Refill the coffee, Thelma. This post is long and impassioned. It might even be worth a read
I’ve been impressed enough with Disqus to give it a go. I’m ok with it, but it’s not there yet. I have realised that my frustrations with its failure to import old comment threads from WordPress are warranted, but I can see the utter nightmare it would be to try and write and import to do that.
Meanwhile, my attention has been drawn to Plurk, Friendfeed and some of these new lifestreaming aggregator thingies. I can see how they’ve managed to identify a weakness in Twitter and Pownce, and corrected it with the introduction of, effectively, threaded comments.
FriendFeed, for example, allows you to aggregate pretty much all your “lifestreaming” activity into one place, and all your other FriendFeed buddies can then come along and add their comments to your entries.
Now, this actually ends up being a “dog’s breakfast”… what I call Conversation Fragmentation. Here’s what I mean by that — for the benefit of those among my dear readers who haven’t yet experienced the “fragmentation effect”…
This is Robert Scoble’s FriendFeed page. On this page he aggregates his activities from around the web:
- his live video “blog” at Qik.com
- his Fast Company blog
- his Scobleizer blog
- his del.ici.ous links
- his Disqus comments thread(s)
- his Flickr photostream
- his Google Reader shared bookmarks
- his Google Talk chatter??
- his Pownce messages
- his Seesmic video messages
- his Smugmug photostream
- his Twitter messages
- his Upcoming event notifications
- his Yelp reviews
- his YouTube video links
If you’re wondering, I picked Scoble because he is so well followed, and if things are going to look messy for you and me they’re going to look like Hiroshima for him.
Anyway, I dare you to go over to his page, and try to work out what’s going on. For a start, you have multiple entries from Robert, followed by what appear to be threaded comments from other people. Those comments are largely from people seeing his new entries coming in on FriendFeed, and commenting there (adding a “like” or a full comments, as they please).
But what you don’t see are the comments other people left on the other commenting systems that are part of those other places where he originally posted. So to be more clear: Robert can post on his blog. You can read that blog and comment on there. That comment won’t appear in his FriendFeed, unless he adds his blog comment RSS into FriendFeed (which he hasn’t), and even if he does that, the threading won’t be right.
If you see his blog post but come back to FriendFeed to leave your comment, that won’t appear on his blog… unless he has a WordPress plugin that brings the FriendFeed comments over for people on his blog to see, which he hasn’t. Sure, he has the FriendFeed stream thing on the right of his blog pages, but that’s not the same thing.
Lets drill deeper. My Ritalin is still hammering my head, so I’m up for it!
Check out his latest post of 22 hours ago. How many comments? At this moment I see 14 comments on his blog, and 13 on FriendFeed. And they’re different comments… from different people.
Oh wait, Andrew Feinberg commented on the blog and then a bunch of times on the FriendFeed page. He’s a busy person.
Robert has to deal with this issue of two different conversations going on, and it’s not necessarily easy or pretty:
UPDATE: Andrew linked to more video and other posts on this story on FriendFeed.
That’s an added comment to the bottom of Robert’s blog, alerting his readers there that they need to go to his FriendFeed page to get links to other places of interest. For whatever reason, Robert didn’t link directly to the stuff he wanted people to see, but made them go to FriendFeed first. The FriendFeed people must love all this!
So Why Am I Crapping On Like This?
Well, I know Scoble is ahead of us all on this matter of “online noise generation”, but I think his issues illustrate for us where things are going with the technology itself. I think there is a HUGE opportunity for someone to work out how to cut down the redundancy and what I’ve called Conversation Fragmentation.
I mean, this is really getting silly… there are more and more systems out there wanting you to “update your status” (and I now use ping.fm to try and make that easy for me, yay). Then there are microblogging services for the next level up in communication — less soundbitey but still quick and dirty. Think Tumblr and Swurl (oooh, pretty!). Then there are places where you collect stuff that let people comment about your stuff and tell others that you just collected more stuff. Think Flickr and bookmarking services like Google Reader and del.icio.us.
Then there are blogs. Good old blogs. I like blogs. You are reading a blog… in case you just weren’t sure any more.
Who Will Save Us From This Mess?
Somethin’s gotta give, folks.
It’s just too hard to keep up with people any more. Now funny we should feel that way, because that happens to be exactly the reason why former Googlers over at FriendFeed got that whole thing going in the first place! They want to help you and me keep up with what everyone else is doing and they want to make it easy for you to have just one place to gather all your activity together — it’s called lifestreaming, as we’ve mentioned.
Now, here’s where I think there’s a killer app lurking in the shadows…
I liked Disqus because it showed the promise of a system that could do comments better than I could do on my own blog, especially in terms of my comments becoming a way of getting more (and more genuinely qualified) traffic to my blog. And I’m not writing Disqus off — or other competitors to it — but I think it’s all about critical mass.
And FriendFeed have critical mass. No doubt about it.
So here’s the thing. If anyone can centralize commenting, I think they can do it. Or at least I think they’re best positioned to give it a go. Yes, they’d have to do it really well and they’d have to give me the richness of the “plugin architecture” I get with WordPress, allowing me to do cool hacky/friendly stuff.
Surely they can sniff the opportunity! I mean, think about it… cornering the market on this thing called “comments”. Comments are all over the place, man! Imagine doing comments — or conversations, what they really are — so well that top bloggers and netizens would prefer to hand that feature over to your service than to continue doing it themselves.
Imagine if the majority of bloggers out there set their systems up to use that system instead of the “native” option?!
Well, wait for it… that’s kinda sorta happening now. It’s kinda sorta what FriendFeed is doing. In this case not technologically but socially, which is intriguing. People — you know, those critters that like to “converse” a lot and generate petabytes of Twitter traffic — are taking their talk over to FriendFeed even when there is a more “native” alternative.
And where the social pressure is there to get people to change their habits (wow!) the technology will soon follow.
I’m prepared to go out there and say that FriendFeed may be the next Facebook (as a gotta-love-it web success story, anyway). It may well become the “default” option for conversation and it may be the cure to Conversation Fragmentation. I say this because despite a lack of strong technological solutions, they’ve nonetheless made amazing advances on the social side: they’ve got you and me looking at FriendFeed because our friends are going over there really quickly. En masse!
So I predict that FriendFeed — barring catastrophes or Acts Of God — may well, in a relatively short time, find themselves in a position to engineer a technological solution to the centralization of commenting that the likes of Disqus could only ever dream of.
And if you’re wondering about where this is all coming from for me, I have just been pissed off with commenting for a long time. It’s the runt of the Web 2.0 litter. It just doesn’t work well.
So if the “social” aspect of reaching critical mass is well on target, then what of the technology? Well, put it this way. If enough people decide that a given platform or “approach” — in this case FriendFeed — does a good and proper job of centralizing conversations, they will force the issue. Closed systems that refuse to “yield” may see attrition. I’m wondering out loud if the day would ever come when Blogger users could elect to have their commenting system switched over to another one…! Similarly, I’m wondering what it would take to get the Facebook boys to play fair with other systems which threaten to “take the conversation somewhere else”.
But one thing I hope the FriendFeed people really really “get”: they’re not in the aggregation business. They’re in the conversation business. And although it looks like a dog’s breakfast now, I believe they can take advantage of their approaching critical mass to steer us towards a better way of keeping up with each other, of sharing our “stuff” and of sharing deframented conversations.