Conversations are fast becoming my tool for discovering information and connections on the web.

Most every morning, post sorting through emails, I check continuing conversations from the day before, jump onto friends’ blogs and, if lucky, discover interesting comment threads to weigh in on.

This idea that we lean on our networks for information is not new. I’ve blogged on it before before. But the push towards a more conversational and engaged poise as discovery certainly is.

Maybe this realization is driven by the evolution of my information needs, which are less today about searching for facts and more about discovering direction and people.

Or maybe with the majority of the world’s population comfortably online and the Internet fast enough to support real-time social discourse, we no longer need to lean on technology to capitalize on the web’s human potential.

I don’t know…but it’s certainly true that the web has become more and more about people and less about technology and platforms. People are advanced social animals. We talk a lot. About everything.

Socialization is how we learn and work and play. Conversations have become– for me at least–the measure of online value. They replace links, clicks and likes. Beyond a faceless click and a knee jerk social gesture.

I’m not alone.

Ro Gupta from Disqus, my favorite web commenting system, shared some off the cuff data on the state of commenting today.

Ro estimated that people interact with the Disqus platform of over 1 million blogs over a 100 million minutes everyday. On an average day, some 500,000 comments are posted. Figuring a minute or two to write a comment, commenters are spending some 17,000 hours a day posting across the Disqus platform.

This is just Disqus of course. Add Facebook comments, native Word Press, the smaller players and this non-scientific stab at scale speaks to a decent swatch of the social web that is talking and engaging daily.

The idea of a conversational web feels real to me. I use Google for details like what time it is in Kenya or how to change a battery on my camera, but for basically everything else asking my networks and clarifying with conversations is proving more and more the answer.

The time in value out equation is out of whack.

Conversations of course are both chatter and work, informational and personal. A blurry line that will get even larger as more and more join in.

The basic rule of network efficiency and relationships plays here as well. If you want a network or community to know, listen and support you, then you need to put in the time to know them. Lots of time.

The results can be spectacular. With friendships, new customers and great ideas as the offshoot. In fact, a whole new way of doing business and building community starts from this.

But it’s also messy and a time sink. In fact, a variant of ADD seems inherent in the approach itself.

Companies like are making strides to ameliorate this. They have a vision to defrag attention, refocus time, and connect people through an engagement bridge. It’s adding efficiencies but also hints at the big gotcha, discovery, where the key to this paradigm lies.

I’m torn whether efficiency is really the answer though.

Once you put people front and center, the dues you pay is time and engagement. The value of these connections and relationships simply may outweigh it all and change the value equation.

Discovery is still more aspirational than reality.

The Disqus numbers comfort me and let me know that I’m not alone.

But they frustrate me more, like a Ray Bradbury sci-fi nightmare, where there are waves of people talking about what interests you, but you just can’t find them.

Something is out of whack.

I tracked my top 20 conversational contacts through to see where they were hanging out. I was searching to discover a new group of communities to broaden my networks.

The breadth of my friends reach was actually very small. My networks grow more by pulling in others through social gravity to where I am, than discovering new communities to engage with.

Makes you wonder where the 500,00 daily Disqus comments are? In deep community pockets like just beyond my view or spread like air across the social web?

How many communities of engaged people around niches of interest are? How do I find them efficiently or take the right position for serendipity to happen?

Discovery is the big nut to crack.

Disqus could do it. could. Lots of creative minds are circling around this. It is the key to the next iteration of the social if not the conversational web.

Engagement is the new currency of the web but it’s still very scarce.

While most communities are blog-based, very few blogs are communities. This is not semantics.

Community requires leadership but is defined by the people who are engaged not by the personality of the blogger that leads. It’s a dance but the rhythm comes from the community.

The disconnect is that while the value of a community model grows, the number of new communities of substance seems disproportionately small. Or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to find them.

This is a topic with more questions than answers. Please do share your thoughts and where you find engagement and value on the web.


Note:  is conducting a research survey on the State of Online Conversations that closes tomorrow. If you have a few moments, do help out.  The survey is here.

I am presenting the results of the survey on a Blog World panel next week in New York with Fred Wilson, Jeffrey Minch and William Mougayar.