The Changing Face of Online Interactivity

Ken Stewart, writing at Louis Gray, tells us how to use Friendfeed as a productivity tool.  I think how productive you can be whilst Twittering away or clicking around Friendfeed has a lot to do with your (or your boss’s) definition of productive, but that’s not the topic I want to talk about.  I want to explore whether these “conversation aggregation services” increase or decrease the quality of online conversation.

twitgrp Initially, I was pretty skeptical about these services.  I have tried to enjoy Facebook, but I don’t.  Same with Linkedin.  I just don’t think they’re fun or interesting.  Or even particularly well designed.  Maybe they’re good places to find a job or market your goods or services, but I’m not hiring or job hunting and I definitely don’t want to be marketed to while online.  In fact, because I am so ad-adverse, I almost never watch live TV.  At a minimum, I’ll wait 15 minutes or so and watch the show on my digital recorder (what do we call these things post-TIVO?) so I can skip over the commercials.  It’s the same way online.  I have applications that block banner ads.  Other applications that filter spam.  I go online to find content that’s fun and interesting- not to be subjected to ads, disguised or not.

At first, I felt the same way about Twitter.  It’s the latest online darling-without-a-business-plan.  Even after reading post after post singing its praises, I didn’t feel the attraction.  Until recently.  Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made an effort to get the full Twitter experience.  I made a background for my Twitter page, began to Tweet more and, more importantly, began to read more Tweets and follow more people.  To my surprise, I have found the experience enjoyable, and even managed to have some meaningful, though brief, conversations.  While some of the former blogging celebrities (if that’s not an oxymoron) are just as non-engaging on Twitter as they were during the Gatekeeper Wars, there are so many people on Twitter, you can generally wrestle the microphone away from those who would monopolize it.  This is more egalitarian and a very good thing.  Twitter works for me, at least for now.

Completely thanks to the great music I was hearing via John Asher, I started to experiment with  I wish the site still allowed you to upload audio files to their servers, but even so I think there is real potential here.  The sharing of music seems to be evolving towards a more flexible, less restrictive system- in practice even if not under the law (yet).  Assuming this trend continues, I think could be a great service for both artists and music fans.  Maybe one day a business plan will appear out of thin air and they will again allow audio uploads.  In the meantime, it’s a fun service.  I’ve found a few folks there who share my musical tastes, and I expect as I spend more time there, my experience will get even better.

I have also tried Friendfeed, because I kept getting emails that someone had subscribed to my Friendfeed (apparently I signed up when the service was in beta and forgot) and because a lot of people I respect kept telling me that Friendfeed was the greatest thing since Pownce (I keed, I keed).  I must be at the apex of my social networking adventure, however, because I don’t get Friendfeed.  I know that it compiles my various content from this blog, Flickr, Twitter, etc., but how exactly that improves online interactivity is not yet clear to me.  At some point, I inserted Steve Rubel’s Friendfeed into my feed reader in place of his blog feed.  You get a lot more content this way, but, candidly, there aren’t too many people I want that much content from.  Nor do I think there are that many people who are interested in turning their Kent spigot on that full.  Even so, because so many people love Friendfeed, I keep wondering if I’m missing something.  Maybe I’ll figure it out eventually, like I did with the iPhone, Twitter and, almost, but not quite, Macs.

What I do know is that the more time I spend on these various services, the more it seems like I am chasing conversation snippets all over the interwebs.  It feels like I’m in a room where several conversations are going on simultaneously and I’m twisting my neck trying to keep up.  It’s supposed to feel more centralized, but it feels less centralized.

And it’s killing, or at least replacing, blog comments.

Blog comments are somewhat centralized, which makes keeping up with a particular conversation thread pretty simple.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen a significant drop in the Comments here and the comments I make elsewhere.  I can’t help but think that this is a result of the effort and content being placed at these various third party services.  I’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing, but it’s different.  And even though I am having more short and sweet interactions, the sense of depth is lacking.  The blogosphere has always been an inefficient conversation medium, but lately it feels even more so.

Sure, you can centralize some of the scattered content via widgets and other applications.  I have my Tweets in the left column of my blog (though it was way harder than it had to be to customize the widget to suit my tastes).  If I can get to lose the ridiculously large and space eating graphic that it puts in its widget, I may add that content to my blog as well.  Friendfeed has a very flexible widget, but I’m not sure how to use it- just like the service as a whole.

All of these services make it easy to publish content, and to interact, at least on a superficial level.  The quantity is certainly there.  I’m just not sure about the quality.