The Fragmentation of Identity and Discussion
I’m a social web app junkie. Where most people use a few on a regular basis as a consumer and only a couple as a producer I am an active user on far too many sites. I’m not a beta junkie to the point where I try out every web service (especially not the ones spamming my blog contact email), but I do try out more than my fair share and manage to get involved before they reach the tipping point (like Friend Feed is reaching now).
The sheer amount of web apps out there leads to fragmentization of our online identities, but that isn’t a bad thing. The people who read my blog aren’t necessarily people I’m interested in talking to on Twitter, and none of us might share the same taste in music on Last.FM. For a while there I was talking about the Ruby programming language like crazy on this blog, but now I’m using a niche tumbleblog so that I can post more often on that specific technical subject without alienating my existing audience.
But it isn’t only our online identities that are fragmenting: it’s also the discussion around content. Once upon a time the way someone would comment on something you wrote would be to write a blog post of their own in response. Then blogs got a comment section and people could write what they had to say directly on the post. Now the discussion around a post has completely fragmented: people are saying stuff about your content on Twitter, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Facebook… pretty much anywhere except for the post where you originally wrote it.
Paul asks: Isn’t all that fragmentation bad? Instead of having millions of separate discussions, shouldn’t we have a single, unified discussion, preferably under the control and ownership of the movie studio?
(He’s relating movie studios to content producers in his allegory, and the fragmentation he’s talking about is how Friend Feed lets people create individual comments on their shared items.)
I don’t know how I feel about this.
As a content producer it’s really nice to see discussions happening around the content I’ve created. There’s been times when I’ve been tempted to disable commenting altogether because spam is too annoying. There’s been other times where I let comments languish without responding to them even though I know that’s not the way to build a community around your blog. But at least I know how people are reacting… with the explosion of social media / social networking I have no idea what people are saying unless I’m actively a member of those communities.
As a content consumer it’s much more convenient to respond to content on the community where I found it from. I don’t have to fill out some insane captcha (screw you TypePad), or login to OpenID or any of the other crazy schemes blog software has come up with in an attempt to manage spam. I don’t lose my comment history because it’s all tied to my user account on that community site. Unless I’m trying to communicate with the guy who wrote that comment there is absolutely no value for me to leave a comment on the original blog post rather than the community I am a part of.
The fragmentation of discussion might be bad for the content producer, but it makes things so much easier for the content consumer. I know which way this trend is heading…
(A smart person would build a social network scraper to reimport the comments from there into their blogging engine software — if you know of any plugins like that then leave a comment)
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