The concept of “conversation” as in the Long Tail of Conversations

I’m preparing to have a conversation (okay, a presentation) at the MindTrek 2007 Conference in Tampere, Finland, early October. My topic is to do with the Long Tail of Conversations, and how we might connect people to the conversations across the Long Tail distribution graph that matter most to them.

(I was kinda getting there in one of my previous posts: ‘Look at the Long Tail for the highest-value conversations‘.)

When I submitted my draft conversation (ok, yes, presentation), one of the organizers asked me to elaborate on my understanding of the concept of "conversation". That was really good feedback, because it caused me to realize that I was using the term in different ways for different purposes, and it forced me to think about defining them better.

So here we go, sketchy at best:

  • There is "conversation" as a form of social interaction between two or more people. It’s an activity.
  • There is "conversation" as the content, the theme, the topic that people converse about.
  • There is "The Conversation" as a metaphor for the essence of the Internet and, as the Cluetrain writers argue, the essence of markets.
  • There is "conversation" as the way in which we relate to each other and
    to the world around us. As in "storytelling", as the way we learn and
    understand things.

So, on a macro-level, with the rise of the Internet and the re-discovery of human voice, conversation is on the rise.

Having a conversation at a conference or seminar can be seen as an
expression of the same phenomenon on a micro-level: having a
conversation is a more powerful way of engaging, relating to people,
and learning from each other, than a "lecture".

Perhaps the concept of conversation most relevant to what I would like
to converse about, however, is the "global set of conversations" taking
place on the Internet, as expressed in the Long Tail distribution graph.

Blog entries are building blocks for those conversations. The
conversations are rather fluid and dynamic. Perhaps a conversation on
the Net consists of all blog posts and other pieces of content that are
linked to, starting with one (arbitrary) contribution. If one had to
define the formal borders of any particular conversation, perhaps it
would  be where the links "end".

Although, do they ever "end"? It is quite possible that, if you took a
random blog entry as the starting point of a conversation, and you’d
follow all the links, you might end up including half of the Net…

So it is quite difficult to define what is included in a particular
conversation, and what is excluded. Perhaps it is just very subjective,
depending on whom you ask, and depending on how broadly that person
defines the topic or its context.

Conversations are also very much overlapping. One piece of
micro-content, one paragraph of a blog post, can contribute to and be
part of many different conversations simultaneously.

Nevertheless, if we accept that numerous conversations take place on
the Net and that they consist of pieces of content that people
contribute, e.g. in the shape of blog posts, we can (at least imagine
to) plot those contributions onto the Long Tail distribution graph.

I could take part in an online conversation by offering an opinion on
my blog, even if nobody picked it up, amplified it, linked to it. And
someone on the other side of the world might converse about the same
topic in a way that would be very relevant to me if I knew about it.
Would we call that "one" conversation? Or two? Or none at all? In this
case, social interaction is no requirement. So I would argue that both
contribute to the Long Tail of conversations.

Now, the challenge is, how to connect people who engage in
conversations that are mutually relevant, but that get too little
amplification by the Technoratis, the Googles and the mainstream media
of this world to ever "discover" each other?


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