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  Sunday, July 18, 2004

  Weblog conversation tracking tool

First a quote from Kenneth Burke (stolen from Piers Young):

Imagine that you enter a parlour. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Second, a scenario:

After coming back from a vacation you are trying to catch up with interesting stuff in weblogs you read. In one of them you find an interesting conversation on a topic you care about (let's say about weblog research :). The post you see is in a middle of the conversation: it refers to an earlier discussion and you see numerous comments and trackbacks... And of course you want to find out what was said before and after to know where to add your own 5 cents...

Third, challenges of tracking weblog conversations:

Finding earlier posts is not that difficult they are explicitly linked to, although it doesn't happen always and no one will spend time linking to all relevant posts. Most likely you will have to browse though several chains of weblog posts...

Finding later posts is a challenge: not all weblogs use trackbacks and tools for finding incoming links are far from being perfect.

You will have to check every post you find to see if it's really about the topic you are interested in (and sometimes to see if it's in the language you can understand :), or if it's just related reference or someone inspired to write about something quite different.

And next to it there are comments that sometimes even more interesting to read than posts...

Once you found most of the pieces of the puzzle you try to put it together into a whole in your head, which is not easy at all: instead of being clear as threaded discussion, weblog posts are interconnected into a complex web of relations (and some nice people also link to comments making it more complicated), the sequence of discovering pieces not necessary follows the sequence they unfolded over time, the arguments mix and mold...

Once you are done and ready to write your own post on the topic you probably will be kind enough to your readers to summarise the conversation and link to most important pieces, so they have a bit less work to do (but it's too much work to show them everything you found, so those who "want it all" have to follow you path by themselves).

Forth. Can we have a tool that makes it easier? What do I want from the tool like that?

  • helping me to find all pieces of a conversation, starting from any post in the middle
  • displaying them in one place, showing connections and chronological orger
  • making it easier to share with others

This should be possible, although there is a couple of obvious challenges:

  • defining boundaries: deciding which posts that do not belong to the conversation
  • visualising the whole thing

Fifth. Anyway, I have some ideas for the weblog conversation tracking tool for any developers who like challenges :) I think it could work more or less like that:

  1. You go to the tool and enter url which leads to a weblog post
  2. Tool scans incoming and outgoing links to the post and displays them
    • I guess for finding incoming links the tool have to check trackbacks and some of incoming link tracking tools
  3. You can click on all post found and decide for each of them if it is:
    • Not relevant => it's excluded from the picture or marked
    • Relevant => it marked as relevant
    • Relevant and you want to find all other related posts => steps 1-3 are repeated
  4. For all found posts the tool displays their titles and dates as well as links between them. Could be also nice to have all posts by the same author marked by colour or something like that.
  5. Once you think you are done, the tool allows you rearranging posts, so you can see the logic better
  6. You can save the whole thing and link to it. Others can open it for editing and then save as their own version of the conversation.

Comments? Suggestions?

This post also appears on channel weblog research


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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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