Blogs and Conversations

Recently I’ve been going through Patrick Dubroy’s excellent blog archives and I stumbled upon a post titled “Blogging is the hardest ‘conversation’ I’ve ever had” which really resonated with me. Pat said:

Yesterday, after writing my post in reply to Atul, Aza, and co., I was thinking about how much work it is to put together a post like that. You often hear people refer to blogs as a “conversation”, but if that’s true, it’s more work than any type of conversation I’ve ever had.

Compare it to other kinds of group conversation we can have on the internet:

  • IM, IRC, etc.
  • Twitter and FriendFeed
  • wikis (not all wikis are really conversation-friendly, but the original wiki certainly is)
  • email, discussion forums, blog comments

Writing a blog entry in response to someone else’s is far more difficult than any of those. Partly, it’s because blogging is often slightly more structured and polished than the other methods; but there’s also a lot of overhead in the actual act of writing a post.

This has definitely been my experience too. Trying to stitch together quotes and links to other blogs is incredibly tedious and error-prone. And if you use a format like Markdown, making sure you’ve got the quotes, lists, and links properly copied over is just that much harder. Everything’s so fiddly. Is it any wonder almost nobody does it?

When I started my website in 2010, I was really excited to jump in to writing on the web. There were blog conversations all over the place: Somebody would post something, then other blogs would react to it, adding their own thoughts, then the original poster would link to those reactions and respond likewise, etc. It became a whole conversation and I couldn’t wait to participate.

But I’ve never really had much of a conversation on my website. I’ve reacted to others’ posts, but I’ve never felt it reciprocated. I never felt like I was talking with anyone or anyone’s website, but more like I was spewing words out into the void. Some people definitely enjoy what I write, some agree and some even disagree with it, but the feedback has always been private, there’s never been much public conversation.

And I get it. Like Pat said, the interface to blogging doesn’t really encourage conversation, which makes blogging feel anti-social and lonely. My guess is blog comments were a way to make things feel more social, less isolated, but unless a lot of thought is put into them, comments become a total shitshow almost immediately (see Civil Comments, a promising attempt at fixing this). RSS lets readers subscribe to your posts, but you have no relationship with these people; ideally you want your readers to be peers so you can read their blogs, too.

There’s a lot of talk about the death of blogs, and it’s easy to understand why. Blogs are a lot of work to set up, they’re often fiddly to get right, people feel an urge to put out their best selves, and they have a terrible interface for being social. Not to mention how terrible writing on a touch screen is.

Luckily, there are still a few of us nuts around still writing on the web, who don’t really care if “blogs are dead” or not. But we sure could use some company.

Speed of Light