A Social Conversation About Social Conversations

For the last few months, I’ve been thinking about how content is panning out, both from a creation and distribution angle.

As someone whose blogged since the late 90’s, it’s been interesting to watch the medium evolve from simple text on a screen to full-on media rich experiences, not to mention seeing how social media has swallowed some of the mainstays that were previously exclusive to blogging.

Perhaps one of the things that’s changed the most is the area of conversations. It used to be they were the sole domain of the blogger – post content, discuss afterwards in the comments.

Yet since Twitter and Facebook became popular, there’s been a lot of talk on whether this means the end not only for blog comments, but blogs themselves.

Personally, I don’t buy into it. Yes, we’re in the process of evolution – but like anything, evolution is good. It helps us grow, both as content creators and consumers of that content.

What bloggers need to do is consider how they’re doing things, and adapt to more organic ways.

You Don’t Preempt a “Normal” Conversation, So Why Preempt a Social One?

Think about the best conversations you have. It could be with friends, family, lovers, partners, colleagues – heck, it could be with the bartender at your favourite local.

The point is, it doesn’t matter where it is, because the place isn’t the instigator of great conversations – the people are. Not just people, though, but the way that conversations naturally ebb and flow as questions and answers are exchanged – that’s where the gold comes from.

This is why organic conversations in a blog post’s comments often raise the post itself higher than the original content – because the points raised in a blog’s comments section can drive some amazing back-and-forth conversations, if both blogger and commenter are open to it.

It’s something that content itself has tended to struggle with – it’s not as easy to replicate that organic feeling.

Take interviews, for example.

If a blogger wishes to interview someone for their blog, it’s usually a Word document that’s sent over to the guest with a series of questions. The guest looks at them, answers, and sends back via email. The blogger formats and then publishes – job done.

(Note: this is based on written form blogging – obviously video bloggers and podcasters can enjoy the type of spontaneity found in “normal” conversations)

The problem with this is it’s a very canned approach.

Blog interviews can read like the content version of canned laughter - forced and unattachedClick To Tweet

There’s no spontaneity, no flow, no feeling that it’s an interview. Instead, it (usually) reads more like someone sent someone else a bunch of questions beforehand, and the responses are carefully planned to put the interviewee in their best light.

This is where ReplyAll comes into play.

Not Comments, Not Live Chat – Just Great Conversations

Imagine if you could have a conversation as if you were in the same room as the other person – shouldn’t that be the goal of social conversations (interviews, Q&As, etc.)?

The developers behind ReplyAll think so, and their solution does a pretty good job of making that happen.


Much like the Postmatic solution I’ve introduced on this blog, ReplyAll does everything via email. However, unlike typical email conversations for interviews, where there are a maximum of two emails exchanged (questions document sent, answers document recieved), ReplyAll conversations can literally be endless.

The set-up is simple:

  • You, the content creator, comes up with a topic for discussion;
  • You decide what guest(s) you’d like to discuss this topic with;
  • You create a ReplyAll around this topic, and send out email invites to participate;
  • You post the first question, and hit Send;
  • The replies come in, you continue the questions, more replies come in, and so on.

It’s straightforward, simple, and a great way to have an evergreen discussion around a topic, while not impacting anyone’s busy schedule. Questions can be replied to at any time, and they’ll drop into the conversation.

And, much like Postmatic, because it’s done by email, you get an instant notification that there’s a new question or reply, and you choose whether or not to participate further.

Because of this approach, it makes for a more natural conversation where an intended direction of a conversation can take a sudden swing, based on the reply of one (or more) of the participants.

The best conversations ebb and flow like a river - ReplyAll provides both, and moreClick To Tweet

The ability to invite other guests to the conversation is an added bonus. Let’s say there’s a question no-one really has a definitive answer to – someone suggests, “You know who’d know this one? NAME – let’s ask her.” An email invite is sent, and the answer soon follows.

It’s a great way to lead a real conversation/discussion, versus a planned and sterile Q&A that can happen when answers are already provided.

What Would Be Cool to See

While ReplyAll is a pretty cool piece of tech at the moment, there are some areas that it could either improve in, or would be great to see added in future updates.

  • Currently, ReplyAll needs you to jump back over to your ReplyAll dashboard to participate in a conversation. So, when you get an email notifying you of a new reply, you can’t simply reply to that email. This is where Postmatic shines, and keeps the conversation flowing because you don’t have to take additional actions. Co-founder Zach Abramowitz has mentioned this will appear in a future update.
  • Social interactions to add to social commentary. Because of the way social channels have taken a lot of the impetus away from commenting on an actual blog post, it’d be great to have the ability to include (moderated) social chat around a ReplyAll topic as well. It’s the kind of approach that Coverit Live does well – albeit for a cost. If ReplyAll could find a way to do this, it’d add more layers to its functionality.
  • Alerts on drifting conversations. One of the great things about ReplyAll’s approach is it’s based on your time – you choose when to reply. Of course, this could also see conversations drift, as some guests take longer than others to reply. It’d be nice to set some form of timescale and follow-up alert, to advise a response is needed (or ask if the participant wishes to drop out).

However, apart from the native email functionality, these are mostly nice-to-haves.

What ReplyAll currently does, it does it very well. Embedding a conversation on your blog or website is as simple as dropping a piece of script into the page. Replies then update once received, and the ReplyAll discussion grows until the host ends it.

As content continues to evolve, and the conversations around content evolve with it, it’s interesting to see how developers are addressing them. Along with Postmatic, ReplyAll seem to be taking it back to where it all began – email.

Given most of the world still prefers this method of communication, that may be no bad thing at all.

Check out ReplyAll for yourself here.

For an example of how ReplyAll works, below is a chat between Zach and myself that took place over a 3-day period earlier this month. Look out for more experiments with this format here soon.

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