and Microdoc News...

The tangled web of blog conversation



Thanks for you comments. I have been contemplating make the forum view the default for my entry permalinks -- after your feedback I think will give that a try.

I also appreciate what you are saying "nothing new is added" - in the context of the individual entry forum view. It's just a different layout for comments. However, that's not true about the overall forum view, found here. This is new, compared to conventional blog layouts. What adds the most value, in my view, is that entries are sorted according to the most-recent comment - not in reverse-chronological order of the entries. Because active threads rise to the top of the page, this makes it easier to follow the discussion. In a conventional blog layout, if you wanted to see if someone has responded to your comment, you have to first find the entry, which may mean scrolling down the page, or even browsing the archives, and hopefully you remember the date of the entry (but probably not), then clicking on the comments link, etc. etc. With the overall forum view, you can just go to that page and it is easy to see all recent discussions, and who replied last. In this way, I think it can help people read and engage in discussions.

And I'm with you on the community aspect - the idea of aggregating all of the discussions of a community of bloggers in a single forum-like view appeals to me very much. I think that ThreadsML can play a role, but there are a lot of other important pieces to the puzzle.

The tangled web of blog conversation


is there anything to ThreadsML besides vapor? I still can't find any meat? Guess I'll take the Missouri approach with ThreadsML and ignore it till some one shows me...

The tangled web of blog conversation


If I can write a response that’s short and to the point, I like to leave a comment. If a post makes me want to ramble on, I usually post it on my blog.

The tangled web of blog conversation


Mark: I like the changes you've made... a lot. Yours is now one of the only MT-powered blogs out there that doesn't make commenting a chore.

The tangled web of blog conversation


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The tangled web of blog conversation


I found the original post for this modification by searching for "bbs forum blog". The decision to use forum versus blog models for interaction in reviews has been simmering here. *Finally* I see that the difference is in the aforementioned forking of conversations. This forking is what has bothered me about blogs without realising it. I find an interesting theme, follow a few links, but soon realise that I have a bunch of windows open trying to follow the conversation. At that point, I usually give up. The forking is great for achieving a certain amount of personal fame, but destroys the flow of the subject matter.

The tangled web of blog conversation


I completely agree with Roger when he states that "Community is my priority, and community is dependent upon a sense of place. Your blog, Sam Ruby's blog, a cluster of blogs, a discussion forum, whatever... the members of a community need a central, shared experience that binds them together."

Running a weblog community in southern Brazil (, I find that centralizing this experience is quite a challenge, but essential for enhancing interaction. Through available tools, we can get a certain amount of this on a certain level, but none seem to do the job as a whole.

Track backs are great for author-author interactions (apart from the fact that they aren't actual bidirectional links). As stated by many above, the use of the track back tool fragments the discussion into a much greater realm, which is good for publicizing and 'spreading the word', but not so for maintaining community around a certain group of weblogs.

A more direct user level is found in comments and in forums, the later having advantage for the fact that it can aggregate the discussions of the whole community. Never the less, comments are still the preferred medium because of its practical application. On the click of a button, readers can add comments, hence making it a simple and fast way to build up interaction.

But comments are volatile, and just as quick as one can add his or her point of view, this discussion is lost, usually relegated to the archives page. This being, it becomes quite hard to follow interesting discussions, and in weblogs with a large post per day average, it becomes even harder.

While in forums we don't have such problem, the crude and cumbersome interface that populate BBs currently available are a great drawback. I feel that users of weblog communities don't seem compelled to use forums because of its lack of simplicity and for usually not being seamlessly integrated with the rest of the blogs' structure. A discussion forum usually lies as something apart and distant.

So then I find this blog/forum structure created by Mark, which is great I would say, but then again lacks something important which 'normal' forums have, and this is the ability for users/readers/interacting agents to create their own topics. I believe this to be essential if our goal is to create a community; overcome usual weblog hierarchy, where reader comments are usually left to a small pop-up window.

I write all this not knowing after all what would be our option, and thus asking you guys to chip in and give your view on these aspects. We have some great tools out there, serving one or another specific role in interaction. How to integrate these I believe is the key into ideal weblog communities.

The tangled web of blog conversation


Thanks for sharing, Gabriel.

Soon after I started using this forum view for blogs, I realized the same limitation that you did: the ability for visitors to add their own topics. So I added that feature, along with some other forum features. See my post from earlier today on the subject.

The tangled web of blog conversation


only after posting my comment above that I realized this has been going on for more than a year now - followed up today through the post on MT ProNet. I guess i'll browse a little further into your mt forums :-)

are you willing to share the knowledge on this implementation?

The tangled web of blog conversation


I am certainly willing to share -- I just don't have a lot of time to document of explain things in detail. If you haven't seen it already, here is some template code from the early work I did on this (sorry about the poor display of that page). Of course the code has progressed from there, and there is even one slight MT source modifcation that I use to overcome a sorting issue (sorting a forum based on most recent topic or comment.)

The tangled web of blog conversation


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The tangled web of blog conversation


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The tangled web of blog conversation


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