Conversation in a Place

“What is the middle ground between real-time chat and blog posts?” wonders CJ Eller. “Between synchronous and asynchronous communication?” I don’t mean to be flippant but I confess that literally my immediate response to this was, “Twitter.”

This response from Bix has me thinking about how Twitter is testing a feature in that would expand the types of conversations that can occur on their platform. A TechCrunch article explains the four options Twitter is coming up with to “tailor 'replies'” on a tweet:

[A]nyone can reply, only those who a user follows can reply, only those tagged can reply, or setting a tweet to get no replies at all. (Goodbye, needing to make space for “don’t @me.”)

The second and third option in particular would allow for the kind of conversation that I referred to in my previous blogchat post – not only a middle ground between the synchronous and asynchronous but an ability to have public conversations constrained to a particular group of individuals. This development came from internal discussion about how discourse worked on Twitter. Suzanne Xie, “head of conversation” at Twitter, talked about the genesis of these reply options in the above TC article:

“We thought, well, what if we could actually put more control into the author’s hands before the fact? Give them really a way to control the conversation space, as they’re actually composing a tweet? So there’s a new project that we’re working on,” she said. “The reason we’re doing this is, if we think about what conversation means on Twitter. Right now, public conversation on Twitter is you tweet something everyone in the world will see and everyone can reply, or you can have a very private conversation in a DM. So there’s an entire spectrum of conversations that we don’t see on Twitter yet.”

Built in its current state, Twitter leaves out parts of the conversational spectrum. Of course any communication tool does this. You cannot see body language on the phone or hear tone of voice in a letter. But what Twitter leaves out is something much different than a particular social cue. It leaves out, as Xie mentioned, the author's control of the software before using it. With Twitter you can be either completely public or private. Sure, you can have a private account allowing only your followers to interact with your tweets, but intentionality on a granular level cannot be attained. That intentionality is, as Bix wrote about a Warren Ellis thought experiment, what truly makes communities on the web:

The problem isn’t so much public-versus-private accounts as Twitter’s lack of tools for user-driven community building. The test-balloon of being able to control the extent of conversation on one’s own tweets at least partially considers this, but one of the things we lost in the cultural gold rush to social media was the primacy of intentional and circumscribed communities.

These are the limitations of discourse in a space when compared to a place. With blogchains and blogchats amongst other experiments, the point is to bring the conversation back into the realm of place, to create nuance that one finds in a place, where we can converse the way we want to in a tailored made environment for “us”, whatever “us” may be. Robin Sloan beautifully articulated this in his post about a chat app he made for himself and 3 other family members, “An app can be a home-cooked meal”:

And, when you free programming from the requirement to be general and professional and SCALABLE, it becomes a different activity altogether, just as cooking at home is really nothing like cooking in a commercial kitchen. I can report to you: not only is this different activity rewarding in almost exactly the same way that cooking for someone you love is rewarding, there’s another feeling, one that persists as you use the app together. I have struggled with words for this, but/and I think it might be the crux of the whole thing:

This messaging app I built for, and with, my family, it won’t change unless we want it to change. There will be no sudden redesign, no flood of ads, no pivot to chase a userbase inscrutable to us. It might go away at some point, but that will be our decision, too. What is this feeling? Independence? Security? Sovereignty?

Is it simply… the feeling of being home?

The feeling of being in a place.