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The web is a conversational medium of connections

I often hear and see the word "conversation" come up with regards to the web, especially with regards to web 2.0, social media and blogs. Basically, some web pages get described as a "conversation," rather than as communications on a shared topic, or a broadcast.

I am often critical of using the word "conversation" in this way, because there is so little listening going on among the participants who are communicating. In terms of interpersonal communication, what's called the "conversation" is more like a series of overlapping monologues spoken by individuals competing to be heard and taken seriously.

But, there is something significantly conversational about the interplay between our web pages. So, while I don't find it very useful to talk about "the conversation in the blogosphere," etc., I do find it very useful to notice the conversational interplay between websites.

The web is a conversational system in the sense that changes in one part of the system trigger changes in other parts, and the changes go back in forth—they don't just go one way, e.g., out from the center and stop at the end, like TV. Our (human) function in this system is in making changes (e.g., creating new web pages) that become effective when they introduce new links.

This conversational interplay is a kind-of conversation, but it's not a conversation between humans having a dialog in words. Rather, it's a conversation of connections. Our role in this "conversation" is in contributing additional connections in the form of new web links described in our own words, images, sounds, etc.

If we want to avoid the word "conversation" when talking about what's happening online, maybe it would work to instead talk about "clouds of new connections" or (as we do at Juxtaprose) designing websites that are about "connecting" or that "work to make connections."

Ultimately, I think we like to describe all of this as a "conversation" because we perceive so many human characteristics in the web—it's an anthropomorphism. But, it's really still up to us to be human and have actual conversations.

With the web, those actual conversations can be better informed by the great connections we now make online. But those conversations come out of us, not just of our web pages.

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