Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

I prefer discussion in open web

How to we have good discussions online? That’s the question Manuel Moreale was asking and answering in his blog post How to converse online. As his personal preferences differ quite a lot from mine, I figured I’ll share a different view on the topic. All quotes in this post are from that article.

Just because this post is a direct response to Manu’s writing and contrasts my thoughts against his, I by no means mean that he’s wrong in any way. It is all about personal preference after all and we can all have our own.

Manu’s preference for discussion is through email. It’s personal, private and 1-to-1 discussion with someone and it has its own merits. He writes:

Is this workflow ideal? I write something, you read it on the site, in your RSS reader, or in your inbox, you send me an email, I reply to you and off we go? Those are a lot of steps and there’s substantial friction involved. You need to decide to send me an email, hunt for my email address, write something, and overcome the weirdness of sending an email to a stranger. It’s a lot.

I agree with the friction. Sometimes friction is good. It can filter out people who don’t want to put in the work which can be a good thing or it can limit the group of people you end up having discussions with.

One thing where our preferences differ the most is about closed vs open discussions.

About comments he writes:

Comments are easily one of the worst ways to have meaningful conversations online. I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a smart, thoughtful conversation in a comment section, I’m just saying it’s bloody hard. Comments are performative. You write knowing the other people will see your comment and so it’s not just a conversation between you and me. It’s a conversation between you, me, and the countless other people who will stumble on this page at any point in time.

To me, that last sentence is kind of the key point for why I like to have discussions in the open. Unless the topic of the discussion is inherently private, open discussion helps benefit not just you and me in this moment but a lot of people across time and space. I don’t see it as performative as Manuel does but rather beneficial.

Comments are bit limited though and thanks to all the spam issues, not the greatest practical solution which is why I enable them very selectively for posts in this blog.

My ideal discussion format on the open web is through blog posts that reply to each other and reference each other – kinda like this blog post is doing. A good reply post can stand on its own, it can help readers of one blog discover other blogs and it can sprawl out to discussions between multiple people and communities across the blogosphere.

Webmentions are one way to “facilitate” this discussion. And here’s where I disagree with Manu the most.

Another thing that matters is intentions. I recently removed from this site the integration with webmention.io to receive webmentions from other sites. Why? Well, because as much as I like and approve the idea behind the concept of a webmention I also think that taking the time matters. Taking 20 seconds to send an email to say “Hey, I wrote something and I quoted something you wrote” has a lot more value in my world than configuring a server to automatically send a ping towards my server. I know most people won’t bother doing that and that’s fine. I honestly prefer to not know, I prefer to not receive all those automated pings and live in ignorance.

For me, the act of sending a webmention is not the important or valuable part. That’s equivalent to clicking the Send email button. The intention comes through the writing of a blog post and participation in discussion.

I have a bias towards discussion in the open that I know probably most people don’t agree on. Many like to keep the discussions in small circles and behind closed doors. And there definitely are topics where I like to do that as well, especially very personal ones.

In Make ripples through time and space by writing, under heading “From small private circles to the collective knowledge base”, I wrote about how I prefer questions in work context being asked in open channels rather than DMs where they only benefit the individuals in question.

Robert Birming has been encouraging people lately to participate in the open discussion in blogosphere through July Reply. I personally hope we see even more of (civilised) discussion between bloggers and blog posts in the open web because I think that’s one of the best parts of having a blog and reading others’ blogs. In But someone already wrote about it, I wrote about how writing a blog post helps bring new voice, ideas and perspective into the world and it definitely applies to participating in discussion as well.

Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Manuel’s closing statement:

What I do know is that a good conversation takes time and effort. It takes willingness to engage and it takes honesty. But they’re rewarding. Good conversations are incredibly rewarding. I encourage you to try. Try emailing the people behind the sites you read. Try to get in touch. See what happens. Most won’t reply, and that’s fine. It happens. But some will. And you never know what can happen.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. If you have a blog, why not share them there, link to this post and let me know. Or if you prefer social media, I’m in Mastodon. Or if you want to have a more private discussion, my email is juhamattisantala at gmail dot com.

Further discussion