Is Blogging Really Conversational?

We’ve all heard it. Blogging is a medium that not only enables publishing of content, but also encourages conversations. Technology like Trackbacks and Pingbacks, and search & analysis sites like Technorati and PubSub allow bloggers to see the relationships between blogs, and to carry on distributed conversations.

The question I will pose is this: “How does the permanence of blogging impact the conversational nature of blogs?” It’s true that you can always edit and delete posts from blogs that you control, but the Google-caches and Wayback machines of the internet present at the very least the possibility of permanence for every post you make.

Robert Scoble unintentionally started a firestorm with a post about Windows Media. I don’t think Scoble would ever retract anything that he says on his blog unless he was forced by some legal means. With the number of people/sites aggregating and indexing his blog, it would be pointless anyway. If this post was, as many people claimed, truly ignorant or “stupid”, then it would likely have been ignored. It received a lot of attention because it was controversial.

With a metered dose of his typical flair, Rory Blyth provides an intelligent analysis of the reactions that Scoble received.

Rory actually produced some similar fireworks surrounding some comments he made about John Dvorak. The conversation was actually initiated by Rory’s part-time partner in crime Carl Franklin, although Carl left out the expletives and references to high-speed trains. Rory ended up taking down the infamous post 9209, although it lives on in the ether, and in the minds of those who read it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though. If you actively blog on the public internet, then your “conversations” may live forever in public view. How freely would you talk if you had several corporately owned tape recorders strapped around your neck? What if the cafeteria at that developer’s conference had a microphone stand in the middle of every table, with a note saying that Google was recording every word that you said? Would you really feel free to express your views? To try out new ideas?

And what about personal blogs? Ten years from now, what happens when potential employer pulls up a cache of that exlpetive-ridden blog post you wrote when you were ticked off with one of your friends? Are you going to wish that you hadn’t hit “post”? What about when your future father-in-law finds and reads that post where you rave about your old high school sweetheart, and how she’s “the one”.

Blogging is a wonderful medium, but it’s dangerous if you don’t understand the permanence and the public nature of what you are doing. If you truely do understand it, it can almost paralyze any real or controversial discussions.

I think the only solution is to be humble. Understand the medium, but don’t let that keep you from using it to it’s fullest. If you say something, and you later decide it was not the best idea in the world, admit it, learn from it, and move on. If you have a significant change-of-heart, edit the old post to link-forward to your new point of view, but leave the original text intact. Be honest with yourself and the world. We’re all constantly learning, and we all make mistakes, and often we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.