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Going With The Flow

Posted by webmink on May 12, 2004 at 7:24 AM PDT

In a recent posting on my personal blog, I commented on the different kinds of postings people make to blogs. On our internal blogs at Sun, I stumbled across a good reflection by a colleague (and related comments by others) on a weblog I'd not previously encountered (I'd spotted comments like those made by James Tauber, but only because of Technorati - I had to work at it). The problem with trying to have a discussion spread across a myriad blogs is there's no meaningful way to read it.

I would never have read the comment (about wanting to use trackbacks and blog-hosted discussion) if I hadn't just stumbled across it, and if a newcomer to our conversation wanted to see what had come before s/he would stand no chance of finding all the blogs involved and threading together the comments in an order that made them intelligible. The discovery seemed to me to demonstrate the problem with a blog-centric approach to conversation (something that's bugged me for ages)

I believe the ideal flow goes like this instead:

  1. An initiator makes a statement on their blog and either it is carried on an aggregator shared by the community (in our case, the internal equivalent of PlanetSun) or it is copied to a suitable mailing list/forum.
  2. Others comment on the posting on the mailing list/forum
  3. From time to time, the conversation reaches a point where a small-scale refactoring is needed or a new substantial point needs to be made. These are posted to one of the participants' blogs and a link is posted to the conversation.
  4. Steps 2 and 3 iterate until the conversation starts getting structure
  5. One of the participants refactors the conversation into a wiki page
  6. Participants in the conversation edit the wiki page and discuss the edits on the mailing list/forum. It may at times be necessary for a participant to make a blog entry with significant new information, but in general the discussion is now forum & wiki rather than blog & forum
  7. The discussion gradually tails off as the wiki entry now represents the shared knowledge of the community represented by the discussion participants.

Hopefully this shows why I am not keen on either trackbacks or indeed necessarily on blog-hosted comments (although I believe those are an essential part of a blog as they allow local clarification). Both trackbacks and blog-hosted comments fragment the conversation and keep blogs an echo-chamber rather than part of a discussion flow with a conclusion. In a peer community, I believe discussion forums (of some sort) need to be the centre of the discussion, with blogs and wikis at either end end of the flow.

[Also posted on Webmink]

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