Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why won't someone build a real conversation tracking tool?

Among the many conversations I've been engaging in around the blogosphere in the aftermath of BlogHer, here is one that reminds me how far blog measurement and tracking tools still have to come.

This is how it usually goes for me:

1. I find a post about BlogHer or something else I track in my ego-feeds. I click on the link and see what it's about and may or may not decide to join in.

That's the simple part. Now what happens after that?

if I didn't care about the conversation at all, then that would be it. I'd leave my pearl of wisdom, be on my way and never give it another thought. Sometimes, I confess, I do that. but usually I'm fairly interested to know if the conversation continues, and let's be honest, whether my contribution to it had any impact on its continuing path.

I've already blogged that I set up a tag called 'Commented' to track where I comment. I do this because I believe there isn't a better tool for this around. Not as a Mac user. And not a tool that consistently works across blogging platforms. because the last thing I want is to have to use different methodologies to track the conversation depending on what blogging software is in use.

But this is so manual, so non-automated, so prone to human failing. First, I have to remember to tag the post to begin with. Second, I have to remember to go back to my 'Commented' tag and click through on the recent links to see where the conversation has gone.

I remember the first part pretty consistently. Remembering and taking the time to do the second part is a lot tougher.

I realize that some blog platforms allow readers to subscribe not just to the post feeds, but to comment feeds, and even comment feeds per individual posts. I rarely do this. I already track over 320 feeds in NetNewsWireLite, so yes, I resist the idea of adding all of these extra feeds, most of which will have a limited shelf life, to my reader. And again, since not every platform supports that, it would only work for certain posts, and by no stretch of the imagination even the majority.

So, that's just me and my selfish commenting tracking desires. But the bigger issue is simply the conversations themselves.

In the post I mention above. I comment, and someone expresses disappointment that I'm commenting on this post, rather than the "original post" in question.

OK, now I'm confused. I've commented on related posts to this posts, including several of the commenter's. if they don't provide a link to a specific post, how can I know which one they're talking about that I "should have" commented on and didn't. Well, given, again, the reliance on the manual, human effort to create links every time we want to reference something again, I can't.'s my idea, I'm finally getting to it...why isn't there some utility that could show me the network around this post? And something that didn't rely solely on human linking, but on intersections between the participants or topics being discussed. Say, show me all posts that include references to this blogger, the blogger he started out talking about, the commenter, even me or BlogHer, in various combinations.

Some of it seems like simple search combinations to me. But then there's one little hitch. There's not really a search tool, blog or otherwise, that captures and measures comments.

I read some blogs that get dozens and dozens of comments on every post. But if that blogger doesn't link out, or get linked to, their influence, their position as a conversation-generator, remains unmeasured.

So, that's it. I want some kind of tool...a tool for tracking, monitoring, alerting, measuring...that takes into account comments, that gives a more three-dimensional view of a topic, blogger or blog post, that does not rely solely on human, manual effort to link correctly and link every single time.

Is that so wrong?

It is one of those things that should be dead simple, but the geeks in the back room are doing other things.

The RSS kids have finally changed the documention to reflect where they are going to put the documentation.
Roger has the address he wants.

The Atom kids are still futzing around with their spec.
CoComment has some promise, but it has to be on both ends of the track
Not all of the blogging toys support individual ID's for comments making this problematic.

Dave Winer is turning the Radio universe into a PDA for scoble.

Nice thought though
Here's another application: I'm always saying companies shouldn't care about any Blog A-List, except one the build for themselves comprised of bloggers who care about their industry or subject matter who have some kind of influence or reach. Right now, again, we're limited to measuring that by Technorati inbound one dimensional. What if when you visited a post mentioning your product or service or technology area of interest you could see that standard measurement metric, but also the three-dimensional stuff...then you'd have a better gauge: influencer or crackpot :)
I agree we need even more functionality, but I do like co.mments a lot, especially since its integration with Typepad. Now if only all Typepad users would add it, that would be a little bit of functionality bliss. :)

But I'll admit, I usually just comment and dash. Here I go, here I go, here I go again...
Hey Liz, does that mean you won't come back and see that I responded to you? :(

Since I have several blogs on Typepad I guess that means I'm supposed to go turn something on to make CoComment users happy? How was I to know that?
stowe boyd notes this?
it might be getting closer to what you are looking for
Thanks for the tip Alan, that looks very interesting. He's talking about combining link searching with semantic searching, so maybe it is heading down the path I imagine. I may have to give it a try.
Hi Elisa,

I was grumbling to myself about the same problem a couple of weeks ago, and wondered out loud if outlining might be used to outline the network of comments. Tom Morris took up the idea, and made an OMPL interface for exploring Technorati. As he says, its not quite what I was wanting, but still pretty cool.
Hi hil: your link to Tom's OPML interface actually points to this very post, and I didn't see anything which looked right on his blog. Please post the right link if you get a chance. Thanks!
Someone called!

Here's the toy I built.

It doesn't do everything necessary, and, for various reasons, I don't think that OPML is the right way to do what we really want, although it might bootstrap the process of getting what we do want done.

The other thing that is a possibility is what Matt is doing with Skinnyfarm, which uses SSE to create "two-way" feeds.
Wow,'re quick! I think the key for what I want is to not rely solely on links, because those miss comments and context. Some combination of a link search and a keyword search ego-feed. That includes searching comments.

If only I were a true geek, but I'm so not. Only a wanna-be.
Oh, sorry about the link, Elisa. And Thanks for giving the right one, Tom.

Re the comments, I'm thinking we really should be trying to move away from comments within blogs to having conversations across blogs, with our blogs being our voice on the web (is this part of the semantic web idea perhaps? - I need to read up about that). As they stand now, comments within blogs tend to be either guest book fan mail, or, if you have a lively regular crowd who discuss, it often has the feeling of a bulletin board community with authority resting with the blogger. Both those have disadvantages that I would like to get away from. But for across-blog conversation to be easy, we need to be able to track it more easily than we can now. I'm not a tech person, so I'm just hoping that sooner or later it will happen.

Tom had two posts earlier this year along these lines that I keep coming back to in my thinking about this whole issue. I'll see if I can find them and link to them properly! I'm a bit uncomfortable with his Mrs Discipline partly because there are Mr Disciplines, and also because I've looked after message boards myself in the past, but the general problem of authority and compartmentalizing conversation is summed up well by his analogy.

The Conversation Garden
Ruminations on Message Boards
Hey Hl: the problem I have with moving away from comments is that statistics (provided by Pew over the last 3 years) indicate that the ratio of blog readers to blog writers is holding steady. Only 1 in 5 people who read blogs write one themselves. I know it must not seem that way sometimes, but as long as it remains true that the vast majority of potential participants in blog conversations are only doing so in comments, then we have to bow to that market force and keep them engaged. And consider it important what's said there.

I think if you go to political or techie blogs it may be more true that the comment often are comprised of either "you rock!" or "you suck", but out in the real world of personal and passionate interest niche blogs there are some amazing conversations going on. And they are ultimately very revealing about what people think about products, services, consumer habits etc.

Since I'm a marketer this is exactly the stuff I'd love to be able to track better. But I would think product developers would want the same thing.

PS-thanks for pointing to more of Tom's posts.
Thanks, Elisa, I hadn't thought of comments from that point of view before, and it makes sense.
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