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How to Add to Blogging Conversations… And Eliminate the Echo Chamber

One of the criticism that is often leveled at the Blogosphere is that it is an echo chamber – that the same stories get blogged about in the same ways by blog after blog – without anything constructive or unique emerging.

While I think this is a somewhat cynical view, it doesn’t take long when digging around on sites like Technorati or Tech Meme to see that there is some element of truth to it.

Blogging as Conversation

One of the things I love about blogging is that it is (or can be) a conversational medium.

When blogging is at its best it creates threads of conversation – bloggers building upon the thoughts and ideas of other bloggers – where all engaging in the conversation learn something.

This conversational aspect of blogging is what hooked me on it in the first place.

The Lost Art of Conversation

Conversations-3Unfortunately I think the blogosphere (or some sections of it) might be losing the art of conversation.

We ‘talk’ a lot and do a lot of ‘reporting’ – but some days I wonder if we’re all just saying the same things to each other without anyone actually doing the hard work of adding value to to the conversation.

You see reporting news is one thing – but actually going to the next level with it and talking about what it means, how it impacts us and being constructive with it and making it useful I wonder if the echo chamber is increasingly a reality.

How to Add Value to Blog Conversations

Conversation-2I don’t want to be a part of a medium that simply ‘talks’ and ‘reports’. I want to be a part of a community that engages, grows and adds something of value to our world.

I want the blogosphere (myself included) to relearn the art of conversational blogging.

But how do we break the cycle of the echo chamber? How do we become more conversational with our blogging?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers with this and would be keen to hear your thoughts. However here are eleven ideas that come to mind when engaging with what you see other people writing:

  1. what did they say well? - rather than just reporting what someone else has said – pick out something that they said especially well or that is the crux of the news.
  2. what did they miss? – conversely, one way to add to a conversation is to find a gap in the conversation or a point that might have been missed. Blog from this angle and you add something of real value to readers.
  3. answer questions – this one’s pretty obvious really – but if another blogger asks a question – why not answer it – it’s the perfect lead in to a post of your own that takes some of their ideas and extends them.
  4. what are others saying? – who else is talking about this story? What are they saying? One useful type of post is the compilation post that pulls together lots of ideas on the one topic and attempts to make sense of them. Look for the patterns in what people are saying – look for the gaps in the collective arguments.
  5. how does it apply to you? – take a news story and tell your readers how it applies to you personally. Hearing news as it impacts people can help others interpret what it might mean for them. Tell your story, share your experiences and bring it home on a personal level.
  6. look forward - one interesting exercise to do when a story breaks is to ask yourself ‘where might this end up?’ Intstead of just reporting news – hypothesize and predict which might happen as a result of this news.
  7. look backward - the past informs and shapes our present. Look back at similar stories or news and see how they played out. Can we learn something from these stories? How do they intersect with and inform our present?
  8. extend ideas – I often get to the end of reading posts that others have written and want to add points. You can do this by leaving a comment – or by continuing the conversation on your own blog (with a link back). So turn the next ‘top 10′ article you read on someone else’s blog into a top 20 article on your own.
  9. take the ‘opposite’ tack – I love doing this one with my own posts. For example why should you join a blog network and why shouldn’t you join a blog network. You can do the same sort of things with others posts – not just when you disagree with them, but to expand the topic out.
  10. ask what if? – one of the best ways of coming up with creative and useful ideas is to take an existing idea and asking ‘what if…’ about it. Sometimes the what if questions will see out of ‘left field’ – but ‘left field’ is where geniuses often live!
  11. play devil’s advocate - you might not disagree with what another blogger has written – but taking the opposing argument to see where it leads can be an illuminating journey. For example – I’ve asked readers a couple of times to answer the question ‘What’s wrong with blogging?‘ – the results were illuminating and I know that a number of new blog tools were written to overcome some of the submitted problems with blogging.

It’s About Time and Attitude

I want to finish with two thoughts, both of which come from the art of having real life conversations.

Conversation1. It takes time to Have a Conversation – having a conversation means not only having the ability to say something and expressing an opinion (something most bloggers are pretty good at) but also having the ability to listen to…. no HEAR the other. Hearing another person goes beyond to listening to their words – but hearing their intent and making sure you understand what they are saying. This takes time.

I suspect most of us as bloggers don’t really put enough time into our blogging. We want to get posts up quickly – we want to report the news and be first with it – but we rarely stop and hear what is going on behind the story and hear what others are saying about it.

As a result our posts often come out rush, light on, with mistakes, missing the point and full of false assumptions.

Conversation-12. Conversations are not Competitions – the best conversations result in both parties coming away from them better people. They are about two people treating each other as equals – wanting to share what they know but learn and be impacted by the other.

True conversations are not about one proving that they are better or know more about something than the other.

Perhaps this is where some blogging interactions fall a part.

Bloggers have always had their egos – but one of the things I first loved about blogging was the way that there was a ‘vibe’ of generosity, giving, sharing and community. At times I still see this as a feature of the blogosphere – but on other occasions I see competitiveness rising it’s head.

We quite often talk as bloggers about ideas like ‘open source’, ‘collaboration’ and everyone having a voice – but when it comes to the crunch we often do what’s in our own best interests at the expense of others.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I’m glad you wrote on this because I see a lot of blogs pulling from techcrunch and then it trickles down to all the lesser known blogs and im pretty sure techcrunch gets it from another blog somewhere sometimes.

  2. soxiam says:

    That quote from Margaret Miller is amazing.

  3. Liz Strauss says:

    Thank you for this. We need true conversation — an exchange of ideas — makes us all smarter and is energizing. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? :)

  4. Matt Propst says:

    Very good article. The use of a blog as a medium for conversation seems very important for the spread and growth of traffic to a blog. Actually just yesterday I made a post about complementing content from another blog or source rather than just copying it.
    http://www.sharethemoneywith.us/2007/02/figuring-out-a-topic-and-planning-for-success/

  5. Jen says:

    Glad you finished off with the two general points about the nature of conversation, Darren, because it occurred to me at about your third paragraph that this post applies equally to the art of conversation in the real world, as much as on the blogs.

    Liz Strauss (above) is 100% right about true conversation being energizing for the brain – think of the Socratic method of teaching; and think of the brilliant late nights gab-fests, back in college, when ideas bounced madly off the walls…

    So maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy – but it often seems that real-world conversation is diminishing to mere data exchange at its best, and one-up-manship or sad posturing at its abject worst. I do wonder why that might be… Silence begins to look golden indeed, by comparison.

  6. ew01 says:

    It’s a great point. Part of it is a lack of imagination from some bloggers. Other times it’s (and I hate to say this, really) the comments section itself.

    My blog is political, and it deals with a highly controversial topic. Soon after I began blogging, I ended up turning off the comments section, because it was getting filled with ugly messages that weren’t advancing a conversation. Now, I encourage readers to Email me and I’d like to post some thoughtful comments on all sides.

    I’m not trying to shut down opposing views, but unfortunately the vast majority of the comments I received were either personal attacks on me or other commentators. It just wasn’t civil.

    I know I could have opted to filter the comments, but in some ways that feels more like censorship than the Email method (In my experience, people tend to flame less over email, or if they are flaming, they never expected it to be posted–they’re just venting).

    I imagine others deal with this. I’d be interested in hearing how they handle it.

  7. Erin says:

    Some good points in there, particularly #’s 9 and 11 about exploring viewpoints other than your own. For example, I always take extra time to read the Blueprint for Financial Prosperity’s Devil’s Advocate posts because they make me think harder about the blog’s usual message.

  8. I love the Miller quote, as well, and it’s as applicable to in-person conversation as blog dialog. Like Liz so aptly states, good conversation is meaty, sweaty and totally energizing. (And like Jen states, I also so miss those late night debates in college where a bottle of wine and the passionate amongst us would discourse and argue into the wee hours.)

    The great thing about blogging is that anyone can jump in. The worst thing about blogging is that anyone can jump in.

    Thanks, Darren, for providing some ideas and guidelines how we can all raise the quality level of the blog dialog, starting with ourselves.

  9. Bes Zain says:

    Good points Darren, specially your bubble quotes on the side.

    The art of listening. Many claim to practice it, yet few even understand what it is. Your 11-point list can help in turning heated arguments into conversations where the participants will respect each other.

    Understanding what the other person is saying, how that other person is saying and why that other person is saying something is one of the most important parts of a relationship, whether it be business, causal, personal or something else. Personal ego is so much evident in many blogs these days, I wonder if people usually turn off comments on their sites simply because they cannot accept the fact that someone else can think differently.

  10. darrenh says:

    Listening is not easy sometimes. We all love the sound of our own voices — or the sight of our digital type. But listen openly and deeply and you’ll almost always learn something about the subject or at least the person doing the talking. As for how this all applies to blogging this post is a great reminder to take the extra step in posts. Just your additional insight, I believe, is worthwhile to your readers. That’s why they read you. Share it and encourage others to do likewise.Revel when people amaze you with their insights and be prepared to shrug it off and move on when they don’t.
    By the length and depth of this post, I’d say this is a topic you feel strongly about, Darren.

  11. Yoav says:

    Hi everybody,

    Listening is indeed a lost art. Your post really resonated with me because I am in the process of writing about this new idea I have and I am trying to get bloggers to listen to it. Comment on it. Get the conversation going, but so far – no luck.

    I’ve been sending out emails. Leaving comments on other blogs but nothing. It’s all the more surprising since it’s a revolutionary idea about blogging (at least I think so). I would expect bloggers to either love it or hate it, but I have had almost zero response.

    What do you guys think I should do?

  12. Ali says:

    “adding value to to the conversation” you said “to” two times there.

    See I was reading and listening, you echoed yourself :)

  13. Caleb Mardini says:

    Darren,

    This is a great post and it speaks to a lot of the things I see online when reading blogs from within my community.

    I see a lot of people who like to repost press releases and various informational materials they’ve found.

    I tell them that they information is great but in a blogging perspective it’s not often as interesting and doesn’t serve the blogger well.

    My way of saying some of is, if your blog doesn’t reflect your own thoughts and opinions at the very least, then it’s not working. In your conversation analogy, it’s like having a conversation with a brochure. You might learn something but there’s not much reason to check it out again.

  14. New Scientific discoveries and knowledge has been described as “standing on the shoulders of giants”, since science is derivative of of earlier ideas. As you point out that similar thought in #8, the blog conversation grows organically as people enlarge upon the idea. Great ideas on how to give a personal voice to another’s ideas or thoughts.

    I will keep your list in mind when I make comments or want to continue/enlarge on someones’ idea, thanks for the clarity of thought!

  15. Ryan Holiday says:

    I think you’re very much right. If blogs are supposed to be the evolution of media, adding subjective knowledge to objective reporting, then there actually needs to be subjective knowledge.

    That means:

    1) Only posting about stuff that you’re informed about.
    2) Adding to the barebones reporting of the initial story
    3) Put some effort into taking the post to next level.

  16. Dave says:

    Apologies, but need to point out that “loosing” is an ever more popular misspelling of “losing.”
    “..loosing the art of conversation.”

    (Loosing means approximately loosening, as to be loosening one’s belt after a big meal.)

  17. SEO Guy says:

    Darren – I think the underlying difference here is between people who are using blogs to strictly try and promote themselves (or businesses, or to gain ad revenue) – and those, like you, who happen to create sustainable models by generating and providing valuable content.

    too bad so many people think about their traffic first, and their contributions to the conversation second – you’re a prime example of how to do it properly!

  18. Brian says:

    There is a great deal of truth to the “echo chamber” statment. I held off for years without starting a blog thinking “I don’t have anything to say that 1000 people on the internet haven’t already said. I don’t care enough about what people want to read about to have a popular site”

    In the end I just said “f* it” and started a blog for fun. Making some money off it would be nice but my goals are modest (20 bucks a month would be dandy.)

    As of now a few people read my site and some dialogs are starting to develop. It ought to make things more interesting. I write pretty well when I’m prompted.

  19. Anna Farmery says:

    Great post. It was ironic as today I had a real thrill when someone disagreed with my post – and it was fab to get a real discussion going. It made me think more about my own post – wonderful, I hope that will show to other readers that dialogue and discussion are the core of the blogosphere.

  20. Darren:

    Welcome to the conversation! I’ve been having those online and offline my whole life. I just did a 3-part series this week on ideas — where they come from, how to overcome your internal critic, and how to implement them. I give away ideas for free, because I am engaged and interested in the conversation — the result of your thoughts building upon mine. The space we and others create by thinking together.

    I contributed to a post by David Armano at Logic+Emotion on the importance of filtering the information we receive and adding value to it. It almost sounds like you’ve been reading my mind this last week — and I do like the way *you* think. Keep it coming.

  21. Jeff Dowler says:

    Great post. The art of conversation has eroded with the advent of the Internet, email, voice mail, text messaging and now blogging. Bravo on your suggestions.

    Jeff

  22. To much value is placed on linking rather than talking. Good conversations can lead to quality linking all by themselves. I wrote about this just yesterday as a matter of fact http://www.winextra.com/?p=300

  23. RevO says:

    I’m a new blogger and like your ideas about having community conversations. Reading a lot of get rich gurus talk about the need to reprogram myself because there must be something wrong with me if I don’t have money. Then I came across an article about how prevalent and extensive brainwashing is and how it’s done. After comparing these opposite viewpoints I came up with my own list on being wealthy. If you have the time I’d appreciate any feedback. Thanks for sharing your ideas and opinions.

  24. Lisa says:

    Darren, one thing I’d like to know more about, are different ways/suggestions on how to round off or end a post. I find this the trickiest bit!

  25. Kelvin says:

    This is really well written and offers a lot of lessons.

  26. Goognin Yuri says:

    Oh my God! Maybe people should meet each other in real world rather than have conversations via web?

    Great blog, Darren! Good luck!

  27. Stuart Baker says:

    Darren, wonderful points here.

    To me one of the key things is CARING about what others have to say and where they are at. If you really want to experience who someone else is and what is important to them you can’t be caught up inside your own echo chamber. You have to want to hear them. I think that such an attitude can be the foundation for great exchange, and perhaps expanding business, if that is part of what you are after.

    I read Dawud Miracle’s (www.healthywebdesign.com) blog this morning about how many marketing coaches and professionals think that blogging is just empty conversation, and he said they are sadly missing a powerful opportunity. He also said there is a gradual opening of receptivity taking place.

    Nice work!

  28. Edward Mills says:

    Great post and great topic Darren. Thanks. I find that some of the bigger folks are excellent at engaging in conversation, including you. However, there are notable examples of some of the “big guys” that have completely disengaged from the blog-as-conversation concept. I recently posted an entry in which I publicly but politely disagreed with an entry from a very visible blogger. I included a link back to his post and used my entry as an attempt to open a conversation. Interestingly, my trackbacks never appeared on his post. In my opinion, if you’re not willing to engage in the conversation and be open to differing opinions you are really doing nothing more than preaching. And I think we have quite enough of that already.

  29. engtech says:

    I’ve almost given up on reporting news style posts for this reason.

    I’ll do a short 200 character blurb on my linkblog instead.

  30. Jane says:

    “When blogging is at its best it creates threads of conversation.”

    I completly agree with this statement 100%. It wasn’t until recent that I have noticed how forthcoming the blogging community really is. You leave a comment and a few people respond. You write a post, and the people the frequent your blog are willing to be engaged in conversation if the topic is right.

    I’m enjoying your blog. Thanks!

  31. Philip Liu says:

    Hi Darren,

    Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with this since the beginning of time (at least the beginning of blogging time!).

    Being insightful and adding to the blogging conversation is not easy–definitely takes a lot of hard work to make sure you are putting in original thought, content and perspective on everything I write.

    I’ve tried to tackle this recently with a different way of thinking that focuses on visitor “needs” and “wants” and addressing those needs in pre-posting brainstorming sessions. Doing this guarantees you will be able to attack even well posted current topics with a new voice instead of merely reporting what’s already been said in the blogosphere. I definitely find this helpful for me anyway!

    Here is a description of the technique (it’s foolproof, from my perspective):

    http://www.ihelpyoublog.com/20070224-tutorial-jumpstart-your-blogging-with-the-visitor-grid

  32. racconti says:

    Luogo molto buon:) Buona fortuna!

  33. MattL says:

    Thanks Darren for raising what I consider a fairly emotive subject. I too believe that this situation of echoing other views without adding anything constructive is nothing more than theft (possibly a contentious view). Linking to endless blogs, just so that there are more incoming links, to me is just using the author for your own means.

    I have been working recently on my blog to come up with my own thoughts on various topics – some of which I am sure are just the ramblings of a blogging newbie, but hopefully something somewhere will strike a chord with someone. If this happens, then I will feel like I have actually acheived something.

    I suspect that those just looking for links, presumably with a view to monetising their sites, will quickly get bored and move on to other things. At least this would be a step forward!

  34. alessandra says:

    9 su 10! Ottenerlo! Siete buoni!

  35. bianchi says:

    I’ll be BACK! :) ;)

  36. Yelena says:

    Darren, thank you for writing about this issue of “echo-chamber blogging”. I’m going to put a link to this article on my blog, in the post about echo-chamber blogging. While I agree with you that this practice pretty much kills the conversation, I recently discovered some unexpected benefits as well.

    Don’t know about you, but my subscriptions to on-line content are tightly focused around 2-3 areas of interest, mostly related either to my business or to dealing with toddlers. In other words, when it comes to Internet content, I just “don’t get out much”. So when I accidentally come across an “echo chamber” blog or even a single post that provides a snippet from a source outside of my sphere of interest, it just might be surprising and refreshing.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Darren Rowse of Problogger writes about “How to add to blogging conversations … And eliminate the echo chamber,” saying: One of the criticism that is often leveled at the Blogosphere is that it is an echo chamber – that the same stories get blogged about in the same ways by blog after blog – without anything constructive or unique emerging. [...]

  2. [...] Darren Rowse has posted up his thoughts on getting out of the echo chamber, and while it can be a bit complex sometimes, it is possible and I think it can be summed up in one sentence that he put near the end of his article, “It’s About Time and Attitude”. 2. Conversations are not Competitions – the best conversations result in both parties coming away from them better people. They are about two people treating each other as equals – wanting to share what they know but learn and be impacted by the other. [...]

  3. [...] Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger.net has posted a very interesting article about blogging and how to add to the conversation rather than just repeating what we may have read elsewhere: [...]

  4. [...] Problogger recently shared great thoughts how to add to blogging conversations and eliminate the echo chamber – its a great read. [...]

  5. [...] Mehrwert statt nur Multiplikator – so lautet das Motto von eniak.INFO. Passend zu diesem Thema gibt es einen sehr guten Beitrag von Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) mit dem Titel „How to Add to Blogging Conversations… And Eliminate the Echo Chamber„. [...]

  6. [...] If this statement was true when Merton penned it, and I am certain that it was, it is exponentially more true today. I just read an article earlier by Darren Rowse discussing contributing to a conversation versus increasing the echo chamber effect. So much of what passes off as media reporting, blogging, news, preaching, etc. is nothing more than a massive, cacophonous echo. [...]

  7. [...] How to Add to Blogging Conversations… And Eliminate the Echo Chamber Really useful and insightful post from Darren – compulsory reading for bloggers (tags: blog howto problogger BLOGGING COMMUNITY Marketing ethics) Sharing is Caring:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  8. [...] Do you struggle with coming up with original ideas for your blog posts?  Want to get out of the “echo chamber” and not just report repeat news that’s been posted everywhere else?  Yes? Great!  You’re in luck today because I’m going to share with you my fool-proof, idiot-proof method of brainstorming great ideas for your blog that, chances are, nobody else may have thought about.  Bring originality to your blog posts, increase readership and add value to your existing readers with “The Visitor Grid” method of brainstorming! [...]

  9. [...] How to Add to Blogging Conversations… And Eliminate the Echo Chamber – found this link after I searched for “blogging adding value” in google. Disclaimer: In no way did I copy this post. I have emailed Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger [...]

  10. [...] with each other about limitless topics. The only difference is you’re free and welcome to move in and out of conversations at will – something that would probably not go over too well if you were at [...]

  11. [...] But if I’m to be brutally honest, we’re not doing that well. I think this quote sums up the problem we as bloggers are currently creating: "You see reporting news is one thing – but actually going to the next level with it and talking about what it means, how it impacts us and being constructive with it and making it useful I wonder if the echo chamber is increasingly a reality." Problogger [...]

  12. [...] should be expecting comments and if you’re not getting them then something is wrong. Mastering the art of conversational blogging is your answer, and it’s all you need to get those comments you dream of [...]

  13. [...] How to Add to Blogging Conversations and Eliminate the Echo Chamber [...]