A couple of weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg announced he is changing the mission of Facebook. He wants to move beyond connecting people and more towards connecting groups of people in community. I commend Zuckerberg for establishing a written mission statement that aims to be something more than growing big and making lots of money. Although I do wonder what the shareholders of Facebook think about the new mission. After reading his statement, the question is in my head was, can an online forum bring community together in meaningful dialogue that promotes better understanding of opposing viewpoints?
Creating a place for a public forum is easy. Changing behavior of individuals to have an effective forum, not so much. I thought of two recent examples:
- NPR.org, a large well known media outlet for local, national, and world news discontinued public comments in 2016. Why? They described it very eloquently as “the c comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users.” I personally read comments prior to their decision and I can affirm they are correct. The comments section was intended for readers to pass along further insights or even ask questions about the topic of the article. Unfortunately, the public comments section was mostly a shouting match and full of hateful words. It wasn’t even close to meaningful dialogue.
- During the past presidential election, political posts on Facebook were common. The dialogue became so charged that in the days leading up to and after the election there was quite a bit of ‘unfriending’ happening as people looked to silence and rid their daily feeds of political bickering. I’ll admit it; I muted quite a few people during the presidential process.
Online community groups and interest pages are not new. Just look at twitter hashtags, Google+ Collections and Communities, or even online blogs. Getting people to engage in an online interest community is an easy connection to make. Members participate because they share a common interest. They share a common viewpoints or interest.
But beneficial discussion with true debate and openness around opposing viewpoints has become problematic in our society. This isn’t a technology problem. It’s a heart problem. For Facebook, or any online community, to create meaningful dialogue around opposing viewpoints to succeed, people must first choose to behave with common courtesy and respect towards one another. Here are some courtesies: Listen first, smile often, apologize, speak in a conversational tone, and share. Sounds alot like love your neighbor. We would all do well to start on this foundation.
Onward and upward!
A friend recently converted trinkets and memorabilia from his place of work into a photo album on Facebook. It was simply entitled “The Office”. He had each item placed on a white background for the photos. Then he tagged friends on Facebook who had some part in the historical story related to the item.
An example image from "The Office" photo album
As I looked through the album I thought about how this idea could be used by companies to create a virtual museum of historical artifacts related to their company. Imagine a longstanding company like Coca-Cola or General Electric with a series of online catalogs on their web site. The catalogs could be grouped by business division, decade, or artifact type.
This gives customers, or really the general public, a chance to see the rich history of a company and a chance to explore the stories and meanings behind each item. It’s a social engagement to create a connection. With a social site, such as Facebook or a company blog, the company could further engage with customers through comments.
As I continue to publish more content on the Internet through my blog I have noticed a trend developing with responses and content creation. The majority of responses or comments that I receive regarding blog posts are through Facebook. I have linked my blog posts to an RSS feed, Plaxo Pulse, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a few other sites. So as I publish an entry, it is fanned out across these platforms. This allows me to distribute the content to a different group of people that I’m connected to through these various sites.
Blogs are setup to allow comments and additional discussion below the original content. Popular blogs with thousands of readers may generate a few to a multitude of comments based on the entry topic and the number of readers. Studies that I have read show that most readers of blogs do not create additional content, they simply read to find information on a topic or to follow a particular writer. In fact, many studies I’ve read in the past showed that most Internet users are content consumers rather than content providers.
This is changing though. The recent boom of Facebook and Twitter are increasing the number of content creators. What helps Facebook and Twitter are that they provide a framework for people to create short bursts of content. Unlike a blog, discussion group, or user forum Facebook and Twitter allow users to quickly push content without having to worry about creating paragraphs of information. It’s quick and easy. Everyone loves to talk about their kids, pets, hobbies, vacations, music, sports teams, etc.
So what’s the big deal? Well, while the amount of Internet content syndication is increasing, the ability to centralize all of the follow-on comments and discussion is not. The comments and discussion are only visible on the tool used to read the web syndication. So for example, the comments made by my friends on Facebook don’t show on the blog itself. So there is opportunity here for the creation of a new service to centralize and syndicate all of the comments and discussion. Ultimately this benefits everyone because all of the readers of the content can participate and learn from the full breadth of discussion.
What do you say? If you are reading this from within Facebook, do you not read blogs directly? Would you reply to a post on Facebook but not directly on a blog site?