A pretentious and presumptuous attempt to document what bloggers have learned, without any formal instruction, to do every day.

And then a description of what’s needed to make blogs a medium for real conversation.

For some bloggers, just writing is enough. For most of us, though, we’re looking to the blogosphere to provide us with useful and interesting information, education, entertainment and/or inspiration for our writing, and feedback, a critical audience, and help with the creative and publishing process. That process looks (to me at least) something like this:


As we all know, this is a lot of work, and there’s never enough time to do it perfectly. I budget 75 minutes/day for reading (the steps in red), 60 minutes/day for writing (green), 15 minutes/day for promotion (blue), and, on the weekend, 60 minutes/week for blog community activities, focused on Salon Blogs, my chosen community. As an empty-nester and night-owl, I do most of this between 8-11pm, but I try to post during prime blog time (5am-5pm) so my posts show up in the ‘recently updated’ lists when most people are reading.

Blogging has taught me to write better (believe it or not), to write faster, and what blog readers like and don’t like of my work. That’s enough to keep me blogging. But I know of several bloggers who gave up because they didn’t discover, or didn’t feel, a sense of community. Or they found blogging too impersonal compared to chat, IM, and the telephone. A blog is a very blunt tool, and provides little context of the writer’s personality, the kind of context that allows the development of real relationships (business or personal).

For personal relationship building, some bloggers have added chat, IM or webcam functionality to their blogs. Group blogs, forums and wikis allow collaborative work, which enables some real relationship building. And business networking tools like Ryze and LinkedIn allow bloggers to identify business needs and credentials to forge stronger business connections.

But in the absence of these appendages, blogs remain primarily one-way communication media. Comments threads, especially when they get long and divergent, are very clumsy ways of carrying on a communication. As a result, back-channeling (taking a comment thread ‘offline’ and continuing it by private e-mail) deprives the rest of the readers of the benefits of the conversation, and e-mail threads aren’t very good conversational vehicles themselves (compared to face-to-face, telephone, chat or IM).

Why can’t we enhance blog software so it allows a discussion, at the author’s discretion, to migrate simply to other, more powerful conversational tools without losing the connection to the initial blog post that provoked it? I could (as lots of bloggers do) add applets and links for chat, IM, voice-over-IP, a webcam, desktop videoconferencing, my forums and groups, and my Ryze and LinkedIn pages. But they still wouldn’t be connected, and I’d expect few readers to comfortably jump to the other ‘channels’ to continue a discussion started by a blog post. Or to use these tools ‘cold’ to communicate with me out of the blue. This probably shows I’m just not used to these other tools and their codes of behaviour, but I’d bet most of us are in the same boat. What’s needed is a seamless migration path between the ‘channels’, and an accepted and intuitive protocol for deciding which ‘channel’ to use when.

Not all bloggers will want or use this bi-directional communication functionality, of course. The blogosphere has multiple information cultures, and many bloggers are perfectly content with one-directional communication. Some don’t even turn on their commenting capability, following the historical magazine dictum of only allowing readers to write ‘letters to the editor’. And I respect their right to do so.

But I think many of us are aching to enrich the relationships with our readers, to whom we owe a great deal, and would welcome bi-directional, multi-channel communication functionality, tightly linked to our blog posts, to allow us to engage in true conversations and community-building with them. If you know of examples of blogs that have been so enriched (probably by tech-savvy bloggers tweaking their own blogs) please let me know, and I’ll start a list of them on my blogroll.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to push the blog envelope in more modest ways, within my very limited technical capability. I’ve put up my picture at right and updated my bio, so I’m not so mysterious. Watch for some peculiar boxes to appear at the end of certain posts that will take you to my IM address, scheduled discussions on my forums and groups, or my Ryze or LinkedIn pages.

Yes, I know that figuring out blogs’ peculiar technical foibles is already hard enough for most of us, and that none of us has enough time even for the steps in the chart above. But if we’re going to save the world and stuff we need to really communicate, to make blogs tools to really connect us with like minds, not just to inform and entertain. I’ve ‘met’ a few of my readers in person or by telephone conversation, and let me tell you the sudden jump in medium and connection is psychologically jarring. It shouldn’t have to be.

Who knows, maybe by next year the chart above will be so much more complex it’ll look like a plan for extricating Bush from Iraq.

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  1. Bryan says:

    what do you think of a threaded forum type of commenting system? i could whip one of those up pretty quick. or even a java applet that was a chat room and streamed the chat to the websites database backend in realtime and allowed users not in the discussion to see it as a threaded forum on the site thats dynamically updated with whats going on the in the chat room. could do it with im too.

  2. Susan says:

    Threaded comments would be nifty–good idea.

  3. Bryan says:

    *goes to work on threaded comments*

  4. Dick says:

    Brilliant. As one who has difficulty compliling a shopping list, I’m lost in admiration. Sound analysis & absolute clarity of presentation. Saved staright onto my computer…Dick Jones

  5. Dave Cullen says:

    What I would like is for the comments to be more visible. I’ve seen some blogs where you can click and the comments for a particular post sort of embed within the blog and stay there. So you can continue following that thread without clicking every time. Is anything like that possible with Radio?

  6. Lee LeFever says:

    Mark Carey has done some work on blurring the lines between normal blog-view and the conversational style of a forum. Not threaded per-se, but I thought it might be interesting: (check out the forum-view tab)~Lee

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Bryan: What fascinates me about open-source software like blogs’ is how easy it is to add functionality. I look forward to the results of your efforts.Dave: Absolutely possible. It’s just a question of whether we get Dave Winer & Co to incorporate this or let keeners like Bryan build that functionality. Another thing that my Salon survey revealed was that Radio needs an ‘abstract’ facility like Moveable Type’s i.e. if you have a long post you just show the first para or a teaser on the main blog page followed by a hotlink that says ‘[more]’ that takes you to the full article. That allows you to cram a lot more on the page and makes it easier for people who read you only every week or two to browse and pick up only the couple of articles they’re interested in.Lee: Thanks, that is an interesting concept. I’ve seen some examples that show the first line of each comment, each comment-on-the comment etc., with indentations used to show who’s responding to what. It’s definitely conversational, but it’s still far short of what a real conversation offers. I know, I’m just impossible to satisfy ;-)

  8. Bryan says:

    some of you people with cool articles to write should write on my blog (: i only made it for fun. and i have pretty much nothing worth writing in it.. but yeah, i’ll make a threaded style commenting system.

  9. Danny says:

    Already got a team working on threads – see particular the Wiki)There’s a bit of a pause at the moment to see how Pie/Echo/Atom fits into the picture.All the machine bits of your flowchart (and more) I’m integrating into a single app, along with project management etc. See

  10. Danny says:

    Excellent chart, btw – very useful.

  11. Mark Carey says:

    I agree with you, Dave, my Forum view for blogs helps improve the conversation nature of blogs, but it is still far short of a real conversation. My vision is to provide the ability to “reply with ________”, in which the ______ could be IM, IRC, video, voice, email, etc. — and the “reply” would be automatically posted in the conversation thread. That, combined with a good system for tracking and monitoring conversations on mutiple blogs, would be great start.

  12. Bryan says:

    that web outliner thing from Danny’s post is the first thing thats surprised and excited me that i’ve seen online in a long time. thats fucking awsome!

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    Danny/Bryan: This could be dynamite, but I confess it looks complex to me — might have a steep learning curve (I find even blogging to be technically challenging and I’m still intimidated by wikis). Mark’s idea of a ‘reply with’ button to replace the ‘comments’ button, and which allows you to pick a channel, sounds simple and intuitive to me, if the software could keep track of the conversation across channels.

  14. Bryan says:

    well i was going to do the threaded comments this weekend, but whats the point with things like the web outliner! maybe i’ll build on of those from scratch. or maybe i’ll actually write something worth reading in my blog…

  15. While these ideas are sound, I’m wondering if they miss the essence of the problem. The problem is still seems to be that weblogs (comments, forums, etc.) fail to communicate the personality of a person. One reason this seems to be so is that when I write a comment on your page, I am bound by the style/focus/content of _your_ page. The structural constraints reduce the hearsay that normally fuels social circles (hence relationships hence communication). I am more interested in what you are writing than what you are reading; in those conversations where you have chosen not only to witness but also to participate. If I knew where you were actively engaged, I would be able to better judge you in the context of the full spectrum of your (internet) social actions, as opposed to those isolated to your weblog or a chance read in a comment box. After all, I’m more likely to know someone after a night on the town than by having read every book he or she has ever thumbed.

  16. Dave, in *Blogging vs Commenting* is my perception about part of the tool integration issue you’re considering. Following the second approach, here is my feedback to your post: *don’t miss the main goal of the process*.

  17. Camilo says:

    The comments then proceed as any other conversation, absolutely open and with agreed upon rules to make it transparent to others.The other thing is that we have to be ablt ot cross through posts on comments, some sort of AI that can jump from one post to the other in comments, thus creating an experience that integrates th whole participation.Finally,I want to be able to search them all easily!I do not want to guess about conversation, it should proceed easily into my thinking process.

  18. Bryan says:

    camilo, i don’t have anything else to do today, i’ll get started.

  19. Over the weekend, I wrote an applescript to grab a Safari url. Combined with a some metadata from a dialogue box, the url is thrown to my database where it is promptly spit out on my weblog. It’s highly proprietary right now, but you can see the direction it is going in on my site.One problem – most comment boxes don’t backlink to their posts, so when I link to the comment I lose the context of the post. I’m brainstorming now, but if anyone has an idea, feel free to write or comment here or on my site.

  20. Susan Mernit says:

    Wonderful post, Dave. Particularly like the analysis of the flow of behaviors and time spent on each. As a visual person, find the chart impressive and useful.

  21. Bryan says:

    i just got around to doing anything about the threaded commenting stuff. its in place on my site. i know most of the subject matter that people write about on my site is retarded, but ohwell, its a public place. anyway, go there and write something interesting so i can post comments… and comments to those that are threaded!

  22. fredf says:

    I’ll follow the discussion here to see how people solve the ‘blogger-reader distance problem’. I’ve followed your lead by posting an image of the haggard ol’ blogger on my page. If nothing else, maybe it will scare away the groundhogs.

  23. jcwinnie says:

    Okay, you have inputs and outputs, nonetheless, you are missing the black box, the times in the processes when _people_ _actually_ _think_ about what they are reading or writing.

  24. Todd says:

    Dave, I know this is an old entry of yours, but I’ve just now taken the time to read it. It is extraordinary and helpful. I am trying to participate in the blogosphere in meaningful ways, now that I have the hang of how to go about it all, and the process you use is disciplined while remaining free and open. Thanks for taking time to help us newbies with these important posts of yours.Todd

  25. Excellent idea. I was discussing, on the XmlHTTPRequest Live Chat demo site, a setup similar to this as well. One could have the live chat system log all chats, and insert them as comments into the blogging software (depending on which entry the chat was opened from). That’s at least a start.

  26. Robert says:

    Great Article

  27. diana says:

    vbulletin, a licensed discussion board software, written in php, has a blog “addon” with threaded comments. The only one I’ve found with that capability. An ideal collaboration would be between CSS and PHP developers at movabletype and vbulletin to come up with a hybrid that integrates both softwares.For an example of threaded commenting see my blog & board: you don’t want to register you can see the board at:’ve added a shoutbox to the board, which is very popular with my members. It really helps to integrate the community, gives everyone a central meeting place where they can chat, make annoucements and link to threads or URLs. It’s amazing how a little addon like that can enhance the social dynamics.

  28. Muy interesante todo y las fotos muy bonitas.

  29. liuliuliuliuliuliuliuloiuu

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