Nakedness, overload and other maladies of the Conversation Age

Nakedness, overload and other maladies of the Conversation Age

Summary: Last week I was speaking on a couple of panels at the New Communications Forum in Palo Alto, about journalism and about new media business models. This is a fun conference with many familiar faces and it always seems to end too quickly (and we've not even scratched the surface!

TOPICS: Browser

Last week I was speaking on a couple of panels at the New Communications Forum in Palo Alto, about journalism and about new media business models. This is a fun conference with many familiar faces and it always seems to end too quickly (and we've not even scratched the surface!).

This year Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, the coauthors of the recently published "Naked Conversations" were the final speakers at the conference. The book describes how companies can involve themselves in the online "conversations" through blogging and other means.

Conversations are good, they are good for your company's bottom-line if you become involved in those conversations. And monitoring the conversations in the blogosphere and selling the results to corporations, as companies such as Technorati do, is a great way to figure out who is bad-mouthing your company and also, it is the cheapest and most effective market research you can buy.

The involvement of many tens of millions of people in the blogosphere, all involved in online group discussions from just a couple of people, to many tens of thousands--is a marketers' gold mine. All those conversations that might have happened over the garden fence, or in the cafe, are now public and searchable.

And Technorati and many others, will analyze the links, the authority of a site, and report to their corporate customers on the "conversations" around a product, service, company or individual.

This is not a bad thing if it leads to highly hyper-personalised marketing. That way, I would be targeted with what I needed--say new shoes. And I would be subject to fewer advertisements littering my psyche.

But this will never happen. Fewer adverts because of better targeting would be a false promise, it is like the promise of the paperless office, or the Leisure Society from labor-saving devices. So therefore, naked conversations are a bad thing--(let's go semi-private pronto).

Conversations have become a big feature of this Internet 2.0 and it is not surprising because to me, the internet is a media technology. And now with Internet 2.0 we have an asynchronous media technology: we can publish outwards--and we can collect and publish inwards the comments of others.

Is  blogging a conversation? Of sorts; it enables people to comment and discuss a blog post. But the conversation is often clumsy and short.

What blogging enables you to do, is to handle mass conversations--one person to have a "conversation" with many tens of thousands of people.

Blogging is a lot like sending out a family newsletter with a paid-reply card. We all hate the family newsletter but in the blogosphere it is okay because I can have an experience of a  conversation with a top blogger such as Robert Scoble. Or rather, a short stilted conversation, since bloggers have become masters of minimalist conversations :-).

Conversations about conversations leads me to think of this Internet 2.0 age as the Conversation Age.

This is different from the Information Age--which is associated with Internet 1.0 and our ability, through the web browser, to publish a page to any screen attached to any computer.

The Information Age led to one of the early maladies of the digital age--Information Overload. This is familiar to all--it is that mild-to-extreme feeling of paranoia that we haven't kept up with our reading/surfing.

In the Conversation Age we will suffer from Conversation Overload. This will become familiar to all, it's the mild-to-extreme feeling of paranoia that we haven't kept up with our email, blogging, IM, SMS, and voicemail, etc.

I think that Conversation Overload is a worse malady than Information Overload. Because I can walk away from reading Business Week this week, more easily than I can walk away from a conversation through blogging, email, etc. Those conversations are all important to me, yet I can't keep up with them.

Conversation Overload is tough because we don't want it to seem as if we are ignoring someone but there is not enough time in the world to keep up with all the conversations.

That's why I spend a chunk of my day in a conversation blackout zone so that I can think, write, and so that I can hear my own conversation with myself. And I want to have a chance to have a conversation with my kids.

After I've done that, then I try and keep up with my online and offline conversations, comments, emails, voicemail, etc--and I'm sometimes unable to keep up with them all. But what can you do?

Well one thing that  I do, which works very well, is that I only give out my cell phone number and I make it clear that it is my cell phone number. If something is important--don't send me five emails--call me! It works great--I get the conversations that really matter.

My Conversations, in order of importance, preference and attention:  

  • face-to-face
  • cell phone
  • SMS
  • IM
  • blog comments
  • email
  • trackbacks
  • landline phone
  • fax

What about you?

Topic: Browser

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


1 comment
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • conversationisms

    I think Tom really hits the nail on the head with this article. His description of the paranoia surrounding 'conversation overload' resonates strongly with my own experiences.

    I see two important issues; valuing conversation and managing conversation. I work in the creative arena and am absolutely aware of the value of conversation (both locally and globally) to the creative process. Any technology that facilitates high quality conversation is therefore a positive help and anything that prohibits the sharing of ideas (like prohibitive I.P. legislation, censorship or spam-like overload) is a negative. However, the more we value conversation and treat it as a crucial part of our everyday work, the more we must find ways of managing the process.

    I find it interesting to see how I use different methods of communication for different purposes. Face-to-face is by far the most valuable method of sharing ideas, especially when there is a need for exposing mistakes and 'blind-alleys' which often get filtered out of formal, remote conversations. However, face-to-face is massively time consuming and while the value of it can increase with structured, and 'steered' conversation, sometimes it's just important to 'shoot the breeze' and go way off-topic. Good conversations take time and effort.

    For me, IM has proved to be far more useful than email for the transfer of information that requires immediate feedback. It makes email more of a 'broadcast mechanism' that's just slightly below blogging in it's effectiveness, although having recently switched to Gmail I have to say I really like the 'conversations' approach and the ability to wipe everything out of your inbox. A clear, blank screen is like a breath of fresh air.

    Having been glued to a cellphone for about 20 years, I am now taking a different approach to voice telecoms. My cellphone is a now a network device for information and occasional location/meeting liaison - I use it as sparingly as possible for voice and am very happy to turn it off whenever I want. SMS just annoys me now, but I'm not sure why - maybe it's the clumsy interface. As I live in Tokyo, but work around the world, the most valuable tool for me is VoIP - and because of time-zone issues, presence awareness is an essential tool. Almost all my voice and video calls are free now - I'm just frustrated that my handheld device isn't ubiquitously connected to Wifi and running iChat, Skype or Gizmo - when that happens I'll be dumping my cellphone for good.

    So for me, it's Face-to-face, IM, Blog/email and free voice. Fax has gone the way of Telex and 1200/75 modems with acoustic cups - ah! the good old days!