Transforming Blogs Into Conversations: Scoble, Silverlight and FriendFeed

9 minute read
John Conroy avatar
A good blog post is in essence a question; purposefully opinionated, or better yet, outright wrong. It demands interaction.The blogger's job is to provide the question, provoke debate, and invite the community at large to pool its immense knowledge and take the conversation further (a characteristic which distinguishes the blogger from the journalist). The conversation is the reason why we prefer blogs. If it weren't for the dialog between writer and reader, we may as well just pick up a newspaper or listen to the damn radio.This is how it was always supposed to be. But typically, either this conversation does not really happen at all, or else it is so slow and disjointed as to suck the life out of the whole process. Blogging platforms and the blogosphere as a whole have failed miserably at enabling effective conversation.But it would appear that the landscape changing, and that the evolution of conversation is changing the nature of blogging itself. To demonstrate this, we look at a particular, regular post by Robert Scoble, and look at how the conversation now shifts from one forum to another (and more importantly, why). This will demonstrate how the blogosphere is becoming less about the blog, and more about the conversation. This trend has wide-ranging implications, and points the way for future web communication, both in the blogosphere andbeyond.This tale doesn't really begin anywhere, but we'll start with a post on Scobleizer.com, as it's an appropriate place to jump in. Now Scoble, uber-blogger, is more-or-less a Microsoft fan, and indeed he worked there for a considerable period. When the news broke the other day that Google is now capable of indexing Flash content -- so rewriting the SEO textbook, for starters -- this is how he headlined his post on the matter:

Adobe Flash Gets a Break in Silverlight War

Quoth Scoble: 'Don’t miss this news. It’s significant because Google’s search engine can decide the marketplace winner between Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight. You think Google (or Yahoo, for that matter) is going to be very motivated to index Silverlight content? Rrrriiiiigggghhhhttttt.'Furthermore: 'Also notice which search engine isn’t playing the Adobe game: Microsoft’s.Silverlight might be better technology, but if it doesn’t get indexed by the two biggest search engines it’s game over.Now you might get some insight into why Microsoft wanted to pay US$ 46 billion to buy Yahoo. Like Ballmer said “Developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers!”It's a somewhat tangential post, in that this momentous news, something of a search engine Holy Grail for a decade and more, is presented in the context of a mere plugin battle. Google indexing Flash is headline news, in and of itself. We could go on for hours about the implications of this for content creators and managers, but we won't. Not here, at least. Conversely, we could talk for days about Flash vs. Silverlight, the implications and real-politik at Microsoft, the angle of Scoble's post, etc, etc. But we don't. Because what we are looking at here is the conversation, and now we switch abruptly to the venue where discussion on this post took place. You Mean it Wasn't on Scobleizer.com?This was not, as you might expect, on Scoble's comments board. There were plenty of good comments on Scobleizer.com on this. But the real action took place at another venue entirely: FriendFeed.com. This is not a trivial development.

A Brief Pause - Checking Out FriendFeed

FriendFeed.com is a social aggregator, designed to collect all of your social activity in one place. You tell them where your Del.icio.us profile page is at, your Twitter profile, your blog URL and YouTube account page etc., etc. Every time you update any of these your feed gets updated. And you can subscribe to other people's feeds. Better yet, you can post messages to the stream a la Twitter, and comment on other people's activity and messages. At it's heart, it's a conversational tool, streaming a never-ending discusion about technology matters, life, love, and so on.One concrete benefit of this for bloggers is that you can actually see what pages Michael Arrington or Duncan Riley or someone is bookmarking on Delicious, for instance. And you get immediate notification of a new post, and so on. So it's great for bloggers, which is by-the-by.The reason why services like this are enabling evolution of the blog is that it's a central place where you can follow numerous conversations at once, and keep an eye on the social actions of your community. Because it's immediate, you get conversations, not disjointed discussions. The difference is huge.Furthermore, if Scoble's new post is sitting in your RSS reader or waiting to get to you via newsletter, you might come across it some time or other. But because you can keep track of the full myriad of social activity in FriendFeed, the post is visible to you immediately, in a location you are likely to actually be visiting. FriendFeed is many things, one of which is an actual conversation, going on in real time, and if you're tracking several conversations (and why wouldn't you, given the choice?), you don't have to keepseveral windows open. It just plain makes sense to engage in conversation here rather than at the original blog.Furthermore, there's no moderation queue. No challenges. No extra screen, or waiting period while Defensio or Mollum runs the rule over your utterances.The Conversation is the Thing, Not the PostAnd so, we jump backwards a bit, to a guy with a Diet Coke in one hand, idly pressing F5 to refresh the page. Yours truly, your average God-fearing Web geek. Scoble's post jumps out. The blogger checks it out, because it's kinda up his alley. He goes back to FriendFeed, refreshes. The conversation has moved on already -- someone has bookmarked a bunch of images of horses on Flickr. Mashable has a new post out. The Maholo CEO Jason Calcanis is starting a discussion. And below the notification of the Scoble post (well down the page, now), we get all kinds of brilliant comments. Much better, in fact, than you get on the Scobleizer blog itself, and more of them in an infinitely shorter space of time than even Scoble typically gets on a (by his own admission):Isn't silverlight straight XAML? That means its text and can be indexed. The real question here is what will microsoft do in response? - Roberto BoniniSilverlight will be a threat but it will take some time. That’s great if everyone has the plugin thanks to the Olympics but if developers aren’t using it then that plugin is useless. I think it has a ton of advantages over Flash from a developer standpoint as well so really there isn’t any reason it shouldn’t catch on with some time. - Devlin Dunsmore via twhirlHere’s ESRIA.com analysis: Let’s also not forget that a lot of pagerank has to do with external deeplinks directed to your site. Web users have years of discouraging experiences bookmarking Flash sites, to the point that most don’t think to copy-paste the address bar and drop a link on their blog, even if it’s being updated by the Flash element via JavaScript. In this regard, Flash sites without an HTML frame will always be at an SEO disadvantage no matter what Adobe wants to say. - Bob Stewart via twhirlThis sorta feels like much ado about very little. What really matters is if the Flash content gets indexed in any MEANINGFUL way. PDFs get indexed but you have very little control over the display of the search engine results, so the listing itself is often meaningless. There are no navigation links in PDFs, so when you view the file, there’s no way to navigate to the site to which it belongs, short of stripping down the URL, which most people won’t do. Let’s see indexed Flash in action. - David EricksonDHTML / Javascript is now, and always will be, a lousy and fragile environment for anything serious. Flash and Silverlight really are the next steps. Javascript is badly implemented and inconsistent (and its not just MS with the problem, the spec is ambiguous). The reason Flash is gaining ground is that it is unified and consistent across browsers and platforms. Silverlight is all that WITH a real language and dev environment. - SoulhuntreSilverlight stores XAML in a ZIP file that’s sent to the client. It is the better technology (C# on the client as opposed to ActionScript). But the tooling and community is seriously lacking still. - xero Etcetera.And while you’re reading this, the meta-blogs start to arrive, as others extrapolate on Scoble’s take on the Google/Flash story, and these show up in FriendFeed too. And Scoble goes there to have his 2 cents on what these commentators. And the conversation moves on. And someone else bookmarks a page, the latest big thing, and attention drifts. And Scoble writes another post, or takes a Qik video. The point we are making is that the centralized social location is an infinitely better place for conducting conversations than the blog itself. And that here, the blog finally achieves it's sort of Nirvana, which is the evolution of its own irrevelance. The post was never meant to be the thing. It was always supposed to be about the conversation.In an era where networked communities are the be-alland end-all, central repositories like FriendFeed.com are the natural venue for the Web conversation to take place.And if this is so, then why have the blogs in the first place? Is Scobleizer.com even relevant any more, and if not, a more pedantic concern, where’s the monetization incentive when the conversation takes place at a third party?The Web conversation is shifting, with new applications defining new ways to maintain contact and enable faster, more targetted, more relevant communication. Any guru who tells you he understands this thing is lying. What is FriendFeed, in the final analysis? Irrevelant. The blog, AKA the Conversation, moves inexorably towards it’s final, mystical manifestation. Next conversation please.