Maybe the reason why Twitter succeeds is because people don’t really want to have conversations. They just want to be able to scream out into the void and listen for echoes.
If true, then all web 2.0 product developers should go back to the design desk.
The real underlying question though is: “What is a conversation?”
Web 2.0 is about conversations. The markets are conversations, says the Cluetrain Manifesto. New services want to be conversational. New marketing urges us to form relationships and interact through conversations.
With so many claims on the term ‘conversation’, I am afraid the term is stretched to a point where it will either break or become meaningless. Defining is confining.
If we accept that ‘conversation’ is a more serious kind of discussion (as opposed to chat), we can hardly apply this notion to the conversations happening online. Most of them are simply chat.
Next comes the shouting in the void, like the tweets ‘I woke up and I am drinking coffee’ which occassionaly turn into a chat again.
In blogs, we often see large threads of hundreds of comments, which, excluding spam and trolls, can be deemed as real conversations but not as one conversation. They are mostly conversations between the blogger and the commenters and secondly between the commenters themselves.
The pingback mechanism has enabled a more sophisticated kind of conversations: through blog posts. These can be extensive and spread to too many blogs, so they are difficult to follow.
In Friendfeed, humongous threads are commonplace, especially if Robert Scoble is the initiator. Yet, I don’t know many that read such threads from start to end. So, what is the point of these threads, conversation wise (because I can think of many other points apart from conversation)?
In real life, you can have a conversation with only a few people. You cannot have a conversation with a whole football stadium! Likewise, online conversations that can have an impact, and feel like they do, are the ones that people can participate from start to end, understand who else is participating, and catch up really quickly, if joining late.
For this reason (and contrary to the popular perception) twitter and twitter-like tools, by restricting the length of the what is being said and by limiting the participants of the conversation, turn out to be more conversational (subject to abuse though).
When people complain about twitter not being conversational, they may actually complain not been allowed to blah blah endlessly. But we agreed that this isn’t a conversation, didn’t we?