Wow. What I thought was a modest post with a neat and helpful small idea — The Conversational Index — took off in a big way yesterday, getting picked up, and picked on, by a long list of smart people. I thought I would aggregate various comments and try to address them in one place.
The basic idea?
[from The Social Scale of Social Media: The Conversational Index by Stowe Boyd]
While working at Corante, I had the opportunity to peer at the stats for all sorts of blogs that we had going. And one thing that became really obvious is that sucessful blogs — ones that were currently viable and vibrant, and those that were on a growth trajectory from their start — shared a common characteristic: The ratio between posts and comments+trackbacks (posts/comments+trackbacks) was less than one. Meaning that there was more conversation — as indicated by the number of comments and track backs offered by readers — than posting articles. I will call this the Converation Index, just to put a handle on it.
Go Flock Yourself was the first to trackback on the topic, and giving me the best laugh I’ve had recently:
I’m very happy to pronounce to the world that GFY sports a Conversational Index of 0.135 (233 posts/1724 comments), a number that should make Stowe’s beret flip up off of his head and fly around the room like a frisbee, and reduce Richard MacManus to tears on the floor of his mother’s basement.
Doc Searls comments:
Oh shit. My ratio sucks. I think I run less than a comment a day, vs. half a dozen posts or so.
Of course, my blogging environtment doesn’t encourage comments.
And, I look for comments back on other blogs. I think I’d rather have them there anyway.
So… I dunno.
Don Dodge suggests that the CI is useful, but should be inverted, which I agree with, so from this point forward I will use Don’s variant, where CI = (Comments+Trackbacks)/Posts. This means the CI gets larger as the conversation gets richer:
[from The Conversational Index for blogs]
Note, I have calculated the number differently than Stowe, but the meaning and measurement is the same. Using my formula and Stowe’s blog stats his blog has a CI of (71+31)/80=1.27. Stowe Boyd has several blogs, and is a very well known writer, so my guess is that these numbers are from one of his newer, and lesser known, blogs.
Don is right: I was using the figures from /Message, which is less than 30 days old. My bet is that my CI is small because /Message is new, and the index will go up over time, as more people find /Message.
Peter Caputa has a CI (Dodge variant) of 1.53, and thinks this is because…
I ask a lot of questions and people humor me with answers. And because I say a lot of stupid things, and people yell back at me. And because I ask people for their feedback sometimes on specific posts.
Zoli Erdos builds on the discussion and points out that we are losing track of the other half of the conversation: the dark comments out there.
we really are losing track of half the conversation in the Blogosphere.
As Stowe points out, for truly vibrant blogs the CI will be <1, which means there are far more comments than blog posts (I am cheating a little, ignoring trackbacks). This will likely be the case for all the Technorati top 100 or even 500 bloggers – from their viewpoint most of the conversation happens on / around their own blog. However, for the the rest of us, the other 26 million (?) bloggers chances are the conversation really takes place outside our own blog, and I for one certainly can’t keep track of all comments I left on other blogs.
The current crop of tracking / linking services all have a top-down publisher-centric view, where everything revolves around a blog and its related posts, totally missing this other, “bottom-up” half of the conversation. So please, somebody give Stowe his badge, but we also badly need a way to show by subject matter an integrated view of all conversations where we are participating whether we started the thread or someone else.
Zoli’s right in a way. After all, if I leave a comment on his blog, I am enhancing his CI and not influencing mine at all. However, if I write a post at my blog and trackback to his blog, I am influencing both CIs: his goes up (Dodge variant), and mine goes down. Of course, I am likely to get a trackback or a comment back from Zoli, or others involved in the conversation, so I personally bellieve that it is best to make that post and trackback. (And of course, there is cocomment, which I am profiling today, that intends to bring those dark comments out there back into the light. See the widget in the right margin?)
Michael Parekh says
[from ON STOWE BOYD’S CONVERSATIONAL INDEX]
Where do I come out on this? Well, I’ve been long-convinced of the value of comments in blogs as the next logical step of blog mining evolution. (see Comments Search: the next big mother lode of user-generated content (UGC) and this post last June)
But Stowe’s idea of creating a mathematical formula has a Google like simplicity at it’s core. He even visualizes it as a living, breathing thing:
“I hope someone out there — some bored toolsmith, or a computer science student looking for an interesting project — will build a tool that will scan a blog, determine the CI, and provide the result as a chicklet that we can embed on our blogs. Even better would be a 30 day
graph, like Tufte’s sparklines, that shows the social interaction ebbing and flowing.”
It all sounds mesmerizing.
Until you realize that if the Conversational Index (CI) did in fact take off, both as yet another way to rank blogs on the Internet, and then actually as a tool to commercialize said rankings into real dollars for the bloggers, then might not this lead to the next logical step?
The overnight reversal of seeing Trackback and Comment Spam as BAD things, to actually GOOD, welcome things?
That is to say, we may need a mechanism to independently verify that
the Trackbacks and Comments reported as a component in the CI calculation are Good and Pure of the Spammy Stuff.
Not to mention the inevitable emergence of “Comment-fraud” and “Trackback-fraud” to take their place along-side of Click-fraud
Despite these possible negatives, thinking about the Conversational Index at least gets folks to start thinking about the value in comments and trackbacks.
A number of other folks commented that comment spam and trackback spam would artificially enlarge the CI, and I agree. But on the other hand, I was operating under the assumption that all sensible people would delete that junk. Still, it’s a relevant observation.
Easton Ellis deconstructs the CI pointing out that
- comment quality varies [yes, I agree]
- many blogs start out conversation-poor and gradually pick up speed as they gain a consistent following [true, but as I said in the first post, I saw at Corante that the successful blogs started out on the good foot: a good CI from the beginning]
- what about the authors comments at her own blog, or trackbacks she sends to her own entries? [comments responding to comments is a good conversation, isn’t it? And tracking back to earlier posts is good ettiquette too, helping readers find subsequent posts that elaborate on earlier thoughts.]
- Could this statistic be meshed with a particular individual’s CI? [Sure, you can average your CI from multiple blogs. Why not? We can do whatever we want here in the matrix.]
- Is a comment always equal to a trackback? [I don’t know. But for simplicity they are in the formula.]
- What about the number of commenters on or trackbackers to a blog? [I don’t know if a conversation is better when there are a smaller number of people involved, making serial comments/trackbacks, or if there is a larger group, where each individual comments/tracksback less. So for now, we don’t care. Also might be hard to get that number.]
- My head hurts. I feel like a geek. [Me too.]
Mathew Ingram calls me a geek, too, but in a nice way:
what makes most blogs interesting isn’t so much the great things that the writer puts on there (as much as I like to hear the sound of my own voice), but what kind of response it gets, and how that develops, and who carries it on elsewhere on their own blog. And I agree that it would be nice if someone like technorati.com or memeorandum.com could track that kind of thing and make it part of what brings blogs to the top.
I like to see what people are talking about — not just what a blogger has to say, but what others have to say about what they say. That’s why I also agree with Steve Rubel that it would be nice to have a way of tracking comments, other than by subscribing to a feed of comments, or bookmarking posts you’ve commented on with del.icio.us or some other tool.
The latter problem is perhaps solved by cocomment (about which more later), and the former, by the blogpulse conversation tracker, which does a memeorandum-ish snapshot of the cascade of posts emanating from an initial “converation seed”. Here’s the picture that they draw from the initial Conversational Index post:
Note that they don’t track comments at the blog, though. Ultimately, I would like to have all that wrapped up into one representation.
Sadly, though, no one has yet stepped forward to build a tool that would yeild the number: we still have to do it manually.
As of this morning, my CI (Dodge variant — (C+T)/P) is (88+42)/89 = 1.46.