Measuring the Micro-Conversations in Blogs, and How Do People Change Opinions?

I was talking to Jesse Berrett (a critic, historian, and teacher) yesterday about whether all these “conversations” in the blogesphere really amounted to anything productive/significant in the context of the national discourse. People like Jeff Jarvis herald these “conversations” that go down mostly in the “comments” section of posts or in other people’s blog posts which link to the original as great things which evolve thinking. Is this true? Or are these conversations predominately “this is my opinion and why” and “this is my opinion and why.” Is anyone’s opinion really changing? Or perhaps the meta question is, What process do people go through before publicly changing their opinion? Doc Searls has said I think that on the blogesphere you can never be too steadfast in your opinion because you can instantly be inundated with links and rebuttals causing to change. Is this true?

We all hear about Rathergate and high profile stories about bloggers. But this is mostly about “fact checking your ass.” Jarvis does say here that the blogesphere so far has been mostly about fact checking mainstream media, asking questions that mainstream media won’t ask, and generally taking the role of media criticism. I get the sense that Jarvis hopes that more bandwidth can be spent on issues and things that elevate the quality of the debate. But the “conversations’ which have ensued on Jarvis’ “Issues 2004” posts have been mostly “this is my opinion” and “this is my opinion.” Not too fun to read, or opinion-changing.

So what I want to know is if we can measure or quantify the value creation of all the “micro-conversations” that exist in the 3 million blogs out there. Let’s face it, outside of the most popular bloggers like Jarvis and others (who mostly are former journalists or professors) the rest of us are popular within our own circle of 20, 30, 100, or 1000 readers. And most of those conversations may be about important political issues, but probably more often about a book one is reading, fishing trips, interesting articles, etc. As hundreds of thousands of these small conversations take place in the blogesphere, I wonder how one measures that in any empirical way.

From what I’ve seen of Technorati, it isn’t useful in this way. Anyway, those are my meandering and opaque thoughts at the moment – I’d love for you to clarify any of this for me!

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