The best seat at the Thanksgiving dinner is right in the middle.
Once the hosts settle down at the table and twenty of us raise a glass to the farmers, the chatter begins. Because several conversations ebb and flow throughout the dinner, being in the middle lets me jump into the discussions on either side and eavesdrop on the ones further down the table on both sides. It seems everyone but the very old and the very shy actively participate — except at dessert when everyone’s mouths are full at the same time.
But what if nobody talked?
What if everyone said one thing and nobody used any of the openers as cues for discussion? And then suddenly at dessert, everyone starts talking as quickly as they can in order to be able to say that they had conversation at dinner? But the conversation is forced and restricted by time.
Have you ever had an online discussion that felt like everyone was doing their duty, rather than benefiting from a real discussion? I pondered this issue and realized that when this happens, it is because of a self-imposed time restriction. The forum may be open for eight days; then suddenly, in a panic, we log on and start typing so that we meet our obligation.
Have you ever made one of these moves?
Click on post #1. I don’t have time to figure out what the writer means.
Click on post #2. Skim. Skim. Skim. This is way too long and rambling. Too much to respond to other than, “Thanks for the interesting read.”
Click on post #3. HAHAHAHA. Engage in quick repartee. Google an appropriate meme.
Click on post #4. WOW! Great point. I have already thought about this from a different perspective. It won’t take me long to write an intelligent response… and fulfill one of my obligations to the discussion.
Click on post #5. Hmm. I think this is the same point as post #2, but more succinct. Ok, time is running out. I had better respond. Quick, google the topic for something interesting to add.
… and the forum closes. Phew. I posted. I responded. But…
- Did I digest other people’s ideas?
- Was I able to examine my ideas by thinking about the responses to my initial posting?
- Did I really milk the opportunity to learn and help others learn?
What if we took our time with the conversations and really heard everyone?
A fabulous online asymmetrical discussion is similar to a large dynamic dinner party.
Several conversations organically evolve from a single post to an engaging exchange of ideas. Some threads stop after a couple of posts while others take on a life of their own.
At Thanksgiving, you can’t really join the conversation at the end of the table, but online, you can hop into as many as you like.
Oh the joy of participating in a couple of discussions, but keeping an eye on others in progress… without appearing rude.
Imagine eavesdropping on 100% of the discussions, rather than contributing to the chatter.
Initiating and engaging in discussions over several days will consume a similar amount of time as cramming in an afternoon of postings; it will just be less stressful and more valuable.
My Fantasy Forum Timeline
Is this yours, too?
Draft an initial posting before the forum opens.
Post your initial posting soon after the discussion opens.
Sit back and read without responding – unless something really strikes a chord and has you excited to respond. Take a couple of days to digest everyone’s initial ideas.
Choose a couple of threads to respond to and compose thoughtful responses. Read them through before hitting SUBMIT.
Watch conversations, contributing to those that interest you rather than simply for the sake of saying something.
You have time to “meet the requirements”.
Each day, go back and see where the conversations are going, contributing succinct responses when appropriate.
Wrap it Up
On the second last day, think about the overarching ideas of the whole forum. How would you summarize the ideas?
What is YOUR vision of a great online discussion?