david wI enjoy reading Dave Weinberger’s Joho the Blog for two reasons: because he’s an incredibly bright guy, and because he gets you thinking about things you don’t ordinarily get around to thinking about (due to a combination of lack of imagination and lack of time). I don’t have time to think, I’m too busy blogging. If that’s your problem, Dave’s the cure for what ails ya.

I’ve talked on these pages before about the limitations of blogs: Their inaccessibility to the technologically inept, the immense difficulty of building an audience (and even finding others to ‘talk with’) when you’re a newcomer to blogging and hence subject to Shirky’s Power Law (first one in gets all the attention).

To me, the greatest limitation is blogs’ lack of integration and ‘transitionability’ with other communication tools. Why haven’t we developed generally-accepted work-arounds that allow us to transition from blog comments to e-mail threads, IM, telephony, wikis and other tools, and back again? Have we become so used to being led around the nose by the functionality (and lack thereof) of communication tools that we’ve lost our imagination and social will to develop means to jump to better tools when the one we’re working isn’t optimal? Skype was one of the Top Technologies of the Year in Business 2.0’s list, and it’s wonderful, and free, so why isn’t everyone using it to extend the relationships they develop on blogs? And why are webcams still ridiculed, when everyone agrees facial expresssion and bosy language add immensely to communication, and we now have the high-speed bandwidth (well, 47% of us have anyway per a recent study) to accommodate multi-media conversations? Why do so few people take up my (and others’, from what they tell me) invitations to call them, Skype them, IM them, to allow the iteration (back-and-forth) that is the essence of true conversation? And why, when we do make that transition, and meet someone who’s become a ‘friend’ through our blogs, is the first meeting or conversation in aother medium so awkward, even jarring?

That’s all I have today — a lot of important questions, and no answers. Thanks to Dave for raising the issue. If anyone has any thoughts or answers on this, I’d love to hear them. Even additional questions are welcome. And if you’d like to use another, more robust tool than blog comments or e-mail to converse about this, just ask.

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  1. Dina says:

    Dave … as i read your post i really just wanted to pick up the phone and call you. Its an area i’ve been discussing with other bloggers – Ton and Stuart in particular. Some of us have ‘skype me’ buttons at our main pages. Stuart has gone one step further into building a Skyperoll and is running a prototype – a SkypeBlog – that attempts to bring bloggers and skypers together so conversations are accelerated.I wonder if it would be a good idea to have that button and an IM equivalent at the bottom of each of our blog posts, in the bar that has comments and permalinks. With presence indicators – so the reader would know if i’m available to chat or talk. Not sure whether existing blog software providers allow it – i’m pretty sure Radio doesn’t yet.

  2. Ton Zijlstra says:

    Hi Dave,Good questions. I think at a technological level it is still way too much hassle to bring all the right media together. On a personal level the awkwardness of the first Skype-contact for instance leads me to believe there is a barrier inside ourselves as well. Apparantly we are in a way also hiding behind our blogs, it’s a shield as much as a way to reach out. Would adding presence-indicators or even an updated webcam image in stead of the fixed photograph of the author (and not all have even those) help lower the threshold for the author, as well as the reader?Best,Ton

  3. Rob Paterson says:

    I would enjoy a “presence reader” sometimes to call you Dave but also I would find it sort of comforting to know that you or another blog friend was also up early on a Sunday Morning or that Dina say was still around in Mumbai.Now I have an Apple Skyping is out but some form of IM plus iSight would be great reading their blogs. As I get to know my my community better, I want a deeper contact than just reading their blogs and phoning and traveling – which I am doing – is too expensive.The start would surely be some kind of presence tool showing who on my blogroll was online

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Dina: That would be a great combination (and in fact some Discussion Groups have it so the technology can’t be that hard): a complete ‘line’ of alternative connectivity tools under each post, and a multi-media presence indicator at the top of the blog. You’d also need a ‘notifier’ (‘tell me when X is online’) function. You might also need to be able to limit your ‘presence indicator’ (only show yourself as ‘available’ to certain people) — otherwise guys like Weinberger would spend his entire life in unsolicited conversations with his readers ;-)Ton: You’re right — some bloggers don’t want any more intimacy with their readers. I think that’s their choice, of course. Like any new social encounter or venue, additional connectivity would certainly raise adrenaline at first, but I think with practice most of us would get comfortable with it, and would learn when to turn it off and on, just as we do with our telephones. And IP communications protocols all have ‘caller ID’ built in, which would make it easier.Rob: Absolutely. You get this with Notes mail (though a lot of businesses, surprisingly, turn the feature off). And some of the multimedia tools have a bewildering array of ‘unavailability’ indicators (away, private, offline etc.) when all you need to know is ‘is s/he online and/or taking calls or not?’. The idea of seeing who in your entire blogroll is online sounds great — not having to visit each person’s site to get that information. The more I think about this, the more I believe that this multi-media connectivity and presence information is the most useful functionality that blogs currently don’t provide.

  5. Jon Husband says:

    I too am now using my iBook with iChat, and as soon as I get back from Europe will buy an iSight tool, so that I can talk with (for example) Euan, Rob, Flemming and others.I really didn’t know how much better Apple was – no need for Skype now.

  6. Jon Husband says:

    When Euan demonstrated iChatAV with iSight, I did indeed like the experience

  7. I won’t speak to all your great questions. But I will comment on two things. First is Skype. One problem with it, as others have already mentioned, is that it is for Windwos-only. So those of us using other platforms are left out. For me, another problem is that it is closed and propriatary, another walled-garden owned by one company and not using open published standards. I’m waiting for an open-standards based Skype-like application. The standards exist (such as SIP and SIMPLE) but the apps are not as polished as Skype yet.On the webcam topic, I can speak from a professional researcher perspective. Even if the statement that “everyone agrees facial expresssion and body language add immensely to communication” is true, twenty years of research does not bear out that webcams offer sufficient facial expresssion and body language to produce this effect. In fact, much research shows that webcam-like video actually *detracts* from many kinds of interactions verses voice alone. Email me if you’d like to review some papers on the subject, or review some of my own research in this area. That is not to say that webcams cannot play a role in some kinds of interaction, particularly friends and family connectedness, but generally the data shows that the typical webcam style talking heads person to person video is essentially void of value, when examined critically.

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