September 23, 2009

I Don't Want To Hear About Distributed Conversations Any More

This morning, Google introduced a feature called SideWiki for Google Toolbar users that lets people add comments and annotations to Web sites. This is not a new approach, and it has been tried with varying lacks of success in the past, as most people without an agenda don't want to spend time marking up third party Web pages. But as predictable as rain, we again see people railing that there is potential for this service to take even more control away from bloggers and site administrators in terms of how their content is positioned, or where the conversations should take place.

Led by Jeff Jarvis, who simply said "Danger" and echoed by others, including Steven Hodson of the Inquisitr, who called it "a bad idea - very bad", the same stories I thought we had beaten into the ground almost 18 months ago in the Shyftr debacle are coming back - even after more than a year of a greater level of distributed conversations, as comments are now strewn all over the Web - not centralized on the originating blog.

Jarvis says: "Google is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it," and adds "It takes comments away from my blog and puts them on Google. That sets up Google in channel conflict vs me. It robs my site of much of its value."

In parallel, Hodson says: " Sidewiki is nothing short of an attempt by Google to take control of the conversations that happen on blogs... It takes away one of the most important parts of a blog – the conversation – and locks it on the Google."

Here we go again.

Let's stop kidding ourselves. The battle for control over conversations and the silo of discussions is done. Any blogger who believes that they can control the conversations and prevent discussions in far-flung social networks is deluding themselves. And yet, every few months, a new innovation, be it comments in Google Reader, or something like this, freaks the old guard out.

Jeff and Steven's comments are mirrored by Josh Schnell, who in a guest post for Tamar Weinberg on Techipedia cries out that Content Aggregators are Killing Content Creators.

Here's the reality: Conversations have moved to where the reader wants them to be - and the best content creators shouldn't care if they get to have conversations on their content in any of these networks. The best content creators and the best Web brands shouldn't care about what people may say on their SideWiki, any more than they should panic over reviews that happen on Amazon's Marketplace or in the iTunes store. People are entitled to their opinions and their commentary, and any further efforts to try and force people to have these conversations in a single place should be extinguished.

In April of 2008, I once asked, "Should Fractured Feed Reader Comments Raise Blog Owners' Ire?" and apparently, some people continue to be ticked. But we need to evolve. That's why there are new services like Echo, who famously declared the death of comments and the new version of Disqus, which also aims to pull in reactions in real-time.

Mark Hopkins of the SiliconAngle sees beyond the scare tactics and recognizes that SideWiki is much more and not just about "stealing conversations". He says:
"The fact is that in the golden age of the social web, conversations will spring up more and more places outside your silo, with or without you. You can work to leverage them or you can get upset."
Congratulations, Mark, I'm proud of you. Now, it would be fantastic if more people would evolve and move forward instead of crying foul about the way it used to be.