PermaLink Is blogging killing debate?07/10/2008 09:50 AM
Lately, I've had a nagging concern that the rapidly-expanding cluster of blogged content is contributing to an incredibly short attention span on the part of online readers and participants.  Are we all turning ADHD because of blogging?

In the early days of the net, when email and news was delivered at a rather leisurely pace over 56K leased lines and uucp, the community of online discussion was microscopically small compared to today (tens of thousands instead of hundreds of millions) but remarkably... rich.

While some people might use the term "pedantic," online discussions could, and did, span weeks or months about what to an outsider might seem really arcane topics: some design choice about the behavior of sendmail, or the endless Big-Endian versus Little-Endian debate and whether the designers of the DEC-20 should be shot on site. These discussions, devoid of those little ads tacked onto messages from a lot of listservs now, would loop around, shoot off in new arcs, engulf and eject participants over time, and in general leave no doubt, when they ran their course, that the topic had been Fully Talked About.

It was in this environment that Linux was born, the World Wide Web was hatched, and technologies developed that have become multi-zillion-dollar forces in the lives of tens of millions of people. And it took time and some careful attention on the part of its participants.

Is blogging killing that environment?

Something I've noticed lately, particularly through PlanetLotus, is that there are a few tiers of bloggers, at least in the Lotus world. There are the news-hounds, who post often but don't usually add a great deal of analysis to the items they link to, and don't often provide a lot of personal insights both by and about themselves. Then there are the opinionators, the people who'll talk on a wide variety of topics and express a lot of strong opinions, linking out to other things just to illustrate a point. And there are people who put up small bits of personal news or small technical revelations.

But underneath it all, there's this subtle pressure: you gotta come up with new stuff! All the time. Keep your readers, put new things out there as a steady stream.

Does that actually give anyone the time to talk about any of it? It seems like a topic that's massively hot one day is gone in a week and nobody can remember a thing that was said about it. It's snack food for the mind.

You can see the death of discussion all around: LNotes-L in its original form died and was recreated in a smaller form on Yahoo Groups, but it seems like it's the same nine people posting questions looking for solutions. The NotesNet forums are overwhelmed with people asking questions about particular weird problems and getting no real response from anyone except people saying, "yeah, that happened to me, too, and I never got an answer." The comp.groupware.lotus-notes.* hierarchy on Usenet is moribund, taken over by spam, job posting, and the echoes of what took place there years ago.

Everyone's talking. But nobody's discussing.

Some days it seems like the closest thing that passes for discussion in the Domino world is Twitter. 140 characters at a time.

Is that really what we've come to?

Like everybody else, I ask a question, and I have no answer.

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1. Jerry Carter07/29/2008 12:25:58 PM

I think you're partially right. If you view Youtube as the evolution of theater for the attention span challenged, twitter is the evolution of the printed word for the same audience.

But what this means is simply that what was once consumable and digestible only by those with long attention spans has come to the unwashed masses. This is a good thing. More information, be it in bite sized chunks, in the hands of more people means the overall level of literacy on a give subject rises, even if the mean of quality declines. It's a non sequitur to posit high quality conversation and material is not being produced simply because the mean has declined. It has simply become the exception, not the rule, and may actually occur more frequently but the strong skew on the data makes it seem all very brief and terse.

So, statistically, you wild be right if you are content to make a generalization by interpreting the entire distribution curve. But if you limit yourself to -1 standard deviation, I think there's probably still a good amount of quality content and discussion occurring.

Here's another thought for you - as the level of understanding increases in the population, the verbosity required to communicate effectively declines so that I can say

while bloggers.count > 0
opinions = rectums

and thereby set off a long conversation.

2. Bob Balaban07/19/2008 09:31:46 PM

Hey, T, GREAT post! But, I couldn't read it all, and there were SO many comments.... Had to go see what was on tv in the other room, and, well, y'know....
Rock on!

3. Gregg Eldred07/10/2008 12:01:23 PM

First off, I am trying to determine where I fall in your tiers.

The voices on LNotes-L have changed. As have the ones on I am saddened by the loss of give-and-take on LNotes-L, and I point to the last time that listserv crashed. I think that many people used that as time to leave the group. The ones that remained were more of the "hard core" members. Thus, the questions that are asked are . . . different. I also think that many of the old members simply head to Google to find their answers. seems to have more people that demand answers to their issues or never reply with a "thank you" or "that worked for me." You end up with incomplete threads (the latter) or the loss of great minds tired of the former. Personally, I answer when I can, but mostly I am tired of searching the forum for the answers, when the poster should have done that at the beginning. And I am getting more frustrated with no acknowledgement that my advice actually helped.

But on LNotes-L, you do get that acknowledgement. That is one of the primary reasons I stick around.

I am not sure the role PlanetLotus has in your discussion. Before PL, I used my RSS Reader to keep up with the blogs. I don't think that I have perceived any change in the content from the blogs that I was watching pre-PL versus post-PL. I also don't think that we have pulled many more people into the conversation (as a relation to the number of people that 1-attend Lotusphere, or 2-are in the Lotus community). And, frankly, the traffic to my blog has remained fairly consistent. The exception to that is on the off chance that I blog on a development topic, then traffic spikes.

But to your point of discussions. They are out there. They may not all happen under the comments of a post. They may generate conversations outside of the internet, as well. Daniel pointed out, quite correctly, that the iPhone/Lotus topic generated a lot of discussion. But some of it wasn't on the internet - it was in the halls of corporations.

Rocky's last few posts have generated a lot of comments (I am not sure how much was talking versus discussing), but I gained a lot from the comments on both of those topics.

Yeah, I read them all.

Like you, I am aware of my traffic. I know that people stop by on occasion but very few comment. I try a few different kinds of posts to elicit some response, just to make sure that someone is out there.

But no, it isn't a discussion.

If the blogosphere was a perfect world, and there were discussions, what would you expect? I'll venture to say that you must have an idea.

4. Carl Tyler07/10/2008 11:51:51 AM

@3 I don't necessarily disagree with that, but I did disagree with the not having answers.

I think most blogs aren't really suited for discussion, they can get peoples blood flowing but that fact that most blogs don't have threaded comments makes it hard. The biggest issue with blogs though, is that only about 1% of the people that actually read them participate in the discussion by leaving a comment. Most readers just read, don't vote in polls and don't comment, ever.

5. Turtle07/10/2008 11:13:48 AM

But the point I was trying to make is that the discussions are much, much more fleeting. What's a hot topic today is nearly completely forgotten in a week, both by the responders, because there's so much other stuff out there to read and comment on, and by the bloggers, because there's so much push toward writing The Next Hot Topic.

6. Carl Tyler07/10/2008 11:07:12 AM

I totally disagree with this statement:
"The NotesNet forums are overwhelmed with people asking questions about particular weird problems and getting no real response from anyone except people saying, "yeah, that happened to me, too, and I never got an answer."

I don't see it this way at all, there are some questions like that, but in now way the majority. I see lots of people getting answers to their issues, also remember is now a great big repository of knowledge, some people get their answer without even having to post a question, because it's already answered previously.

7. Daniel Lieber07/10/2008 10:51:35 AM

I think your assertion is incorrect here. Discussions absolutely happen, primarily in the comments to the entries. The discussions are typically tied to a particular posting and are inherently inconsistent as to whom they apply to. Meaningful discussions in the community happen very often, and these can and do result in action.

Mary Beth Raven's blog is an excellent example where she promotes discussion about various features. Ed Brill brings up various points that occasionally get huge discussions from a large number of participants. The recent discussion { Link } of the new iPhone and the way to get the necessary visibility is a case in point.

As in a large gathering of people, the actual actions and inactions have an unpredictability as to where the interest and aggregation can occur. This group behavior is part of what makes the collaboration industry so interesting!

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