Jury out on web 2.0 discussion digests

A poorly moderated group could turn a killer app into a killed one. CRAIG REARDON

Craig Reardon

By Craig Reardon

Happy new year to you. And I hope your business withstands the recession some greedy lenders are making us have.

In the meantime, the web will continue to generate you more business and increase your productivity. And it’s a potential promoter of the first of these two goals that my first missive for the year will tackle.

Namely, discussion digests.

Yes, yet another development from the web 2.0 world, but one that could well affect many smaller organisations.

At right is a recent digest from the eMarketing Association Network in LinkedIn. But 24 discussion threads is a lot to sift through.

Discussion digests are opted in summaries of discussion groups residing in social and business networks. While discussion groups or threads have been around since the birth of the web, more recently they have enjoyed a surge in popularity brought about by their introduction into social and business networks like LinkedIn and Plaxo.

Essentially they are forums for members of the different community groups that you can join within these networks.

These community groups can be on pretty much any topic you can think of. There are groups for professionals or groups for confessionals. There are alumni groups and anti-aluminium groups. And they can all be a great way to get to know people with similar interests around the world.

But the real “killer app” – discussion digests – are made possible by plain old email.

In the past you had to actively log in to these forums to view or take part in member discussions – something most small business operators simply don’t have time to do. But more recently network providers have introduced a subscription to either of a daily or weekly digest of these discussions.

So instead of logging in whenever you want to see what discussions are happening (a “pull” effect), digests or summaries of discussions appear in your inbox at the regularity you want them (a “push” effect).

This allows you to simply open the email, scan the activity within these groups for items that may be of interest to you, and join in accordingly.

I’ve been part of a few local and global e-marketing and small business groups since last year. Typically the time involved in logging and participating in the groups was not worth the trouble.

But since opting in to receive the daily digests, I’ve been exposed to a whole new world of business networking, information on industry developments, market research and a healthy dose of blatant self promotion. In much the same way that we put up with spam in our inbox, discussions are littered with seemingly desperate salespeople intent on flogging their latest product or service. Which of course threatens to ruin what is essentially a fantastic networking tool.

A typical digest will include industry news, people looking for recommendations for suppliers, people looking for opinions on a topic or development, news of events, people openly inviting to network with them, and the aforesaid sales pitches.

The number of daily entries varies per group. Some international groups spawn literally dozens of discussions on a daily basis, while Australian-based ones often struggle to get more than a handful a week.

And like many web developments, you have to take the bad with the good.

I’m not sure how typical I am of the average user, but I have a definite “overload” limit when it comes to the number of discussion summaries (or headlines) that I can easily digest in an email. Less than 12 is like a breath of fresh air. Between 12 and 25 is getting very uncomfortable, and more than 25 becomes a chore and is usually ignored.

Which of course defeats the purpose.

Obviously the greater number of discussions, the greater the chance of finding discussions that might be useful to you.

But equally obviously you can get too much of a good thing, and too long a list becomes unwieldy and time consuming. In much the same way that most Google searches don’t move beyond the first page of search results.

So are these digests a valuable business tool, or just another time waster?

Methinks the answer literally lies at the fingertips of group moderators or operators. If they can get serious about acting on members who flout the discussion rules to so flagrantly flog their offerings, then digests could well be the web 2.0 tool of choice for smaller business operators.

If not, it will go the way of so many other interesting web ideas that didn’t quite realise its potential.


Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au

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