The Broken Conversation

IStock_000005716223XSmallYou write a blog post.  You tweet about it.  It gets posted to your FriendFeed profile.  You share it via Facebook.  You save it to  

Your friends, followers and colleagues comment on the blog. 

Or they say something nice via Twitter (where a conversation related to your post ensues). 

Or, they comment directly via your FriendFeed profile.  Or they comment on your Facebook post. 

Or they save the post to their own account and add a comment there.

Yes, you’re highly connected with your audience.  Yes, it’s cool that each of your readers can view and respond in the social media outlet of their choice.

But as a result, the conversation is broken.  It’s not threaded.  It’s discontinuous:  lacking sequence and coherence.

Is this a problem?  I dunno.  But I do think it’s problem for the “ideal” of social media: in a fractured commentsphere, individual voices can be too easily discounted or simply lost. 

(Further, the need to spread out far & wide to find and respond to these farflung voices leads to the ever-looming Attention Crash!)

It gets worse when you consider that there are Social Media Monitoring vendors like Radian6Buzzmetrics, etc. who may judge a bloggers’ level of importance & engagement by evaluating the comment threads that follow each post.  If those comment streams are happening in Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, etc., I doubt it’s being captured and evaluated by the measurement gurus – thus undervaluing many bloggers’ influence (and certainly discounting their level of “engagement”).

I don’t have an answer; it’s for greater minds than mine.  Do you have the answer?  Maybe Dave Winer has the answer?

Posted on: April 10, 2008 at 9:22 pm By Todd Defren
22 Responses to “The Broken Conversation”


  • This is a great post and a point dear to my heart. With TruCast we have worked to bring the full conversation thread into play wherever possible – helping to make sure that at least companies take the full comment stream into consideration and give equal possible weighting to the participants as well as measuring the sentiment and impact of the post within that stream and the effect of those comments – whether they go to the site or get it in analysis and alerting. Matching up the discontinuous segments is definitely tougher and isn’t always possible – yet – but we’re getting closer every day using intelligent spidering and meaning-based analysis to look for places people are quoting each other, trackbacks, and other associative-type analysis.

  • adrian chan says:


    There seem to be a couple major schools of thought on this: those for tool and app innovation, and those in favor of culture and community… It’s as if we all recognize that our conversation and publishing tools need openness and freedom from constraints to innovate, and yet as users we’re all suffering from fragmentation. It’s getting harder to make the signal out against all the noise, and noise levels are increasing due to the fact that we’re all using amplifiers, we’ve got our gain cranked up to 11, and the walls (when they exist) are full of holes big enough to drive an equipment truck through.

    For example, these schools seem to come down on opposing sides of the following major elements of any conversation/publishing tool:

    (these are off the cuff)

    For: is good for technical progress and innovation
    Against: fragments the conversation space

    For: conversation needs less structure and faster throughput to work
    Against: all talk all the time creates even more redundancy if it’s not given a common place to happen in

    For: structured content makes the web more useful
    Against: conversation dislikes structure

    For: the speaker should address himself to his audience (blogs)
    Against: the listeners should choose who they want to listen to (twitter)

    For: slow conversation like twitter, or chat, IM, etc are best for ongoing communication
    Against: the web makes discontinuous communication easy to follow after the fact — so why ask users to pay attention when they have other things to do

    One thing I’d like to know more of — how open is the social marketer to conversation, really? Because as long as conversation tools are used for the purpose of posting/distributing, there’s the strong possibility of user resistance, if not banner-wielding protest…

  • Wendy Bigham says:

    I understand how it would be frustrating to keep track of the conversation in different mediums. But, do professional/academic gurus need to track what is being said in Facebook (other than a social case study?) like they would on a serious forum?

    My point is that not all forms are at the same level and maybe it’s OK to miss some segments of the conversation.

  • Ike says:

    John, bless you. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only person who could see my comment.

  • I read another aspect of this topic over the weekend at ( who took it a step further, asking if moving content into those ‘fractured’ places was actually violating the rights of the content creator.

    My take is that we getting too close to what we do. The point that bloggers like to bring up about copyright is that you can’t copyright ideas.

    I’m going to stretch that idea to conversations. You can ‘own’ the words you use to write a blog post but you can’t control the conversation. It’s not ‘your’ conversation any more than the ideas.

    Now, that doesn’t answer the practical point of being involved in the discussions about what you wrote. I know most bloggers would want to stay involved in whatever conversations are sparked by their posts. To answer that concern, I agree with Ike. We don’t need additional services to aggregate content, we need some kind of underlying architecture that will ping back to the blog and let the individual aggregate their own content.

  • I agree with the issues, but seeing as there isn’t a killer app, what to do?

    Do we each take responsibility to put the pieces of the conversation where they can be followed or continue to do what’s convenient for ourselves? Maybe post a link to that twitter, utterz, or other responses in the comments following the post? A bit time consuming but then there is no discontinuation of the conversation.

    I’m a big fan of reading blogs in Google Reader so I *will* comment. I might take the time to click on a link in Twitter to read a post if I have a moment but always try to comment where I believe the blogger will find most useful.

  • Todd,
    What a great post that illustrates one of the biggest struggles in blogging today. And beyond the Tweeting and everything else you subscribe is the complication when a post from your blog is syndicated (with permission, of course) elsewhere. The connectivity with multiple audience streams is great, but it’s hard to engage conversations on the same topic in multiple places and it’s often frustrating to know how the conversations could really benefit from each other!

    It will be interesting to see how this issue progresses and whether it helps evolve or ends up devolving the relationship-building power of blogging.

  • Todd,

    Ironically, might I point out that there’s a pretty intelligent conversation taking place within this post’s comments section?

    Still, to tie in your point – how do we know this isn’t being/hasn’t been/will be discussed elsewhere in the blogosphere?

    I find myself monitoring Twitter more and more for fear that if I don’t, I’ll be missing out on some important conversations.

    Great point, Todd – very thought provoking.


  • ahg3 says:


    Great topic. Disjointed storytelling.

    Would some combination of pulling tweets into your blog like this ( work? You may want to figure out how to parse subjects so you don’t get every tweet directed to each page.

    The bigger picture, of course, is how to restructure these broken conversations into a single narrative that can display directly in the comments field. Is there a way to populate blog comments with quotables?


  • Todd,
    It’s great to have profiles on all those social networking sites in order to be able to CONNECT with people. But when it comes to blogging, your blog should be the place for the conversation to unfold. This is when the snowball effect happens – the content builds upon itself. If someone says something interesting about your blog post, ask them to write a comment on your blog. It would be as easy as copy-and-paste.

  • Todd–thought about commenting on Facebook, but… ;-)

    This looks like the kernel of an idea for the next great web 2.0 application–one that manages comments across ALL platforms.

    The challenge would be to get the other platforms to play along–and that’s a BIG challenge. FB is notorious for not sharing its content.

    A couple of different apps are out there to manage comments–but I don’t think they do much outside of the verious blog platforms. They are and

  • Ike says:

    If more of these networks supported Pingbacks, you could use them as a “carrier signal” to deliver the commentary into the formal comment stream of the blogpost. The blog essentially becomes an aggregator for the fragments of commentary.

    Develop a microformat for the enclosure, and some WordPress genius will have a plugin to auto-insert them into the comment stream by Wednesday.

  • Doug Haslam says:

    Bryan, the thing is, those distributed (spinning for the nasty negative “broken” word) conversations often are the meaningful concentrated ones.

    As individuals, we may only need to follow the isolated iterations, and are likely to get invited to the ones that take place elsewhere, if they are relevant.

    The challenges for PR are first, tracking them, and second, linking them together into a meaningful whole. Yup, there are tools. Yup, we need easier ones.

  • Todd Defren says:

    @Csalomonlee – I will definitely check out that post, thanks for sharing.

    @Marcel – Yea, for my part, I do see the blog comment section as “the ideal place to show an integrated view of a multi-platform conversation” … but keep in mind that not everyone has a bog, so it’s still problematic. Quotably does a cool job of tracking threaded Twitter conversations: I’d LOVE to be able to import that function into a blog post (even if it required some manual labor on my part, as the blogger, in the interim).

    @Nathan – Yea, that’s part of my point: we have to not only spread the word via multiple services, but follow-up and track any ensuing chit-chat. Exhausting. ;)

  • Nathan says:

    Excellent post. Wish I read this before I wrote my post today!

    I definitely don’t have the answer, but agree with you completely. It seems like we’re creating more and more pointers. On the one hand, having many different opportunities to promote content is great. On the other hand, aren’t we just spending all of our time to jump into conversations saying “Hey guys, look over there!”?

  • Admit it, Doug. The geek in us thinks it’s cool that we can read a blog post in our RSS readers, offer a response through Utterz or Seesmic and embed it all over the web, and then Tweet about the topic. But really, it makes me wonder whether several splintered online conversations are as meaningful as fewer but more concentrated ones?

    Agree with you, Todd, that I haven’t stumbled across a solution to this, either.

  • Hi Todd,

    Makes sense and it is a tough problem. In fact, I see that part of THIS conversation took place on twitter, where you talked about the twitter killer app which could auto-import any tweets that react to a blog post. Good idea.

    Would you see the blog comment section as the ideal place to show an integrated view of a multi-platform conversation? What about conversations that start on twitter, linkedIn, etc., and then migrate to blogs?

    You got me thinking…

  • Csalomonlee says:

    Todd – it’s a tough situation. I sometimes feel that I’m missing out on interesting comments because of what you described above.

    Though not directly related to the above, I recently read this article on the Church of Customer Blog ( that highlighted how used Yahoo Pipes to track online conversations about the company. Would this be a way to track “conversations”? I don’t know as I haven’t looked into this yet.

  • Todd Defren says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Interestingly, most of these responses focus on the PR agency challenge, but I am actually just as concerned with the “integrity of the conversation.”

    In other words: if I take the time to comment on a blog (and even subscribe to follow-up comments), I’d be bummed to find out that MOST of the conversational activity around that same post happened on Twitter, and I might have no clue about it. As a commenter, I’m (naively) assuming the debate points are going to happen *at* the blog post, but the ensuing conversation *could* happen anywhere (twitter, friendfeed, etc.) … which ultimately “hurts” the conversation’s many potential participants.

    Tracking multi-platform conversations is not only a challenge to Agencies and Corp Comms, it is also a challenge to the end users themselves!

  • Hi Todd,

    You are absolutely correct – the conversation is very fragmented and it is getting more diverse as the number of mediums increase. A comment or question asked in one medium such as a blog can be answered in another medium such as twitter, sometimes without context.

    From a measurement perspective, it is important to take a multi-channel approach because of the reality you have described. As an influencer you have a blog, a twitter account, a youtube account, a flickr account and you communicate on all these channels. Any complete view of influence must include all the mediums, not just a blog centric view.

    It is also important to include as many conversational dynamics as possible such as comments, unique commenters, social bookmarks, on topic links, etc., since all of these social breadcrumbs say something about influence.

    Thank you for mentioning Radian6. I appreciate that.

  • Brian Block says:

    This is a tough one to swallow, because it tastes pretty bitter in that it initially seems like, “what’s the point?” However, it smells like a call to action on the part of developers. We need a real conversation tracker. Until the software catches up with the need, I say this is a good project for interns and staff with time on their hands to investigate manually. That means, deciding which conversations to follow, tracking the convo from blog to network and wherever it leads, and then translating it into coherent content. asks which publications you want to follow, Radian6 needs to be asking which networks you want to include.

  • Doug Haslam says:

    I have been seeing a lot of this, what I have been calling “cross media conversations.” I blogged about it a ways back.

    Beth Kanter referred to it as “Network Weaving.” If you start a conversation, it may not be as hard to track. but if you are tracking for a client, I can see the frustration.

Show some social media love would ya?

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