Ragged preliminary thoughts on conversations and unhermiting

I’d like to say this is a thorough, carefully-considered treatise on a topic. That, however, would be a lie.

What this is, is a few notes on some ongoing experiments in “unhermiting”–trying to come out of my shell, a little bit at least, while retaining reasonable productivity. I’ve always been somewhat asocial and a serious social introvert–but after a year of working at home, that may be even more of a problem. I’d been thinking about doing something (mild) about that, and have been doing a few things. And I’m not quite sure how they’re going (and how they impact other things that matter), but I felt like saying something along the way.

Another title might be “How I feel about Facebook, FriendFeed, LSW Meebo and blogs–right now, that is.” And it’s important to say upfront that this is one of those “Waltz me around again, Willie” posts (that is, it’s full of “I, I, I, I”)–I don’t necessarily believe that what I’m finding applies to anybody else, and I certainly don’t claim to be typical of any group. (The one time I saw Robert Scoble in person, he heatedly denied-not to me, but to the group-being an “edge case.” I don’t deny being an edge case: Just ask for my advice about the desirability of starting something like Cites & Insights. The phrase I used recently was “Sharpen the stake and aim for the heart.” And yet, I can’t see stopping that, not now.)

Blame this post on Rachel Singer Gordon

Or, if you prefer, “Thaks to Rachel Singer Gordon for inspiring this post.” With her post, “Random thoughts on the attenuation of conversation,” January 10, 2009, The Liminal Librarian. Gordon begins:

I’ve been playing happily with FriendFeed for over a month now, and quite enjoy it — the ongoing stream of conversation and links there, combined with the pokery of Facebook, give me the feeling of coming home to the multiuser chat boards of the early 1990s. I also enjoy the serendipity; I keep a FriendFeed window open that I dip into from time to time during the day, and always see at least one or two links/comments worth further exploration (or simple amusement!).

At that point, I think I’d been on FriendFeed for two or three days. Unlike Gordon, there is just no way I can keep a window open all day; it would be too much of a distraction. I’ve been dropping in “twice a day,” although sometimes more often.

I love the serendipity. I’m trying to hide enough categories to keep the noise level reasonable, while still keeping things open enough to discover those “links/comments worth further exploration”–and sometimes worth adding a quick comment. I haven’t found the sweet spot yet (it would help a lot if you could hide “all Twitter updates beginning with @”–but that’s not an option).

Right now, I believe, I’m subscribed to 72 people (but hiding things like Netflix queues, tracks played, some friends-of-friends [hi John D., but I can't cope with Scoble], etc.) and 61 people are subscribed to me. (No, the second group isn’t entirely a subset of the first.)

My hope has been that the network of social contrivances wouldn’t use more than an hour a day. If it does, it really starts to eat into my writing, and I’m not enough of a multitasker to do both at once. (I’ve tried leaving LSW Meebo open on the side screen while working on writing. More about that later. Let’s just say it doesn’t work very well…for me.)

If I stick with “twice a day,” I usually have 2 or 3 pages to scroll through, and I usually find 3 or 4 things I want to comment on and maybe four or five more I just want to check out. That’s not an unreasonable signal:noise ratio. And I’ve gotten involved in a few really interesting conversations–and gotten significant help in one case.

So far, so good. I’m not likely to drop FriendFeed any time soon. I also don’t “feed” it much: posts from this blog and maybe two or three direct notes a day, at most.

Back to Gordon’s post:

One thing that nags at me, though, is the way in which using multiple sites fragments conversation. Someone might comment on my Facebook status on FriendFeed, for instance, but my Facebook friends won’t see that comment or be able to join in the conversation. Someone might comment on a blog post on Facebook, but readers over here will miss that discussion entirely. (Let alone, I haven’t even made it to twitter yet — and probably won’t, since I can’t afford another time suck!)

I don’t have the Facebook-vs.-FriendFeed issue (because I’m really not doing much at all on Facebook yet, and maybe not ever), but Facebook-vs.-blog really is an issue. Oddly enough, one that comes back to this blog:

Over at Walt at Random, Steve Lawson comments on the usefulness of FriendFeed, saying in part:

You will see that some blog posts that got very few comment have actually sparked a discussion on FF. Also helpful for blogs like Caveat Lector that don’t have comments enabled.

I pull blog posts into both FriendFeed and Facebook, and notice that posts (and Flickr photos, for that matter) that garner no comments at “home” may get comments elsewhere. This is neat, but again leaves no record here and doesn’t inspire blog readers to join in the conversation.

The post linked to yielded a range of excellent comments, all from people I’d consider friends (most of whom I haven’t met in real life), that guided me to FriendFeed. It also guided me to try Facebook, if at all, as a “Rolodex equivalent”–not an active network.

A Facebook aside

Since this post is mostly about conversations and unhermiting, I won’t spend a lot of time on my very recent Facebook account–because I also don’t expect to use it for a lot. It fell into the “why not?” category, as long as I didn’t accept every possible option…and I know enough people who’ve found it valuable as a way to make themselves visible to old acquaintances, to think it might serve a mild “unhermiting” role.

It hasn’t been long enough to judge whether that will be true for me, or whether my FB account will be one of those rarely-visited nearly-moribund accounts. I’ve been on for less than a week. I seem to have 113 “friends”–some of whom are library people who I otherwise don’t know at all. I just turned down my first big-name “friend” invitation, and that may (or may not) be a mistake.

Right now, I don’t have anything to say about FB one way or the other. I don’t “get” Pokes (so simply removed the one I got. I won’t take Apps, by and large. If that makes me a Bad FBer, so be it. (Nor am I using FB status as a kind of Twitter substitute. Two changes a day would be extraordinary.)

Another aside about LSW Meebo

My most sustained attempt at unhermiting had been dropping in on the LSW Meebo room almost every weekday, usually around 12:30 Pacific time–after my PLN work, after going for a lunchtime walk, after having lunch. The idea: see who’s around, chat for a while, see whether I can keep the screen up while I start afternoon stuff (that is, my writing) without losing focus.

There’s always been a tension between the sociability at LSW Meebo–which is very much real-time conversation, or rather, a group of overlapping conversations, with no history save a limited buffer–and my ability to focus.

Over the holidays, very few people were in the LSW Meebo room when I stopped by. Since the holidays, save for today, it’s been nearly vacant and largely idle (one easy test: The buffer covers 12-24 hours instead of the usual 30-60 minutes). I also got a lot more done while I wasn’t tempted to leave LSW Meebo open.

But this week–again, save today–it’s felt as though the room was fading away. And, I thought, maybe that’s OK, at least for me: Maybe asynchronous conversation suits my personality and needs better.

Making sense

My initial sense was that FriendFeed “conversations” were both livelier and more tempting than blog comment streams–but also more ephemeral and less suitable for long-term reflection. That may not be true; maybe it is plausible to go back to a FriendFeed discussion two months later and see what was said.

But is it true to the medium? Do those engaged in the back-and-forth of replies to a comment/note assume their discussion is ephemeral, and will they feel a bit betrayed if it turns up later as part of a commentary?

I’m not sure. For now, since I really don’t understand the mores (are there mores?), I’m inclined to treat FriendFeed conversations as like Vegas–whereas I’ve always assumed that comments on a blog post are as appropriate for citation within a later commentary (on a blog, in C&I, on PLN) as posts themselves. I don’t get quite that feeling with FriendFeed.

The problem I have here is that the conversation on a topic takes place in both arenas, and maybe more–and the links between them are, at best, poor. We saw that this week when the comments on a months-old blog post suddenly lit up again, possibly because of a related FriendFeed discussion–and that new blog comment stream resulted in another FriendFeed discussion. (Don’t try to follow that.)

My guess: (Some) blog posts are getting (some) fewer comments because (some) commenters find it easier to comment on FriendFeed instead. (For blogs that don’t accept comments or place high barriers to them, e.g. registration, I’m sure that’s true.)

My nervousness: This may lower the quality of discussion and controversy on the posts.

The alternative: That this is silly, and that it increases the quality of discussion overall.

Closing, for now

I was going to do a nice little set of bullet points summarizing all this–but no, it’s not that simple.

Maybe I’m overthinking the situation.

  • I know that the movement of pure links from blog posts to Twitter and/or FriendFeed doesn’t bother me a bit.
  • I know that I’m starting to winnow my Bloglines roll–but that I still get more out of blog posts than FF and FB put together.
  • And I know I’ve just shot the better part of an afternoon on a post that really just does boil down to some ragged preliminary thoughts.

But then, it is Friday, isn’t it?

NOTE, 1/17/08: Yes, I reversed Rachel Singer Gordon’s middle and last names two places above, both fixed without the usual strikethrough. (Thus her comment below.) Apologies.

7 Responses to “Ragged preliminary thoughts on conversations and unhermiting”

  1. Peter Murray Says:

    I, too, just started messing with FriendFeed and had much of the same concerns about comments/conversations being split between the blog and the FriendFeed service. Fortunately, I found a WordPress plugin that does three things: Adds an entry to FriendFeed when you publish a new post; Copies comments made on your blog to the FriendFeed entry; and Copies comments made on the FriendFeed entry to the blog post. I haven’t been using it for long, but in testing it seems to work as advertised.

  2. walt Says:

    Well, adding an entry to FriendFeed when you post is easy–that’s a standard FriendFeed feature, near as I can tell. As to the other thing…hmm. Blog comments tend to be much longer than FriendFeed comments. Unless it’s just posting a pointer, I’d have mixed feelings about that. I’ll see how it works for others…

  3. Rachel Says:

    Walt – “Singer Gordon,” please :).

  4. walt Says:

    Rachel: Oops. Oddly, I got your last name right when I used it alone. I’ve fixed the reversal in the post. Apologies.

  5. John Dupuis Says:

    Hi Walt,

    I admit, it’s rather sobering to think I might have an even remotely Scoble-like effect on people’s feeds. I guess since my FF friend list is split rather evenly between library and science people, those two groups can get exposed to each other through me, which is probably not a bad thing. In fact I quite like the idea that my science friends can meet you and Dorothea while my library friends can meet Michael Nielsen or Cameron Neylon, to name just a couple from each category.

  6. walt Says:

    John, I do like your split friend list–and, fortunately, while you can’t just hide all “@” tweets, I could just hide Scoble without hiding all your friends.

    And just this morning I saw the power of FF once again, as it provided a head’s-up for an ALA website problem (although it’s unfortunate that I was the first, apparently, to think of emailing someone who might be able to solve the problem).

  7. Steven Kaye Says:

    I too miss the real-time conversation of Meebo, and largely absented myself for much the same concerns over productivity. I can also recommend LeechBlock if you use a Mozilla-based browser, which lets you set days and times for blocking specific URLs.

    One thing which is interesting to me about FriendFeed is the ability alluded to by John Dupuis to ‘cross-pollinate’ between audiences. Sometimes I’ll grab something from a non-library connection (or a corporate/special library connection) and look for wider commentary from the LSW gang, and it seems to be easier to do so and to get more of a response that just reposting something on a blog. Your mileage may vary, of course.


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