So New Media is about conversation — but what is the point of conversation?

If it’s the never-ending blogger conversation about snarking, A-Listers, link baiting, traffic envy, ego bashing, etc. etc. then the point is to act like an algae bloom and block out the sun — witness tech.memeorandum today (it’s a Sunday).

But what about the about the “meaningful” conversations that the blogosphere strives to have on normal working days? I’ve been involved in many thought-provoking conversations, most of which seem to peter out right when they started to get interesting. That’s the way the ever-rushing, every-churning blogosphere works. There’s always new news to read and new posts to write.

Blog conversations remind me a lot of conferences and committee meetings — lot’s of great conversation and discussion, and maybe some promising ideas, but little if any synthesis, summary, or follow-up.

I’m NOT saying that conversational media isn’t an innovation — it’s a HUGE leap forward from uni-directional Old Media. But “conversation” feels like half the process — there needs to be SYNTHESIS (as I’ve tried in the past to articulate).

You can see the problem in this week’s BusinessWeek, which published in its print edition a roundup of the blogosphere’s responses to the previous week’s cover story.

First, let me say this was a hugely innovative step to take, and kudos to BW for trying to bridge to gap. But it also illustrates the problem with conversation as an end in itself.

I think the mistake BusinessWeek made was not to allow the author of the original cover story to respond to the criticism in the print edition’s “conversation roundup” — instead, it comes off as a he said/she said. Worse, some of the comments are examples of the substance-less accusations and personal attacks that you often see in the unedited, unmoderated blogosphere.

For example:

Seeing that Mike Mandel and Chris Farrell are two of the authors goes a long way in understanding what it’s about…. Both of these guys are so far out of touch with Main Street — one of these days some laid-off worker is going to give both of them a wedgie. –Tim Iacono, commenting on bigpicture.typepad.com

This type of personal attack is par for the course in the blogosphere (see the snarkfest in the memeorandum link above).

The theory is clearly delusional bubble thinking, but it’s so new that economists haven’t had time to assimilate it and show exactly why it’s delusional bubble thinking. –Walt Pohl, commenting on delong.typepad.com

Thanks, that’s really helpful. I guess if you’re going to throw open the gates to the kingdom, you have to let EVERYONE in, including those whose comments just raise the noise-to-signal ratio.

But it would be worth it if Michael Mandel had the opportunity to take on the substantive responses, like:

The notion of using intangibles to calculate GDP has been around for some time. And most economists believe it is a bad idea because such numbers are inherently unreliable. They are intangibles — unknowns. To allow subjective analysis to seep into our GDP statistics would be, in effect, to Enron-ize the national account. –Gal Beckerman, www.cjrdaily.org

and

I don’t see how it matters who the debt is to, if the money is well spent. If the education spending is worthwhile (which it may not be, of course), then the U.S. should welcome Chinese investments into our education. The fact that the individual getting the education has to pay back some of their future earnings to Chinese creditors, as opposed to American creditors, won’t really matter to them. –Joseph Weisenthal, www.thestalwart.com

Of course, Michael Mandel engages deeply in the conversation on his excellent BW blog, which sits alongside BW’s other excellent blogs. And for the record, I think BW is one of the Old Media brands that has gone most fearlessly in search of Media 2.0.

But in this experiment, BW would be well-served to remember some of its Old Media principles, i.e. synthesis matters. BW enabled a great conversation, but it would have been great to see all the threads tied together. I don’t expect these issues of economic theory to be easily resolved, but after all the back and forth, as a BW reader I want to have a sense of where the debate stands.

Long before the advent of blogging and conversational media, some publications (I won’t name names) were renowned for having a robust Letters to the Editor section, where thoughtful readers responded at length to authors and authors responded thoughtfully to readers. My favorite blogs are those where the blogger responds to comments, rather than just phoning in the post and hurrying on to the next one. The best bloggers will actually write a new post to sum up or reflect on the conversation from a previous post.

Conversation is a process — but the most useful conversations also have a sense of progress and, in rare instances, a destination.