Creating Conversations, One Column at a Time

First published July 12, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I’ve been writing this column for almost three years now. In that time, one of the most rewarding and often humbling aspects is when I get to connect with the community that’s formed around the Search Insider column. I applaud MediaPost for introducing the Search Insider blog, allowing us to turn each column into a conversation. As a writer, you get lazy and a little sloppy when you get too far disconnected from your audience. Getting feedback brings you back to earth. It reminds you that your musings are not going out in the great void. You’re connecting with readers, and hopefully engaging them enough with a concept with which you elicit a response. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the Internet.

Rewiring Communities

I’m tremendously intrigued by how the Internet has rewired our concepts of community. I’ve talked about this before, and it formed the basis of my opening remarks at the Search Insider Summit in Florida in May. I love how we can participate in so many communities that are not tied by geography, but form around ideas and concepts. The online manifestations of our communities are the conversations that ensue. Each one of these columns can instantaneously create an ad hoc community that debates a topic.

My column a few weeks ago was a great example. We formed a community around the concept of whether advertisers “get” search advertising in Canada, and together we created content through our conversation. I started the ball rolling, but the 18 of you that chose to leave a comment picked up the momentum and left something of value. You provided different perspectives, and the conversation grew richer for it. Some of you questioned my premise, some questioned my delivery and forced me to defend it. Many of you, while agreeing in principle, went further and added your own vision and expertise.

For as long as MediaPost decides to leave that conversation accessible, anyone who chooses to see if such a community exists can pick up our threads through a search. They can connect our conversations with others that may have happened on the same topic through linking. They can build on the community by starting their own conversation. They can do a little detective work and track down some of us that commented and re-engage us with further dialogue. The community has permanence. It is real, and it is defined both by the concept we shared and by search, which connects the online outposts that make up the community.

Is Anybody Out There?

You know, for as long as I’ve been writing for Search Insider (and I believe David Berkowitz and I are the two remaining original writers) I’ve had no idea how many of you were out there, reading it. At the beginning, I asked MediaPost what the number of readers was; I never did get a reply. At first, this question was important to me because I was looking at the column as a promotional vehicle. But I think one of the reasons I didn’t pursue my inquiry was because I realized that the purpose of my writing each week is more than just getting my name out there. As I travel from search show to search show, this column acts as a way for me to connect with many of you. The connection is more one-sided than I may like, but it’s gratifying when you mention that you read my Search Insiders, or that the topic of one piqued your interest. They’re like little “community seeds” that can in turn sprout into another conversation. And isn’t that what the Internet is all about? Isn’t that where its tremendous power lies? It’s the world’s largest conversation, and it’s most powerful as a reciprocal activity.

Sorry to get all philosophical on you, but I’ve actually been doing research for a book and these concepts are inextricably tied into its topic. I’ve been threatening to do a book for a long time and someone (probably tired of hearing me go on and on about it with no apparent intention of actually doing it) told me that committing publicly is a great way to make it happen. So I’ve gone on record, and I hope each of you when you see me at a show asks me how the book is going. Or just tell me to get my butt in gear! One of the biggest challenges is for me to take the same interactive conversations that happen online and figure out how to incorporate that into the creation of a book. The Internet has changed everything else. Why should writing a book be any different?

But back to the topic at hand. I often wonder about the future of anything that is centered on search, and this column is no exception. I’m an ardent believer that search is such a fundamental online activity, the glue of the Internet, that soon search will disappear as a distinct function. It will go under the hood, powering the new evolution of the Web, connecting us with the very best matches to our intent. I hope this column evolves along with search, and the conversations continue. In my mind, the best ones are yet to come.

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