Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Co-Opting Conversation for the Pleasure of Business

The New York Times recently launched a feature called TimesSelect where
Subscribers to TimesSelect have exclusive online access to many of our most influential columnists in Op-Ed, Business, New York/Region and Sports. In addition to reading the columns, TimesSelect subscribers can also engage with our columnists through video interviews and Web-only postings.
Wow. For a nice little fee, you too can be one of the Illuminati. Otherwise, feel free to remain one of the unwashed masses.

At the same time, The Times also reports how advertisers are tracking the buzz in chatrooms and instant messaging:
Ms. Koerner said that Initiative was also monitoring "talent conversations" on the Web; not surprisingly, people like Martha Stewart, Geena Davis and Jennifer Love Hewitt were being talked about, and that helped their shows do well in the tracking surveys.

Ms. Hewitt and her CBS show "Ghost Whisperer" are doing well in just about every network's surveys, but Ms. Koerner said some other factors could be at work there. In the Initiative study, "Ghost Whisperer" had a big awareness number, but also the highest negative score of any new series. One reason, Ms. Koerner suggested, was that the show was being punished by the fans of "Joan of Arcadia," the show "Ghost Whisperer" has replaced on the CBS schedule.

"I think a lot of the 'Joan' fans are attacking the show in the chat rooms," Ms. Koerner said.

It's not really a case of "Big Brother Is Watching You"--that always implied government peering into the bedrooms of private citizens--but of "Big Ad Is Watching You." If nobody else values your conversation, Big Media and Big Advertising values your conversation about its own banalities and would like to monitor what you are saying and why you are saying it.

As long as what you are saying and why you are saying it pertains to itself. Heck, you can even pay for the priviledge to have your conversations monitored and your opionins counted (as in TimesSelect.)

So, I am beginning to wonder about the wisdom of creating a metric to monitor conversation in the blogosphere (see some great comments about this by Mary Hodder
here, here, here, and here to start.) If all our conversation will be monitored as a means for marketers to play a better game of gotcha!, then, perhaps the value of conversation in the blogosphere is far less than what some of us would like it to be. If the general perception of conversation in the blogosphere is to help businesses better market their goods to us, then how the conversation is structured, the way it is written, and the interaction of the participants is only in service to the marketplace.

It's discouraging, and somewhat dehumanizing, to say the least.

Perhaps those of us who are most interested in human interaction and community building in the blogosphere should begin to care less about metrics and more about discovery of blogs thru blogroll links. Perhaps all the popularity contests and discussions on the development of metrics will only end up exposing us to more kinds of schemes, scams and spammers than we want to encounter while we read blogs--and might hinder our abilities to find meaningful conversation while it directs us to the latest sales pitch.

and communities think billboards are obnoxious and ubiquitous....

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