A quick history of conversation on the web

Conversation has been a hot topic on the web recently, with TechCrunch, Duncan Riley, Alex van Elsas and Julian Baldwin amongst others. The main concern seems to be that new comments solutions are taking the conversation away from the originating web page. The opposing view is that conversation in the real world it is fragmented. With different people joining and leaving the conversation at different times.

This got me thinking about my views I expressed in Twitter, Plurk and FriendFeed as discussion tools, and my experience with conversation on the web over time. So here is a potted history of my history with conversation on the web. Note I was a late starter, not starting using the web until 1993.

Web 0.5 c1995

Back in the good/bad old days of the web the main place conversation was happening on was email, either on lists or amongst individuals. A web page might spark the conversation, but the conversation would usually take place in the relative privacy of email, because that was were the community was. Some list archives where open, but not all, and some of the most of the interesting conversation took place between individuals and quite often offline.

Not all conversations, took place in closed environment. Back then I use to contribute to a local music webzine, for your newcomers to the web, it was basically a blog published weekly which had a basic commenting system called a guestbook which covered the whole site. I had conversation with a friend on the guestbook about a review I written. That evening I walked into a bar to see a band and bumped into a couple of other friends. One who said “We where just talking about the discussion you where having on the website and …”. Which is a good example of conversations going well beyond the original source.

What surprised me at the time was the two friends in the bar, were the two most powerful people in the local music industry at the time (a record company exec and the editor of the local music print mag) and they were interested in a conversation between two fans. That night I learnt that conversations in the open online had a much bigger impact than offline conversation and could start conversation in other places. I had seen the future of the web.

Web 1.0 c2000

While a lot of conversation was still happening on email and some had switched to IM. Forums had become popular, and more conversations were happening in this more open environment, because communities where developing around these forums.

This was the start of the centralisation of comments. A web page might spark a conversation, the discussion would take place on one or more forums, where there was a community. The problem was that discussion were separate from the original source and a lack of tools made it difficult for the original author to find any conversations they started unless they were members of the community.

Web 1.5 c2004

With the advent of blogs, conversations took place on that blog or on a series of blogs as long as there was a community around the blog/s. However, if there was a strong community outside of the blog, such as a forum you would often find conversations taking place there.

Web 2.0 c2008

The communities are moving on, no longer do people visit blogs to read posts, they use RSS. As people no longer visit blogs, the conversation now takes place in the community where they are in. Which is now Twitter, FriendFeed and other social network services.

The future

As the web evolves and develops, conversation will always occur in the communities. Authors will no longer have the conversation occurring right in front of them on their blog, because the community that existed has moved on. However there are a range of tools for authors to keep track of the conversations they started (ie summize), unlike the good old days. Still the best way to be part of the conversation is to be involved in the community.

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One Response to “A quick history of conversation on the web”

  1. Julian Baldwin Says:

    Great post Nick. I like the recap of how we got to where we are today and what lies ahead.