typewriter.jpgRecently I was asked the question, “how does one encourage conversations?” Of course implied in this query is that these conversations are online and free of trolls and spam. In one shape or another I’ve actually be thinking about this issue for most of my professional career. While certainly not revolutionary, back then and still today I think people primarily use technology “to collect and share things” that interest them. This axim is true from typewriters to cell phones, from the TRS-80 to the iPod.

Fundamentally people are wondering, what tools will be used to converse and make our views known to others? One view is that eventually everyone will blog. Sadly I must admit blogging while far simpler than the print method of sharing knowledge just takes too much time. And as many of us know, blogging well is even more time consuming.

Interestingly sites like Facebook for the tween market gives us insight into the fact that while people like to know what others are doing they aren’t so interested in spending mountains of time feeding the conversation. If you’re interested in this topic and don’t have a Facebook profile, get one. Just by merely using the site and setting up your profile you feed a network of friends with information. As simple as completing the text box, “Mike is…”, everyone in my network knows what I’m doing. Simply by adding “My Favorite Movies” I’m encouraging a discussion or the formation of a small group.

As some of you already know, the future I see is one where everyone produces their own news (RSS) feed. It’s a mashup of “where I am”, “what I’m doing” and “what I’m reading – emails, RSS, websites”. It (mostly) happens behind the scenes in an automated fashion as personal hygene on keeping these things like this up to date is really time consuming. Ever tried Twitter? Where such a system becomes even more interesting is when I could subscribe to a few dozen of these feeds and use a relevance-ranking system to find what is most popular. This is NOT technorati or digg, it is a deeply personal relevance system. What are the top 20 stories for your personal network of your dozen best friends?

I have come to the conclusion we don’t need new tools to encourage conversations on the web; we already have far too many choices (email, blog, IM, SMS, blog comments, facebook, myspace, websites, social networks, etc, etc, etc). What we need is a better way to find meaningful things to talk about and then use the tools already at our disposal to broker the conversation on the tool at our disposal for the audience we wish to reach. The trick here is what is important is highly personal and changes and we change contexts through the day: worker, husband, parent, friend. And by personal interest: tech trends, history, weather, literature, renewable energy, fitness, politics – at least for me.

How do we encourage conversations? Find things interesting to talk about.