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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blogs, Community and Discussion Tracking - What's Really Needed

I received some great questions from Christy Tucker in reference to my recent post Types of Blog Discussions
I have started using CoComment based on your mention of it a while back. I admit that I really wasn't doing much commenting prior to that because I never remembered to go back and look. Having the comment threads in Google Reader with everything else makes it much easier for me to keep track of. I still don't do enough commenting, but I'm doing more now.So what do you feel you get by using MyBlogLog, Explode, or other tools? Do you feel that MyBlogLog really does help you understand your readers better, as they say it will?

And you know I love good questions (Continuing Thoughts on Questions, What Questions Should We be Asking?, Better Questions for Learning Professionals)...

So, thanks Christy.

Your question on MyBlogLog and Explode is somewhat challenging to answer because I'm using those tools and coComment with the goals of:
  • Engaging in interesting conversations (with people) happening through blog posts and comments
  • Finding interesting people (and their blogs)
  • Engaging with these people over the course of time and sometimes establishing relationships outside of blog discussions, e.g., meeting at conferences, speaking on panels

The promise of MyBlogLog and Explode is that they will show me who else (who is a subscriber to these services) is visiting my blog so that I can find interesting people who may not necessarily be commentors or bloggers. I've found this moderately interesting, but so far, I've not really got much value. Instead, it's helped me realize that it's the discussion that engages me with other people. Simply knowing that they exist without discussion doesn't help me nearly as much. It does satisfy a bit of curiousity around "Who's visiting my blog?"

What's sorely lacking in the combination of these tools is full support for Blog Discussions. Blog discussions start on one blog with a post. Then discussion ensues via a combination of comments on the original post and via posts in other blogs. And, of course, these then get comments and even more blogs post are created that discuss the topic. The original post often points to some of the posts via trackbacks, but if you want to track this kind of network discussion so that you can see what's being written by different people via blog posts and comments, there's really no way.

Consider if you wanted to track the Five Things Meme as it worked it's way through the blogosphere. Theoretically, Meme Tracking should help you be able to track this meme. For example, you can certainly use Technorati to search for "Five Things Meme" to find a list of blog posts. You can subscribe to this search. And luckily the term is specific enough that you will likely see posts that mostly are discussing this Meme. Most discussion topics are not as well specified which makes it harder to even search. For example try searching for blog posts related to the most recent LCB Big Question - Supporting New Managers? Some authors link to the original post, some don't. Some use the same question text. Some don't. Basically it's hard to create an effective search against a particular topic.

Tools like TailRank and Megite theoretically helps with this problem by tracking particular threads. However, they seem to be focused on mainstream topics and blogs.

Even assuming that we had a good way to find all the blog posts related to a particular thread of discussion, we would still have the problem of not having an effective way to track comments. While CoComment works well for a single post, it is somewhat flaky and there's no easy way to add all the posts involved in a thread. In other words, it needs a way to take the search results you get on a particular meme (thread) and track all the comments of those posts (or the ones you select).

While I'm at it, let me suggest that what I really would have wanted from MyBlogLog is to form a community based on continued participation in threads that I'm also looking at. Further, it should extract from my community what other people are reading and thus what I might be interested in also seeing. I believe these tools are headed this way, but they've got a ways to go.

Oh and one last thing - shouldn't I be able to get rankings and ratings of the articles being read / rated by my community that was established based on participation in my threads. We should have Digg, but only for the group of people that I've naturally become associated with because of similar interest in topics. I've read of tools that look to do this, but they each assume that we are willing to spend the time for form a community based on a model other than participation in threads.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for putting so much time into answering my questions. It seems like you are really using MyBlogLog and Explode not because they really do what you'd like, but because they are the best we have right now. There isn't really a way to fully track a discussion.

The idea of recommendations for related topics is very interesting, and I think getting ratings or rankings from other people in your network would also be beneficial.

However, do you think it's really necessary to fully track a conversation from beginning to end? For example, I only started blogging just before New Year's, and I wasn't even reading that many blogs prior to that. When I started, the Five Things Meme had already started and probably passed through most of the blogs. I came in partway, but I learned about memes (which was new to me) and I learned quite a bit about other bloggers' personalities. The fact that I missed the beginning of the meme wasn't that much of a loss. Sure, I missed some fun posts from people. Sometimes when I find a blog now I go back to see if they posted their 5 Things.

I think there would be a point of diminishing value for the majority of conversations. I can get the information as it is filtered through my direct connections (i.e., the people in my feed reader). I can follow links and drill down for specific areas where I want to learn more, and get to second or third degree connections. I haven't really felt a need to go deeper than that.

I suppose if it were easier to do I might dig deeper, or if I was doing serious research. For most of my personal learning though, I'm OK with the conversation being filtered through my network and not getting every piece of information directly.

OK, this has gotten to be ridiculously long for a comment. Thanks for getting me thinking though; you've given me a lot of things to mull over.

Anonymous said...

I've written some more ideas about this topic, including a summary of some things you said, on my blog under Tracking Blog Conversations.

I also found an interesting use of MyBlogLog where a blogger is creating weekly posts to share events and happenings within his MyBlogLog community. Check it out at Necessary Skills: MyBlogLog. He is definitely working to make his community visible using the tool, and that seems to be part of what is needed.

Tony Karrer said...

Christy - you are exactly right that I'm using MyBlogLog and CoComment because they are the best I have today. I'm hoping for something better in the future.

Is it necessary to fully track a conversation? No, but just like you lose out on parts of a conversation without a tool like CoComment, you lose out on lots of parts of conversations in the blogosphere without a broader discussion tracking solution. Discussions are so fast in most cases, that if you aren't diligent, then it happens, you miss it, and that's it.

The five things meme is somewhat of an exception because you don't expect much conversation inside comments and really not much back and forth at all. Thus, visiting each site after the fact is fine. And it's a good way to see who connects to whom.

Other discussions really do spread out and it would be nice to be able to follow the discussion without having to work.

Further, it would be even nicer to see what my peers are reading and participating in to help me find interesting conversations.

I'm convinced there's some really interesting innovations coming in this space.