Lots of interesting and angst-ridden writing flowing around of late about the “conversations” happening in the edublogosphere, set off in some measure by a recent post by Doug Belshaw.

The edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.

The comments thread holds flashes of all sorts of emotions: frustration, resolve, anger, intimidation. It’s one of the more compelling “conversations” that I’ve read recently and worth taking the time to sift through. John Larkin captures much of it, but centrally, he says “The conversations are limited to a few but cloned by many.”

Graham Wegner weighs in as well, taking a more expansive tact:

But there’s a lot of conversation out there – one can choose to connect to the visionaries and push for meaningful change or extend one’s global staffroom to gain support, inspiration and resources in equal measure. I tend to dabble in all camps on this blog anyway – no issue’s too big for me to have an uninformed go at and I want to improve what I take into the classroom tomorrow as well.

And then there was Doug Noon, compelled in some part by the “conversation” above to dive into Twitter after showing some resolve not to.

The interesting thing, and the thing that moved me to set up the Twitter account, was that with the Diigo stampede, Graham Wegner’s post about edublogging and the bigger conversation, this post about filtering Twitter so that it works more like Del.icio.us, and Miguel’s expansive vision for using Diigo to build a multipurpose networking application, I began to give some more serious thought to what seems to be a changing blogscape.

And, finally, there was Chris Craft in a short little dig in the comments on my “Tweaking Twitter” post where after reading that I was trying to filter out the links from my Twitter feed he asked simply “So what you’re saying is it’s about the links, not the conversation?”

I’ve always maintained, and still do, that the bulk of my learning these days comes in the conversation, that the publishing piece, the putting myself out there in a blog post (or video, or stream or whatever) is only the first step and, in reality, is not where I learn the most. I learn when my thoughts get pushed, when I read what others have written about other ideas on their own blogs, when I engage in the conversations about those ideas. And these “conversations” are different; they are not synchronous (though they are getting moreso), they are not linear, and as just the short sampling of link above conveys, there is a lot of complexity in the distributed nature of how we “talk” in this realm. In fact I think that might be the biggest frustration that newcomers to these tools experience. It’s random, seemingly aimless, and requires a whole bunch of other skills to navigate effectively.

And now, the conversations are morphing further. There are more voices. While it’s humbling to get 160 comments on a blog post, is it better? Now I have 300 Tweets a day to make sense of, and talk about raising the frustration level. What do you do when a Tweet comes by that say “@whoever45 I am so, so sorry to hear that! What can we do?” Or “@whoever 36 Great link! Thanks!” No context. No thread to speak of. The “conversation” has to be remanufactured, or in many cases, simply let go. And Twitter just feels like the bridge between true asynchronous dialogue and the emerging, constant backchannel that crops up on streams and at Chatzy during presentations, pushing the “conversation” further. To be honest, I think I’m most off put by the backchannel not because it can be a distraction to whatever it is we’re backchannelling about but because it totally strips the reflective, thought mulling-over part from the “conversation” process.

Guess I’m getting a little angsty myself.

Doug links to a Wired post by Bruce Sterling who quotes Stowe Boyd, and his assessment doesn’t make me feel any better.

Basically, conversation is moving from a very static and slow form of conversation — the comments thread on blog posts — to a more dynamic and fast form of conversation: into the flow in Twitter, Friendfeed, and others. I think this directionality may be like a law of the universe: conversation moves to where is is most social…The way I am getting tugged to blog posts is increasingly as a mention within a conversational bite in Twitter or Friendfeed. I then click out of the flow to see the larger post, and offer my view in the flow — not on the blog — and then I return to the flow, where I will be spending most of my time. This makes sense: I want to talk about the blog post with the person who brought it to my attention, more so that with some group of strangers at the blog, or even the author, who I may not know at all. I also don’t think we can expect the fragmentation of the social experience to slow down: it will get a lot worse before it gets better.

Funny thing is, I like the stranger’s voice. Doesn’t that sound like it just perpetuates the echo chamber we all seem to be trying to get away from?

At the end of the day, I’m just flailing around in here like the next person trying to see how if all makes sense for myself and for my own children. The conversations are shifting, both in form and content. In the process, it gets more challenging to help others make some sense of it for themselves. But I wonder as we continue to spend more of our online conversation time in the moment if we aren’t losing much of the value that the potential of conversation with these tools can bring.

To me, it’s about both the conversation and the network. I depend on the network connections I have to filter and find and share and provoke, but without the deeper conversations among the nodes in that network, it’s feeling like the connections lose value.

(Photo “Flowing Systems” by  exper)