Cafe Witness

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Social Media + Job Hunting (1 of 3): Defending Your Online Reputation

Yesterday, I spoke at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh (my alma mater) about the ups and downs of managing your online reputation in this era of Internet job searches.

Also speaking with me was Norm Huelsman (Assistant Director of PR at AIP), who discussed the importance of converting online networking into offline relationships, and why you need to own your work (and your brand).

Tony Corasaniti (VP/Director of Career Services at AIP) spoke third in the lineup -- I'll get his video up soon.

(Note: there are very few visuals in these presentations, so you may be better served by listening to them.)

If you'd like me to speak about social media at your event, you can contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

All Politicians Are Marketers


All politicians lie. Some lie more than others, but none of them tell the truth all the time.

Neither do marketers.

The difference is, the rhetoric of politicians is designed to motivate the people who already agree with them, while the rhetoric of marketers is designed to create awareness of a product in the minds of people who may not be consciously aware that the product even exists.

Thus, the content of the words is largely useless, but the way those words are delivered says a lot about what the speaker thinks of us, and what we think of ourselves. So if we can momentarily agree to ignore the content of political speeches (and marketing campaigns) themselves, what we're left with is our emotional response to the rhetoric.

Are we inspired and energized by the words we hear, or do they talk down to us and insult our sensibilities? Do we want to be uplifted, or would we prefer to be reassured that someone else knows best?

Politicians and marketers are each betting that their words can make you do something you wouldn't do otherwise -- cast a vote, buy a product, take an action. You almost never need to do what they're asking you to do, but their words make you think that you should. The trick is to figure out whether you want to do what they're asking of you, or whether you feel you ought to.

The most successful marketers are the ones who can sell us back to ourselves.

Image by r. e. wolf.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Brogan Effect 2: Electric Boogaloo

Bad Chris Brogan - Gnomedex 2008

Last week, I mentioned that a retweet from Chris Brogan had resulted in 21 times my normal daily blog traffic. When I mentioned this, a commenter asked what effect my blog post about "The Brogan Effect" would have on my traffic that day.

As it turns out, a lot.

Once again, according to Lijit, my daily traffic (which normally hovers around 30 visits, or so Lijit tells me) jumped to 563 visits on the day I posted "The Brogan Effect." That's about 18x my normal traffic, or just a hair off from the previous instance. (And, yes, Chris Brogan retweeted *that* day's post too, so the same effect still applies.)

As I mentioned before, Chris isn't the only person who drives traffic to my blog, nor does that traffic always stick around after his initial "must-read" suggestion has been heeded. (In fact, last week, my traffic steadily declined each day after the initial Brogan bump.) But it's becoming clear to me that one way to generate a large amount of daily traffic is to either:

* write a post that the influencers (like Brogan, whose word is trusted among his readers) enjoy and recommend, or

* write about the influencers themselves, because their sheer association with a blog post is somehow magnetic.

This leads me to two larger observations about the future of blogs and media:

* In this new millennium, as Gary Vee implores, anyone can become a content creator, but that's still not enough to topple the existing media congolmerates. However, being a trusted thought leader of thousands *could* be enough, because that kind of clout leverages both the distribution AND marketing power of those corporations into smaller, individualized channels that prompt direct action. (Lucky for you, I've assembled 10 ways to become a thought leader.)

* If writing about the influencers is the best way to aggregate an audience -- at least for a day at a time -- does this mean we'll all be reading (and writing) a lot fewer posts about original concepts and a lot more posts about what other people are already doing? I know none of my posts that involve critical analysis of a subject generate anywhere near the amount of feedback as the sound bite-friendly, personality-driven ones do -- probably because the web isn't designed for analysis, but snapshots of distraction.

All of which means I should probably find a way to work the word "Brogan" into everything I write from now on, just to make sure my bills get paid on time... and so should you.

Image by Randy Stewart.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

We Need More Trolls

project 365 #17: troll dolls

Here's a paradox: most web services don't reach their full financial potential until they've attracted users who don't even appreciate the service in the first place.

Consider Facebook: sure, it was all the rage among the social media set a few years ago. But it couldn't be taken seriously by the mainstream until the people it was never intended for decided that they needed to use it. So, paradoxically, the service that was initially designed as an exclusive connection service for college students can only be considered to have "arrived" now that your grandmother can use it to stalk you.

This method of "acceptance" (and, therefore, acceptable financial risk for investors) is not limited to the web. If you've studied film history, you know there was a time before Star Wars, The Godfather and Jaws, in which a film was considered "a success" if it made more than $30 million and / or garnered a few awards. Now King Kong can become one of the biggest-grossing movies of the year and still be considered a financial flop. Expectations for mainstream success state that a film is only "a hit" if people who have no reason seeing it in the first place are somehow motivated to do so -- and budgets are based upon *those* projections, not the more realistic concept of actually attracting your intended audience.

This translates directly to YouTube, where numbers are all that matters. And no video that's garnered more than 60,000 views has done so without attracting both "the choir" (who simply parrot the video's merits in the comments) and "the trolls" (who believe everything is worthless). Only then can someone say their YouTube video was "a success."

One of the many ironies inherent in this arrangement is that a service, tool or medium can only succeed if the rule-breakers, innovators and trend-setters adopt it early enough to make it interesting -- and then that interest must be borne out by attracting the bulk of society, who couldn't care less about the original reason the service, tool or medium was invented in the first place. Only then, once the original intent has been polluted, the initial audience driven away and whatever magic made the experience remarkable in the first place has finally been expunged, can the world at large finally admit that the entire venture has been a worthwhile success.

By that rationale, anyone with a new business idea should find the shortest distance between themselves and the mass attraction of trolls. Because, ugly and destructive as they may be, trolls are also a harbinger of something else: an IPO.

Image by flisspix.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Comments Ate My Baby

Some blog posts elicit more comments than others, and when the occasional "hot button" post (or anything on Scobleizer) attracts massive amounts of comments, it gets me thinking...

How many comments is TOO many?

As a Blog Writer...

... I would say "there's no such thing as too many comments," because the more people take the time to respond to something I've made, the more I know I've connected with my audience. (Minus all those people who post comments that add zero value to the conversation and simply act as a free ad for their own URL).

I also enjoy hearing people's differing opinions, or seeing them make additional suggestions that are relevant to the topic at hand. One author can't nail a topic from every angle, so it's great when interested commenters can add depth and breadth to the conversation.

As a Blog Reader...

... I rarely read beyond the first 10 comments on a given post, because so much of it is either empty congratulations or a stock battalion of "yes, but" arguments.

That said, when a topic DOES spur a healthy (or heated) debate, I'll read much further down the comment stream, usually until the sentiments begin rapidly duplicating themselves.

And, as a Commenter...

... I'm more likely to leave a comment on a post if I'm either among the first responders to that post (and, thus, more likely to have my comment read by others) *OR* if I have something to add that I believe is both valid and as-yet unsaid by anyone who's commented before me.

In my opinion, there's no sense in adding yet another voice to a string of comments unless that voice extends the conversation beyond its existing borders. Which is ironic, because as a blog author, I don't mind redundancy in the comment stream; when I'm in that role, every comment carries with it the added value of validation.

So, how do YOU handle (or leave) comments?

Image by lammy.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Even Prostitutes Get Paid

Last week, Gary Vaynerchuk told the audience at SocComm that FOX, CNN, The New York Times, etc., were all "dead" because any one of us can use the internet to become a media mogul tomorrow, without anyone's help.

I disagree.

Not because I think FOX, etc., are thriving right now, but because I don't believe the problem is a matter of content control. It's a matter of distribution and awareness, and those are two areas where the multinational corporations have such a head start over the little guy that it isn't funny. (And I won't even get into the trust gap between well-funded, well-researched news sources and a guy with a blog in the middle of nowhere.)

So what's an independent media creator to do?

For starters, here's one way social media can start to level the playing field between "us" and "them":

Stop Putting Your Videos Everywhere That Videos Can Possibly Go

Quick - where's the best place to find web video? YouTube? Veoh? Blip? Vimeo? Viddler? No matter your answer, you're still right, and here's why: because they all show the exact same thing.

Imagine if traditional TV were to suddenly adopt that model, in which you could watch CSI: Miami on any channel, at any time of the day, in multiple formats and resolutions. Well, that's great... but why would we need 500+ channels?

We wouldn't. And we don't need 50+ video distribution channels, which continually pollute the already-impossible-to-navigate web video world with ever-more duplicated content.

Divided, We Stand

TV stays alive because each channel has a stable of shows that can't be seen anywhere else (until they hit syndication). Web TV hasn't made that connection yet because it doesn't believe in its own quality or validity. It's so desperate to be seen, it's willing to give itself away for free across dozens of websites, and then it complains privately that it isn't making any money or being taken seriously.

Here's a hint: if people can get you for free anytime, any place, they'll never consider paying for you at your own convenience.

Someday in the very near future, Blip TV (or one of their competitors) will step up and tell their top 20 shows, "Hey, here's some money. Keep producing one new show a week for the next year -- and DON'T cross-post anyplace else (besides your own homepage) -- and we'll take care of the rest." Then we'll finally see Web TV reach a valid adolescence, where audiences will pay for ease of reliable access to quality content, and show creators will begin to earn what they're worth.

Until then, if you want to see quality web video, just spin the Google bottle because the kisses are all the same -- free, wet and desperate.

Image by slowburn.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Brogan Effect

podcamp pittsburgh

Last week, I witnessed the direct impact of a referral from Chris Brogan on my blog traffic, and I thought it was significant enough to share.

After having not blogged since December, I finally got back in the blogging habit last week. One of those posts, about the reasons people don't talk to each other at social events, grabbed a lot of attention on Twitter -- and the bulk of that attention was driven by a single re-tweet from Brogan:

My friend @justinkownacki doesn't want to meet you -

True to the form of a verified thought leader, Brogan's acolytes ignored his warning and swarmed my blog in huge numbers. (Huge for me, anyway.)

By the Numbers

* According to Lijit, my normal weekday traffic (as measured by their service) hovers somewhere between 30 and 40 hits per day.

* On Thursday of last week -- the day of the blog post mentioned by Brogan -- my traffic jumped to 769 views. (That's 21 times my normal traffic.)

* I have over 2,000 followers on Twitter; Chris Brogan has over 40,000 followers. That means Chris has approximately 20 times the reach I have on Twitter.

* That one retweet by Chris of my initial blog post announcement was then retweeted at least 6 times by Chris Brogan's followers.

* My Friday traffic also jumped to 224 views, which is 7 times my normal traffic.

* I gained over 100 Twitters followers on the day that blog post hit; most of whom were already following Chris, but not me.

Admittedly, Some Other Things to Keep in Mind...

* The blog post itself was titled "I Don't Want to Meet You." It doesn't take Copyblogger to tell you that contentious blog titles often elicit clicks and rewteets.

* In point of fact, my own mentions of this post on Twitter were retweeted at least 7 times all by themselves.

* Influence is disparate. Fellow Twitterer Lily Hill also drove new traffic here, with her followers retweeting her mention of my post another 2 or 3 times.

* Despite the influx of new readers (and commenters), my RSS subscriptions only jumped by 6 people.

So What's It All Mean?

* It's currently impossible to track EXACTLY how much traffic was driven by any one of the mentions of my blog post on Twitter, so all traffic estimates are just that -- educated guesses.

* It's often hard to tell which retweets come from where, since people often paraphrase the original in order to fit within the 140 characters while also hopefully giving proper attribution to where they found it.

* Either most blog readers still aren't using RSS subscription tools, or the new readers who came here via Chris and Lily decided that the *rest* of my blog output wasn't worth subscribing to.

And, of course, the one undeniable truth:

* In the aftermath of a huge awareness spike, I now feel the need to be INCREDIBLY RELEVANT to anyone who stumbled across my blog and now expects pearls of Brogan-approved wisdom on a daily basis.

Or, as Randy (one of Brogan's followers) put it:

Glad @ChrisBrogan yelled it out, he's rarely wrong, if ever

So if I think *I* have pressure meeting people's expectations, something tells me Chris's followers' expectations for *him* are almost Neo-like. (Somehow, I doubt that makes either of us sleep any easier at night.)

Photo by m0xie.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

They'll Never Know Who You Are Unless You Break Into Their Homes

sonny and the fishbowl

After the conversational stir caused by yesterday's blog post, I'm happy to report that there was a healthy intermixing of complete strangers at last night's Pittsburgh Twestival. (Congratulations to Holly Maust and Mandy McFadden for organizing a great event, and special thanks to Derrick Brashear for manhandling the A/V duties like a man possessed [by his own techxpertise].)

And yet, at least one person mentioned that he hadn't even heard of the Twestival until yesterday morning. (In fact, he'd just heard of the worldwide event at 5 AM, and he said to himself, "There's no way Pittsburgh would be involved in this." And then he scrolled down the list of participating cities and was amazed to discover he was wrong.)

To me, the bigger question isn't "why would one automatically presume that Pittsburgh wouldn't be involved in such a thing," but, "why wouldn't someone have heard about a fairly major event until the morning of?"

I'm pretty sure the answer has to do with closed loops.

I Can't Hear You Because I Won't Stop Talking

Because Holly and Mandy travel in a slightly different social media crowd than I (and the rest of the PodCamp Pittsburgh organizers) do, each group doesn't always hear about the events that the other group is involved with. That's because all the chatter about these events tends to be confined to our existing Twitter / blog / podcast / social network loops -- which means we'll talk about them endlessly to ourselves, but the information will be lost to anyone who isn't already tracking those channels.

The long-standing knock on social media is that we're a giant fishbowl of geeks who talk endlessly about ourselves to each other. Based upon the disconnected subdivisions I'm discovering among the Pittsburgh social media crowd, I think it's likely that every city has its own disparate groups who are caught in their own feedback loops, which means we're actually all a bunch of even SMALLER fishbowls stacked inside the same dunk tank.

So how do we break out?

By breaking in.

You be Me for Awhile, and I'll Be You

Sure, we're all swimming in our own fishbowls, but SO IS EVERYONE ELSE. And for every person who knows what Twitter is, there are a thousand (at least) who don't, which means THOSE people are getting their information from other sources. And guess what: they don't think they're missing anything, because if something's important enough, they presume it's already found a way onto their radar.

So get on their radar.

To do this, you'll have to step outside your comfort zone and step into theirs. Everyone has a different information-gathering routine, and you need to figure out what everyone else is doing when they're NOT engaging you (because, right now, they aren't -- so spending more time getting the word out through your existing channels is just polishing the same fishbowl).

You may have to traffic your message in unfamiliar territory. You may have to explain things that you currently take for granted. You may even have to engage different TYPES of media, because not everyone is on Twitter, or Facebook, or even the internet. But they're all somewhere, and they're all reading something, or watching something, or listening to something else. And that something probably isn't you.

But it could be.

(Image by samatt.)

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Don't Want to Meet You


I had a great time at yesterday's Open Coffee Club, where investors, entrepreneurs and wild cards (like myself) came together at AlphaLab for some quality face time. The catch? Although I met 3 or 4 new and interesting people, I spent most of the event talking to folks I already know.

Why do we do this?

Why do so many of us attend "face to face" events and then spend the bulk of the event talking to the same people we knew yesterday? Isn't the entire point of a social event to meet people you wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to talk with?

And yet, when faced with the prospect of cold-contacting a complete stranger -- even at an event where everyone allegedly has multiple overlapping interests and is ostensibly there PRECISELY to make new contacts -- most of us who don't already have an elevator pitch burning up our tongues opt for the woobie of familiarity.

I think the reason why is 3-fold:

* The known payoff from talking with a friend is preferable to the unknown outcome of talking with a complete stranger. Especially at an event where you're not sure what everyone's area of expertise is, and you're afraid you won't be able to extricate yourself from a conversation with someone who offers no direct value (in your opinion).

* We have no idea what our true value is. So instead of trying to explain why we think we're valid to a complete stranger (who, we presume, is automatically judging us and comparing our net conversational worth against that of everyone else in the room), we'd rather talk with people whom we already know appreciate us in some capacity.

* We have no game plan. Sure, the concept of being surrounded by "interesting people" is alluring, but once we're in the situation, we immediately presume that everyone else who's there has a much more specific agenda. If WE don't, we wouldn't want to waste anyone's time (or our own), so we aim for the low-hanging fruit of familiarity instead.

All of this usually results in small clumps of conversations among people who obviously already know each other OR, in a variant, people of a similar age / gender / dress code, who gravitate together because they imagine that they must have something in common. And if you've come to such an event alone and aren't wearing a popularized "uniform," you're probably floating along the fringes, eating the free food and conspicuously pretending to check your text messages, so no one knows you're privately terrified of making contact.

If so, here are 5 tips for breaking up the monotony at your next "live" event:

* Pre-set one goal. Maybe you want to meet one prospective collaborator. Or bounce a vague idea off 5 people. Or collect 20 business cards. As long as you have a concrete goal, you can focus on accomplishing that first, and then any chatting among your friends won't feel so guilty.

* Talk to the loner. Immediately beeline for the nearest person who appears to be floating adrift and engage them directly. As you've probably noticed, small groups tend to be where the loners will eventually wash up anyway, so you might as well cut out the middleman and form your own small group right from the get-go.

* Bring people together. Chris Brogan is the master at this, usually because he's swamped with conversations and needs an elegant escape clause. Following his method, start by engaging someone you DON'T know. Find out their story, in a nutshell. Then rope in your nearest friend by asking the new person, "Have you met my friend [NAME] yet?" and physically deposit them in a conversation. This allows you to then step away without leaving the new person alone, which is probably how you found them.

* Make a scene. This is where talking with your friends actually comes in handy. Once a pack of you are talking about something, get contentious / absurd / offensive / funny, and raise your voices. Move around. Draw attention to yourselves. Because nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd -- especially one where a wallflower can expect to linger and observe without being drawn into the fray because the fray seems self-contained. But here's the catch: once you've attracted some spectators, then draw them directly into the spectacle. Ask them a question, use them as an accomplice in a recreation -- whatever it takes to incidentally break the ice and help them feel like they're now a part of the fray. (Because they are.)

* Refuse to leave until you're out of business cards. This means you're forcing yourself to meet new people until there are none left. It also means you probably want to arrive with fewer than 500 cards in your pocket, or you'll be making friends with the caterers and janitors, too. (Which, depending on your pre-set goals, may not be such a bad idea after all...)

NOTE: Dropping the cards in a stack near the coffee cups doesn't qualify as dispensing them. Man up, people.

This image of Woycheck trying unsuccessfully to frighten Jim Russell into fleeing was taken at a previous AlphaLab event by Michael Fulk.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

10 Things I Learned at SocComm

Privacy and policy panel at #SocComm

I spent yesterday driving to and from New York City to attend the first Social Communications Summit, a meeting of the new media minds organized by Jeff Pulver. Amid the flurry of driving, schmoozing and driving again, I gleaned a few bits of wisdom. Here, in no particular order, are ten of them:

* Social media has become a haven for people who like to talk loudly, and at length, about what they think they know.

* When it's barely 10 AM and the audience Q&A has already forced one speaker to restate the scientific definition of "reality," I become acutely aware that the buffet table is only offering decaf.

* We need new demonstrable criteria for what defines anyone as an "expert" in any field -- especially something as subjective as communications.

* I disagree with part of Gary Vee's assertion that "FOX is dead. The New York Times, CNN, all of them: dead." Most people seem to confuse the distribution mechanisms, the content and the companies. The physicality of the daily newspaper is in decline, but the New York Times is not dead; people still require information. The Times (and every other news / entertainment company) has the resources, reach and ability to place that information in the possession of those who desire it, for a price. The way it reaches them may change, but by no means does a shift in the distribution mechanism mean that a whole company or medium is "dead;" nor does it mean that the power has shifted to the content creators, who still -- like it or not -- require some variation of a trusted "gatekeeper" to ensure that their content is seen by the maximum number of people. (Although, I will concede that it's possible to now include "yourself" in that list of gatekeepers who are keeping your work from being seen.)

* Privacy and property law are going to be HUGE issues for these media in the coming years; Pulver's right to be training everyone's attention on the policy discussions surrounding what we can and can't do (yet / now / for a little while longer).

* Lots of rhetoric from 2005 (i.e., mass media is dead, each of us can become a mogul, etc.) still being tossed around, but the core issues (money, innovation, proliferation) still involve much grasping and posturing, and few verifiable answers.

* It's quite awkward to watch the people who hover around Chris Brogan, Jeff Pulver or Gary Vee, waiting for the opportunity to introduce themselves and slip immediately into "the pitch." These three get immense pleasure from having the power to connect people, bring disparate personalities together, and generally act as "hubs" for disruptive thinking. And yet, for a medium that's allegedly built around being social, too many people seem to be confusing "social" with "sales."

* That said, I've realized that I don't have it in me to "work the room." I'm more content to chat with a few people, and (ideally) have an enlightening conversation or two, than to make the casual acquaintance of an eventual stack of business cards. Either I haven't distilled my essence into the proper elevator pitch, or I just don't feel the driving need to impress people. (I'll let my razor-sharp wit and rampant douchebaggery do that for me...)

* Amber Naslund = thank god for real people.

* Lots of the top minds in these overlapping fields (mobile technology, content creation, marketing, law, etc.) are saying the same things privately and making the same predictions and proclamations, but using slightly different terminology. Methinks the next shift in fishbowl consciousness is upon us; look for it to trickle down into easily-quoted memes by the end of the year. (Keyword hint: "reputation", not "brand".)

* The staff at the 3LD Art & Technology Center were friendly, helpful and generally seemed to be on the ball about most of the event's logistical needs. However, they -- like most first-time "new media" hosts -- were woefully underprepared, wifi-wise, resulting in lots of people not being able to connect. Oddly enough, instead of forcing attendees to actually pay attention to the presentations, the absence of wifi somehow seemed to destroy everyone's ability to focus. This resulted in a day-long plethora of bite-sized hallway conversations, which may be proof that the social media crowd has now been programmed toward distraction, regardless of availability.

* Driving in New York for the first time? Not as hard as I thought it would be. But driving in New York for the first time and tangling with a duplicitous Google map, unmarked road construction, throngs of pedestrians militantly dedicated to walking slowly and a bladder so full to the point of rupture that I actually contemplated the physics of peeing upward into an empty water bottle while in motion? Slightly more difficult than it should be. (Indeed, you're welcome for my $10 "donation," Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel...)

Thanks to Jeff, 3LD and everyone else involved in organizing and executing the event. I suspect it'll be fuel for a number of conversations over the coming days, and hopefully some of these nagging questions about the future of social media will begin to find their answers -- preferably without the disapproving eye of The Law.

Image by Michael Lewkowitz.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Twitter Is a Mistress Who Demands All My Time

Day 43

As you may have noticed, I've not blogged much lately -- but I've been Twittering like a fiend.


Because Twitter is far more immediate than blogging, requiring far less attention to detail and almost zero long-term commitment; it's the one-night stand of social media communications, while blogging involves trust, semi-permanence and the occasional post-hangover apology.

But as fellow Twitterer (and blogger) Mack Collier mentioned in a recent tweet, there's still a reason or two to blog: comments and perpetuity.

Twitter is great for stream-of-consciousness observations and spur-of the moment conversations, but it provides minimal connectivity or context. Unless you were "there" when that "conversation" took place, you'd never be able to piece the whole story together without painstakingly searching through the timestamped tweets of everyone involved. (I know Plurk does that better, but let's be realistic; no one you know is using Plurk BUT NOT Twitter.)

Blogs allow a coherent (we hope) thought to exist in relative perpetuity, web-wise, and it also allows the comments of all involved to be attached in context, so that something resembling a "whole story" can be easily understood even months or years after the fact. So, obviously, there's SEO-driven and self-legitimizing reasons to blog, and to allow others to comment back to you.

But in this age of 140-character Twitter gratification, is anyone thinking in structured paragraphs anymore? Or have we reprogrammed ourselves to make sweeping statements in the shortest sentences possible? Does the concept of expanded and supported thought wither when everything we know about someone is gleaned from text bites?

I'll be attending the Social Communications Summit in NYC tomorrow; perhaps I'll come home with answers. Meanwhile, look for tweets from the event, and (if it warrants one) a blog post afterward.

(Wise men once claimed that "content" is key, but I wonder if "context" will surpass it...)

Image by ClawzCTR.

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