‘Channels’ does not sufficiently describe the dynamics of distributed online conversations

Interesting conversation about "channels" developing here with Bill French.

Totallly agree that people create channels in efforts to create order from chaos. The way I used "channels" in my post on ‘The End of Channels?‘ was with the traditional notion of, if you will, media titles, in mind: TV/radio channels or shows, zines, newspapers, websites, blogs, forums…

I suppose what they have in common is that they all have a name, an address, and usually a more or less defined scope. They are often furnished with editorial policies and they may be designed to further particular political or commercial interests. Also, most often they have a brand identity.

But if we look passed the keeper of the gate and over the garden wall, I am willing to accept that channels – as in "meta-handlers" – are not necessarily disappearing, but rather evolving into new forms, such as distributed conversations connected by tags.

The point I am trying to make is that old-style channels are designed to contain conversations within them. Sure, they are helpful as meta-handlers in creating order. And, agreed, the new meta-handlers are facilitated by social media, e.g. through tags. However, I hesitate to go as far as to call those tag-connected (micro-content contributions to) conversations, ehm, "channels".

In Dutch, we use the same word for channel and canal: "kanaal". So it won’t surprise you that I quite strongly associate the word channel with a human-made, one-directional, controlled flow.

Bill writes:

"(…) People tend to prefer the benefits that channels provide – they create the notion of a "meta-handle" that makes it easier for them to understand, know about, and share. (…)"

Well, I won’t deny that people find channels convenient. Still, to me, even "virtual channel" or "conversation channel" doesn’t quite sufficiently express the dynamic nature of distributed online conversations. These conversations do not have ONE name, ONE address or even a defined scope.

Tags are useful in searching and navigating these conversations, – in particular because they add social filtering to the mix – and "tag cloud" is a metaphor that helps people venture into the Web 2.0 era.

And yet, even tag clouds cannot contain or accurately scope conversations. The Web, and in particular the social media web, makes our culture and economy more "probabilistic", as Chris Anderson puts it in The Long Tail.

So, why not liberate the conversations from their channels and simply call them "conversations"?

(See also: ‘www.josschuurmans.com: ‘The concept of "conversation" as in the Long Tail of Conversations‘)

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2 thoughts on “‘Channels’ does not sufficiently describe the dynamics of distributed online conversations

  1. Jos:
    Thanks for the international insight on the term “channel”, i.e., “canal”. It’s a good distinction, but furthering your insight, imagine a canal that flows in one direction and collects water from tributaries. Is it also not a useful metaphor to consider “conversational droplets” as a contribution to the channel? Perhaps it’s not the right thinking because some droplets would need to move upstream – clearly a new behavior that runs in the face of the metaphor. 😉
    I digress –
    “So, why not liberate the conversations from their channels and simply call them “conversations”?”
    Well, that’s essentially what I suggested – even though conversations are typically inspired by a specific channel (or an element of a channel), they should have the ability to emerge as a meta-handle in and of themselves; how you implement this behavior is irrelevant.
    Conversations seem to be a significant outgrowth or by-product of some “embryonic goo”. Is it safe to say that a conversation is manifested through a tipping point that is typically triggered by a content artifact? If so, can we also predict that for every conversation, there is a root element that caused its birth? I suspect this is true. And “walking the cat back” (as they say in American politics), is it a plausible theory that for every conversation, there is at least one related “content channel”?
    Having traversed the nature and birth of conversations, isn’t there some benefit to maintaining the relationship between channels and conversations, rather than simply liberating them?

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