Monday, July 07, 2008

SOCIAL: Online Conversation Models

Online Conversations Are Evolving

It wasn't long ago that to be a credible participant in social media one only had to have a decent blog and keep it updated fairly regularly. The rise of social media was an astonishing and novel enough development that most people still don't blog today, despite the enormous influence that blogging and other forms of social media continue to have. One reason is that blogging takes time and takes some skill, both in writing and using blogging tools effectively. Another is the rise of online social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Hi5, which add a personal dimension to online interaction that many find more rewarding and relevant for them.

But just like blogs made two-way conversations on the Web relatively cheap, easy, and quick for the masses compared to previous methods (such as personal Web sites), conversational models on the Web have continued to evolve. Recently, microblogging and social aggregation platforms like Twitter and Friendfeed have emerged to offer alternative models that are compelling for a number of significant reasons. For one, contributing to them doesn't take much time. To achieve this, they either have radical limits on the amount of content that can be posted at a time (140 characters for Twitter), or they do the posting work for you and automatically centralize your social activity on other sites into a single feed, as in the case of Friendfeed. They also tend to work very well on mobile devices -- an incredibly fast growing channel for experiencing anything on the Web these days -- as well scale conversation well, are extremely easy to use (even easier in general than blogs), and allow you to keep track of a large numbers of contacts socially.

And vitally, both Twitter and Friendfeed are open platforms, not just mere tools. A key factor in their success is that they offer open APIs to allow others to add the features and capabilities that are missing for various specialty needs that would otherwise clutter the product for many users. This creates a far richer overall feature set than any single product could offer on its own, while at the same time leveraging the innovation of the user community. Blogs have been able to do something similar with badges, widgets, and plug-ins for some time but haven't seen the same directed results as we'll see below.

The sheer volume of 3rd party add-on activity for these platforms is impressive. Best-of-breed applications like Twhirl for Twitter (and now Friendfeed) and AlertThingy for Friendfeed extend these new social media experiences onto the desktop and provide real-time monitoring of your "Twitterverse" or friend's feeds. To get a full sense of the depth and scope of the innovation of the Twitter community, which is certainly still a niche compared to the blogosphere, though an increasingly impressive one, you have only to look at some of its more compelling 3rd party applications:

12 Twitter Applications

Summize - A power search engine for scanning Twitter conversations for information
Twitter Charts - Detailed analytics of your Twitter activities along many different metrics
TwitterFeed - Link your blog activity to Twitter
TwitterGram - Post MP3s into your Twitter conversations
TweetBurner - Combined with, this application shows click through analytics on your Twitter links as well as overall Twitterverse stats
TweetWheel - Analysis your Twitter account's social graph to understand the connections between your followers
TwittEarth - A 3d animated globe that shows activity in the Twitter public timeline in near real-time
Twitt(url)y - A link aggregator that reports on link activity within the Twitterverse, a sort of Techmeme for Twitter
TwitSay - Use your phone to post to Twitter via a voice message
TwitterSnooze - Turn off a chatty user temporarily and bring them back automatically later
Twistori - An interesting dashboard that displays the expression of key memes from the Twitter public timeline, creating a sort of global collective intelligence
Twubble - Many new Twitter users have trouble finding users to follower, this tool helps finds new contacts you might care about

Understanding How Conversations Are Changing

The challenge today is that while the size of individual contributions to online conversations is getting smaller, the frequency of conversations are increasing on these new social media platforms. Making this point, Sarah Perez over at Read/Write Web wrote this morning that there are too many choices, and too much content. Users of the latest social media tools are far more likely to post several times a day, more likely dozens of times, each one forming a new conversational beachhead. This can be overwhelming, but it can also be enormously stimulating and rewarding, as a form of collaboration, cross-pollination, brainstorming, serendipity, news gathering, and countless other activities provide one with a continuous connection to the broader world.

What conversation dynamics are working well for you today on the internet?


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