This thread is a continuation of some of the ideas from this conversation.
I've been fortunate enough in my life to have spoken to a number of audiences both online and off, and as any speaker or moderator knows, the size of the audience drastically affects the quality of the conversation. Consider a micro-gathering of intimate friends: the conversation allows for a fairly equal distribution of participation, and important ideas or feelings are able to be easily expressed and pondered.
As the size of that audience grows, that ability becomes less and less. In a moderated group of 20, several speakers will begin to gain undue control of the conversation, while more passive participants begin to fade into the background. When the group becomes hundreds to thousands, even the ability to be noticed and called upon to speak at all diminishes to the point of non-existence. When it comes to conversation, fewer participants leads to greater quality. Not quality of ideas, mind you, but quality of conversation, the exchange of ideas.
Due to the increasing difficulty to be even noticed as the group grows, natural expression of ideas begins to take a back seat to attempts to be noticed at all. Viral trends such as planking, ghost riding, the Harlem Shake, etc., aren't actually individual expressions of an idea, they're simply a cry to be noticed. "I exist too!"
In social conversation platforms, the best conversations always exist in the early arc of their lifespan before mass adoption occurs. When there are only a handful of participants (a la Google+ circa 2011), it's easy to gain visibility and engage with people who are otherwise outside of your social circles. However, as the crowd begins to swell, the inherent noise of network notifications begins to drown out all but a few preferred voices, often centered around the echo chamber of those whose ideas you identify most with, or those already in your social circles.
An interesting example of that is the list of folks on the Google+ Early Influencers Panel. It's an insular group that certainly achieved a high follow count, but aside from @Scobleizer , @treyratcliff , @thomashawk , and @Daria , I didn't follow any of them, and I don't see many of the people with whom I engaged regularly, who also had sizable followings: @derekross , Michael Interbartolo, David Kutcher, etc. Granted, many of those folks aren't here (yet?), but to me, the folks with tens of thousands of followers facilitated greater conversations than the folks with millions. Trey's posts would get thousands of reactions, but his postings were fairly hit and run: post a photo, respond to a couple of comments, mute the thread. And at the end of the day, who is really an influencer? Is it the person who amasses tons of followers, or is it the person responsible for the ready exchange of ideas, who is actually changing minds or educating?
(And for the record, this is not a callout thread, and I'm not saying you're doing social wrong, just noting my experiences as one of your followers).
One of my favorite things about Google Groups, and then Reddit, was that in their earliest incarnations, they were responsible for some of the most engaging and educational conversations I've ever been a part of. They had a substantive impact on my worldview and beliefs, and that was in part due to the fact that all participants in the conversation were de facto peers, and had the same ability as anyone else to be heard without resorting to attention seeking behavior.
This platform feels like it has the potential to foster similar conversations, but I'm curious how it stands up to the test of growth's impact on conversational quality. Panels, for instance, enforce a certain expectation of quality due to their participants, but exclude participation to those not hand picked to be a part of the panel. Those of us not in the panel are not part of the conversation. We're merely audience. And by virtue of that fact, even if we're smiling (picture for reference), we are not part of the conversation.
Many, many pundits have waxed poetic about the death of dialog in the social media era. I wonder if we can focus on quality in the hopes of resurrecting it, and if so, what tools/culture can a platform bring to the table to drive conversational quality?
Suggested reading: Robert Pirsig - The Metaphysics of Quality