Creating good conversations online

Image: Joi Ito for Freesouls

How to begin describing Howard Rheingold? When I read his book Virtual Community in a journalism class here, it had a huge impact on my thinking. A year later, I was moving to California to work for him. Howard is a writer about all things digital culture. His book Smart Mobs predicted the always-on mobile era we’re in now; these days, he works on teaching and learning methods. He always wears bright colors and painted Doc Martens boots (I looked so boring when I met him and I was wearing my usual dark colors). He’s been a teacher and mentor to generations of people who work on digital media in all of its forms, myself included.

Howard wrote a piece called The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online a while back, but I wanted to share it with you. In old-style virtual communities, the way that a conversation would work is similar to how you converse with someone on a Facebook wall, but more generalized. Someone had the official role of host, and that’s what he’s addressing here.

As you’re seeding your blogs, posting blog posts and soon, commenting on each other’s blogs, give some thought to Howard’s suggestions. Online conversations are like parties. Nobody wants to be the first person in the door at a party (and yet the host worries when everyone’s late to the party). Good hosts make connections between people. If things get feisty or testy, they find ways to  ratchet down the tension, rather than the guests breaking the furniture or the host burning down the place. Most of all, good conversations are authentic, and we know authentic when we see it. Keep Howard’s wisdom in mind as you start off blogging over the next weeks.