The Conversation Is More Important Than The Topic

Matthew Magain

In a meeting here at SitePoint HQ the other day, we were discussing blogs—what were our favourites, what makes a blog successful … Someone in the room made the comment that the conversation is more important than the topic—a statement that is certainly true for a sustained community and a sensible goal for most blogs to aim for.

Only yesterday this point was reinforced (to an extreme, one might say) when the prolific Michael Arrington posted to his TechCrunch blog a post with a one-word title and no content in the body. The entire post consisted of this one word:

Twitter!

Because of the loyal community built around the TechCrunch blog, the context in which this word was framed resulted in Arrington’s one-liner generating over 400 comments (and counting), including a number of video comments that appreciated the humour and propagated it with their own nonsensical responses. The post made the front page of Techmeme, the New York Times and will certainly shape up to be TechCrunch’s highest performing post ever in terms of traffic per-word-count.

What exactly was that context, you may ask? Well, it was largely due to interpretation by the readers. It could have been any of the following:

  • a cry of frustration at the service being constantly down
  • an affirmation that the service has become an enormously powerful medium for mass communication upon which Arrington is both thankful for and reliant upon
  • a statement about the uselessness of the service, delivered with irony in the succinct way in which users post to Twitter using only 140 characters or less
  • an acknowledgment that Twitter, the company, is the main news story at the moment, given their current debate over whether users of their service who violate their terms of service should be banned (in case you’re wondering, the answer is “it’s complicated“)
  • an experiment to “test the waters” to see how well the context would be understood and appreciated by his readership—in a sense, an attempt at “messing with the medium” that could be viewed as one big joke (the modern equivalent of installation art?)

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t really matter exactly how those readers interpreted it, just as long as they didn’t all just say “WTF? I don’t get it.” (there were one or two of this type of response, but they were in the minority). The readership were the ones responsible for the success of this one-word post.

Sure, the post made people laugh, ignited discussion and sparked their creativity to play along. But essentially what Arrington was doing is jumping off his stage—luckily his readers were ready to catch him and carry him to the top of the hill. It certainly could have gone the other way. Hmm, let me see.

Facebook!

Ouch.

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  • ravidor

    I do not think so. The twitter post is a proof that it is not the topic or the conversation. It is the conversation and the topic and where the topic/conversation taking place and who is the writer and who are the commentators. It is the mix.

  • http://www.liam.fastfrag.co.uk liam_uk7

    Mikes post had a clever title on a Topic which he knew would spark a good discussion. So, although your theory is a good one, I think It’s hard to believe.

    Nobody is going to be there to discuss anything if your Topic or Title isn’t any good, so yes, your discussion is more important once it gets going. But it won’t get going without a good title, so its a catch 22 situation. Obviously there are some exceptions, but I’m 100% sure that’s how it happens, from what I myself have experienced.

  • malikyte

    Okay, so then…let’s get the communication started! I believe there was a slight undertone in Matthew’s post.

    Besides.. What other one word topics do you think you could create that might bolster such a fanfare?

  • busynic

    Lets not confuse marketing with conversation – please.

    Credibility is hard won and easy lost.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ mattymcg

    @malikyte: I think it’s a given that any attempt to mimic Arrington’s “one word wonder” on any blog would be nothing but an imitation. Changing the word would be akin to repeating a joke someone said and changing the name of the protagonist of the joke.

    Something possibly worth thinking about, along the same lines, is what other avenues are there to “mess with the medium”? ravidor raises some good points above, that the success of something that challenges the idea of what constitutes a traditional post would depend on who and where it is published, but perhaps there is something to take away and apply to your own blog in this line of thought. I can’t think of it, but maybe one of our readers can?