The Case For Distributed Conversations

Distributed conversations A lot is still being made of the discussions happening in FriendFeed that some feel should belong on the actual post.  Recently, the discussion over "fragmented comments" has been revived in posts from Fred Wilson, Matthew Ingram, and Allen Stern.  Allen suggests that when FriendFeeders see the content, they should go back to the original post, comment there, and then have their comment pulled back into FriendFeed. I still don’t agree with centralizing comments on the blog post or any one place, and here’s why:

Feedback Quality

By keeping comments distributed, or decentralized, more than one discussion is able to take place.  New ideas are likely to be heard since readers often start with a blank slate and are more likely to participate.  Discussions also take different directions depending on where the conversation starts.  In contrast with centralization, a post usually consists of a stream of comments which may or may not be directed to one another — many just congratulating the author on writing a great post.  In other words, many blog comments end up being just that, comments. 

In FriendFeed, real discussions have been taking place.  I’m not saying this can’t happen on the blog post; it can, but it happens on FriendFeed more often and with ease.  However, thanks to services like Disqus and Intense Debate, commenting on blog posts has never been easier, and many readers love it.

Feedback Quantity

Now think about the reach of FriendFeed, and how one person’s ‘like’ or comment pulls it into their friends’ stream and if those friends ‘like’ it, etc. and so on.  The potential audience is enormous.  I have 217 people subscribed to me in FriendFeed, and that’s probably nowhere near the top, think of the implications of that.  FriendFeed is becoming an increasingly larger portion of traffic to many blogs.

Not to mention the other implications of FriendFeed, and other services like it, that may follow.

Decentralized Comments, Aggregated Discussions

I believe the solution is aggregated discussions, not centralized comments. If you look below, you’ll see the FriendFeed Comments plugin installed.  It allows me to pull in comments made in FriendFeed onto my posts.   Readers can also directly comment and/or ‘like’ the post from my blog straight into FriendFeed.

There Is No Perfect Solution, Yet

Of course, there is still much integration and aggregation to do.  The FriendFeed Comments plugin only pulls comments from the Blog entry and not Google Reader shares, links, or the Disqus comments.

What does that mean for the blogger? In the words of Hutch Carpenter, "If you love your blog, set it free."  Engage your readers.  Try to keep up with the discussions and participate — show them your appreciation.  To help, use YackTrack; it allows you to see comments on your post across a variety of services including Digg, Disqus, FriendFeed, Mixx, StumbleUpon, Technorati, and more. It has been recently updated with RSS feeds and APIs.

While I disagree with Allen that FriendFeeders should be bouncing around from FriendFeed to source and back, I do agree that more integration is needed.  I’d love for FriendFeed comments on a Flickr photo to go back to Flickr, and for the same to happen with blogs and other services.  But as of now that functionality doesn’t exist and until it does, I think you’ll find very few users willing to do it Allen’s way.

What’s your idea of the perfect solution? 

How likely are you to go back and comment on both the original source and on FriendFeed?

  • I tried to install this plug-in but ran into problems. Why not revive Trackbacks as a way to let the source know of a new comment thread taking place elsewhere?

  • Trackbacks are a start, but I think a better solution is one where discussions from everywhere get placed on the blog post. This way a reader see all of what’s happening and can choose which discussions they want to participate in.

    Ian, try contacting Glenn about your issues:

  • I believe that we must indeed centralize the conversation and have a single place where we can see all the discussion. But the comments should also go back to the platforms where the discussion originated. Moreover, one should be able to respond to a blog discussion directly with another post, a photo or a twitter post.

    This is not very easy to do, but it’s definitely the next step in having distributed conversations.

  • kenmat

    Shey, this is another important write-up!
    Yesterday, you used the term “distributed conversations” and I like the idea. That’s what’s happening lately around here. Conversation stream naturally differs according to the participants even though the original source is the same.

    We don’t have to centralize those stream into one place, because those vast ammount of comment streams, wherever it will take place, might lead web to the next level, I believe. Thanks!

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  • Lots of really helpful links in this article, I’ll definitely be bookmarking and referring back to this one, Shey. Now I am off to check out YackTrack! I didn’t know it had all that functionality.

  • Glad to help, Phil!

  • Phil,

    As I tell everyone else, let me know if you have any questions. Yacktrack has a friendfeed room, and you can always send an email to feedback at yacktrack. Or you could just talk about it on friendfeed as I monitor it closely.

  • Thanks Rob! To be honest I’ve had YackTrack on my radar for a couple of weeks now but I keep getting distracted by shiny things. I’ll get to it this weekend and if I have any questions, don’t worry, I’ll let you know. I’m not shy.

  • CyndyA

    Rob! It’s taken forever for me to connect that you = Yacktrack. I tried it, but it didn’t seem to handle multi-author blogs. I want to track conversations about my stuff, but not always (although sometimes) some of the other’s things.

  • Cyndy, it is really tracking against a specific post, so it should work normally. There are still some issues depending on the type of blog and whether a commenting plugin is used. Send an email to feedback at yacktrack with the blog you are trying to follow and I will look into what the problem is.

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