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Comments Vs. Conversations

I love talking to people who are off the “grid”, or at least off my grid. Sadly, and happily, I’m plugged into the internet more than most. Consequently, I have a drastically different view on Internet norms. For me, Twitter is an extension of my vocal chords, Gmail is an extra storage place for my brain, and Catavino is a soapbox for which I shout out from. And as a result of this online culture, a new language has been born. There are new verbs such as:

To Google: To search for something on the internet
To Blog: To write about something and publish is on the web
To surf: To wander about the web, often with the help of tools such as Stumble upon.

Interestingly, a few nights ago, we had some friends over for dinner and an interesting topic surfaced. Evidently, one of our friends had just left his first comment on a blog. I know most of you will at this point be thinking, “where’s this guy been the past 5 years?” But it turns out us web 2.0 junkies are still the minority, and the interactive nature of the new internet is still very novel to many. Feeling confident, my friend left a comment about a woman’s overly happy disposition on her video blog. What followed from that “comment” completely caught him off guard. At first, he was called a ‘troll’ by a fellow reader who didn’t like the fact he challenged this woman’s ‘life is beautiful’ attitude. Second, the blogger, in this case, a vlogger, responded, whereby creating a conversation of his comment. The entire exchange was over in 5-6 comments and was really a very minor incident, but the effect of this conversation on my friend was profound. He was shocked that a conversation was instigated, thinking that the ‘comment section’ literally meant comments only.

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) – com·ment  [kom-ent] noun

    1. a remark, observation, or criticism: a comment about the weather.
    2. gossip; talk: His frequent absences gave rise to comment.
    3. a criticism or interpretation, often by implication or suggestion: The play is a comment on modern society.
    4. a note in explanation, expansion, or criticism of a passage in a book, article, or the like; annotation.
    5. explanatory or critical matter added to a text.
    6. Also called rheme. Linguistics. the part of a sentence that communicates new information about the topic. Compare topic (def. 4).
    verb (used without object)
    7. to make remarks, observations, or criticisms: He refused to comment on the decision of the court.
    8. to write explanatory or critical notes upon a text.
    verb (used with object)
    9. to make comments or remarks on; furnish with comments; annotate.

No where does it say: Conversation implies a back and forth, while a comment is simply a one-directional statement.

Dictionary.com Unabridged – con·ver·sa·tion [kon-ver-sey-shuhn] noun

    1. informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.
    2. an instance of this.
    3. association or social intercourse; intimate acquaintance.
    4. criminal conversation.
    5. the ability to talk socially with others: She writes well but has no conversation.
    6. Obsolete.
    a. behavior or manner of living.
    b. close familiarity; intimate acquaintance, as from constant use or study.

Synonyms 1. dialogue, chat.

What I find interesting about this, is its focus on “oral” or “spoken”, which makes me wonder if we can have a conversation online? For some of us, the answer is simple: we’re online all the time, and we know the rules of the web. Comments on blogs are really the beginning of conversations, but are we communicating this to people who are not “in the know”? Is part of the reason that so many non-web geeks are still apprehensive about the web, because they don’t know the lingo? And if we do want to start a conversation then why are we using terms that might lead someone who is not part of our bubble to be confused? A book I would suggest for people not fully understanding the idea is Naked Conversations. But even after reading this, I wonder if our vocabulary is really being used effectively.

I live in two bubbles, the Internet and wine. In both worlds, I have trouble stepping outside myself and being objective. This is why I’m glad to have friends who challenge me by asking questions that might seem initially, naive. And more often than not, I find that in the end, I’m ironically, the naive one. If you work in tech, have friends in tech, and dream in Technicolor rainbows, good for you. You don’t need to explain anything, and you can LOL all you want at the silly n00bs. But for those of us in the wine world, where we desire more people to enter into our online community, we may need to adjust our language. We need to make things clearer by removing barriers that may seem small and insignificant to us, but to others,they may make or break the decision for someone to participate.

That same night when my friend chatted with us about his drama of leaving a comment, I tried to convey to him that in the blogging world, comments = conversations. However, this was an idea he just couldn’t accept, but now I realize he was right. He shouldn’t have to figure out what I mean; and instead, I should make my expectations clearer. I know Gabriella and I want to have a conversation here at Catavino; hence, we’re going to make a change or two engage more participation. If you want to join our conversation below, we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Cheers,

Ryan Opaz

  • Robert

    good question. I have also said on many occasions that only bloggers post comments – partly to draw traffic and goodwill from being seen on the other blog (of course I am not doing this here, only participating in this conversation), but partly because they are most familiar with how & why to do this. In fact I pointed this out the other night on my blog when a particular post created a bit of a stir on a subject of contemporary note. I am looking for a template for my blog that incorporates comments into the post a lot more and does not simply treat them as afterthoughts or notes in the margin. Have you come across anything like this? Can you imagine how it might work? I don't want to turn a blog into a forum exactly, but there must be some way to bring the comments more into view? Anyway, nice having a conversation with you :)

  • Ryan

    I've been looking into it Robert, and there are a few solutions. The one place I like best though(their solution that is) is Chowhound, the way the comments are set up you create a forum with a blog feel…hope to do something like that at some point.

  • http://wineculture.blogspot.com Robert

    good question. I have also said on many occasions that only bloggers post comments – partly to draw traffic and goodwill from being seen on the other blog (of course I am not doing this here, only participating in this conversation), but partly because they are most familiar with how & why to do this.

    In fact I pointed this out the other night on my blog when a particular post created a bit of a stir on a subject of contemporary note.

    I am looking for a template for my blog that incorporates comments into the post a lot more and does not simply treat them as afterthoughts or notes in the margin. Have you come across anything like this? Can you imagine how it might work? I don’t want to turn a blog into a forum exactly, but there must be some way to bring the comments more into view?

    Anyway, nice having a conversation with you :)

  • RichardA

    Maybe "conversation" is not the appropriate terminology because of its usual connection to verbal exchanges. What about calling it "dialogue?" The American Heritage Dictionary gives one definition for "dialogue" as "An exchange of ideas or opinions." That sounds like what the comment section is intended for, to exchange our ideas and opinions about the topic of the underlying post. We should also consider that though bloggers are probably the most likely people to comment on other blogs, even those contributions can be minimal. It takes some more controversial topics to really get significant dialogue going. For many posts, we are lucky to get 1 or 2 comments from other bloggers, if even that. So, even if bloggers are not commenting much, and they are passionate about wine, why should we expect non-bloggers to make many comments?

  • Ryan

    I would agree on the dialogue idea, though I would ask, do conversations take place in online forums? Or are they too dialogs? To your point about comments, I disagree, comment numbers are tied to readership. If you go outside of the small wine blog readership you find blogs with "real numbers" and in these cases you find that the comments are very rich and lengthy. The problem is wine bloggers, I'm afraid, may never have the critical mass to elicit these big numbers. On the other hand, if someone doesn't know that the "comments are really a dialog or Conversation, then they may never ask a question in them, or write a response to the original post. I do think many people find them to be only comments in the truest sense of the word and therefore don't bother with more meaningful responses. I know my friend is watching, I wonder if he'll join the conversation?? ;)

  • http://www.obiscoito.com Ryan

    I’ve been looking into it Robert, and there are a few solutions. The one place I like best though(their solution that is) is Chowhound, the way the comments are set up you create a forum with a blog feel…hope to do something like that at some point.

  • RichardA

    I think online forums are more dialogue than actual conversation, though there may be conversational elements in certain threads. And it may depend as well on the topic of the forums. Some may lends themselves better to conversations. I agree that there are non-wine blogs that garner far more comments than most wine blogs. But then that also leads to the conclusion that many people already do understand the nature of comments as they are posting such, just on non-wine blogs. Sure, there are some who don't understand the dialogue that comments can generate, but there are obviously many more people who do. Asimov's recent post on children and wine certainly garnered plenty of comments. So, it also seems important to find ways to generate increased readership to get additional comments. And the more comments that we receive, the more people will realize the dialogue nature of such. Which may then lead them to post their comments too. We can tell them until we are blue in the face that comments lead to dialogue. But they accept it more easily when they see that occur.

  • http://www.passionatefoodie.blogspot.com RichardA

    Maybe “conversation” is not the appropriate terminology because of its usual connection to verbal exchanges. What about calling it “dialogue?” The American Heritage Dictionary gives one definition for “dialogue” as “An exchange of ideas or opinions.” That sounds like what the comment section is intended for, to exchange our ideas and opinions about the topic of the underlying post.

    We should also consider that though bloggers are probably the most likely people to comment on other blogs, even those contributions can be minimal. It takes some more controversial topics to really get significant dialogue going. For many posts, we are lucky to get 1 or 2 comments from other bloggers, if even that. So, even if bloggers are not commenting much, and they are passionate about wine, why should we expect non-bloggers to make many comments?

  • http://www.obiscoito.com Ryan

    I would agree on the dialogue idea, though I would ask, do conversations take place in online forums? Or are they too dialogs?

    To your point about comments, I disagree, comment numbers are tied to readership. If you go outside of the small wine blog readership you find blogs with “real numbers” and in these cases you find that the comments are very rich and lengthy. The problem is wine bloggers, I’m afraid, may never have the critical mass to elicit these big numbers.

    On the other hand, if someone doesn’t know that the “comments are really a dialog or Conversation, then they may never ask a question in them, or write a response to the original post. I do think many people find them to be only comments in the truest sense of the word and therefore don’t bother with more meaningful responses.

    I know my friend is watching, I wonder if he’ll join the conversation?? ;)

  • http://www.passionatefoodie.blogspot.com RichardA

    I think online forums are more dialogue than actual conversation, though there may be conversational elements in certain threads. And it may depend as well on the topic of the forums. Some may lends themselves better to conversations.

    I agree that there are non-wine blogs that garner far more comments than most wine blogs. But then that also leads to the conclusion that many people already do understand the nature of comments as they are posting such, just on non-wine blogs. Sure, there are some who don’t understand the dialogue that comments can generate, but there are obviously many more people who do. Asimov’s recent post on children and wine certainly garnered plenty of comments.

    So, it also seems important to find ways to generate increased readership to get additional comments. And the more comments that we receive, the more people will realize the dialogue nature of such. Which may then lead them to post their comments too. We can tell them until we are blue in the face that comments lead to dialogue. But they accept it more easily when they see that occur.

  • Ryan

    Richard, the people I'm trying to draw in though are the people who don't get it yet. Why not, make it easier to understand. I'm not saying that you aren't right, just that in the end if we help them along we may benefit. Why not say what we mean, instead of saying what we mean "if your in the know".

  • http://www.obiscoito.com Ryan

    Richard, the people I’m trying to draw in though are the people who don’t get it yet. Why not, make it easier to understand. I’m not saying that you aren’t right, just that in the end if we help them along we may benefit. Why not say what we mean, instead of saying what we mean “if your in the know”.

  • Richard

    I don't really want to get in to a conversation about it but it's interesting what can come out of them. (That's the second ever comment I have left).

  • Richard

    I don’t really want to get in to a conversation about it but it’s interesting what can come out of them. (That’s the second ever comment I have left).