The 5 Possible Reponses and the Conversational Blogosphere

Adam Green posts today about the conversational and sometimes reactionary nature of the internet. He makes some good points, not the least of which is the Rorschach test title and discussion, which is as humorous as it is thought provoking.

When we developed all those message board sites back during Bubble 1.0, we quickly mapped the response tendencies of our users. This is a bit of a generalization, but response patterns tend to fall into one or more of five categories:

1) The Chorus: I agree, with little additional content. These were good for page views, but didn’t do much to further the conversation.

2) The Heckler: You’re wrong and/or an idiot. These were even better for page views, and only helped the conversation a little by forcing a response.

3) The Critic: I think you are partly right, but what about this. These were the best replies of all, because generally they initiated a semi-thoughtful discussion and debate.

4) The Hijacker: I know you’re talking about that, but what do you think about this. Things can get chaotic, but not as badly as you might think because the hijacker either fails and gets ignored or succeeds and the conversation just takes a right turn and continues, just like they sometimes do around the dinner table.

5) The Hater: I don’t just want to join in- I just want to be disruptive and aggressive and attack people. These folks generally got banned from our message boards at some point.

I think those same categories largely apply to people who converse in the blogosphere, whether via Comments or cross-blog conversations, like this one.


The X-factor in these conversations, just like the ones around the dinner table, is emotion. Once you touch the emotive membrane, passion goes up and logic sometimes goes down. This is both good (more spirited conversation) and bad (the potential to miss the point and turn from a discussion to a fight).

So yes, I think sometimes people react more quickly and perhaps less logically when they are talking about something they like a lot or don’t like a lot.

Now, about my reply to Adam’s memetracker post.

First of all, he is exactly right when he deduces that part of my reaction was based on my feelings about committees in general. A guy I once worked with once said (loudly) that anytime someone asked him to be on a committee, he knew they were only trying to take advantage of him. Now I don’t feel that way (thus I’m still here and he has moved on), but I do understand what he’s saying. There’s a little truth in his statement.

But the real emotive reaction that made me “just about fall over my chair trying to get a response written” is my great dislike of any process that might be designed or used (even if not designed) to let some people inside and keep others outside (paging Seth Finkelstein).

I had nightmares of some self-important advisory committee holding a secret vote to decide who could participate in the group blog- not so much as a memetracker developer, but as a user participant. I love the distributed conversations that occur naturally in the blogosphere and don’t want anyone to dam the river and stop that flow.

Adam is absolutely right, however, that while I tried hard to be objective and conversational, my emotional reaction to the issue may have led me to sense trouble between the lines where there was none.

That’s why it’s important to read posts carefully and try to be sure you understand what someone is saying before you respond. Especially if you intend to take a strong and contrary position. People write blog posts quickly, and sometimes you can’t be certain. Heck, I’ve gone as far as diagramming Dave Winer‘s sentences to try to decipher whether he’s for or against the flattening of the blogosphere- and I still don’t know. I’m not entirely sure he knows.

But even if I get something wrong, someone will let me know.

Because we’re just talking here.

And that’s what’s great about blogs and the internet.