Where Have All The Good Conversations Gone?

Lately I've noticed that I don't get into as many deep, passionate debates online. As Social has matured it feels like meaning is taking a hit. Maybe we should blame transparency- the days of hiding behind a persona are all but past. Everybody knows who everybody is. There are few trolls left roaming the villages of the web.  I remember lamenting the trolls of yesteryear, wishing everyone could be the same online as they are in "real" life. So as we have emerged from the shadows and embraced transparency I feel we have also started to get too polite with each other. Feelings, which weren't much of a concern in the early days of the Web, now matter again. This seems to have created a Social Web where everyone is talking, fewer are listening and even less are conversing.

I started a music community website in 2007 using the Ning platform (still running at musicalfamilytree.net). This was a complimentary site to musicalfamilytree.com which is an MP3 archive of Indiana music from the last 30+ years (still going strong). When I first added the Musical Family Tree community it was incredibly vibrant. We had deep and meaningful conversations about everything, not just music. Some members identities were (and are) nicknames. Some of members have very "legit" careers and they felt more willing to talk about their rock'n'roll days more comfortably behind a mask. This had the byproduct of creating a community where there was some accountability but enough rabble rousers to keep things interesting.

Over time Facebook came to dominate Social and the conversations on Musical Family Tree started to die out. Facebook, as we all know, is about transparency whether you want it or not. Facebook is not a place for nicknames and trolls. Everyone is working under their real name and many of us have now been "friended" by actual friends (from all points in life), family (hey Mom!) and business associates. Real, honest conversations don't thrive in this community pool. Even if you are willing to stick your neck out on an idea or issue, many of your friends will hid in the shadows since they know their comments will be read by everyone they have ever known. Same with commenting on blogs since they are often tied into Facebook, Twitter etc. Many blogs still let you post anonymously but more and more these posts are moderated (ie deleted) by the blogger. Although I still have great conversations on the comment section of blog posts it seems more often people sit on their feedback, afraid to step on toes or just too busy to bother engaging.

Maybe we should embrace transparency but clearly we aren't ready for that yet.

So as I look around at my different hang out spots on the web I can only think of one place where I am having regular vibrant conversations- Turntable.fm. For the unacquainted this is a new (awesome) website where you can take turns DJing in a "room". Check it out. Some of Turntable's Social features include letting you create an alter ego, show you who is in the room and doesn't keep a record (to my knowledge) of the chat conversation. If you enter a room it doesn't even show a history of the conversation. You only see what is said after you joined the room. The conversations on Turntable are often very honest and fun. Sure, you end up figuring out who most of the people are (not everyone uses an alter ego) but there is still the sense that what is said on Turntable stays on Turntable. If you hang in the right rooms you get more than a small amount of music biz gossip. It is the only place on the Web right now that feels a lot like a late night kitchen conversation at a party- minus the booze.

So as Social matures I hope we create more of these "kitchens" like Turntable. The reality is that we don't want everything we say to be broadcast to everyone we know and their sister. I believe some conversations are meant to go into the ether, forever eluding Google's grasp.