There is a common thread connecting dialogic orientation and web writing. In this post I share how I discerned this thread so that we can use the newly found bond to adopt a dialogic approach to creating web content.
To start, let’s first unsee web content.
This write-up is “content”. Formally, it is a publication on a website, one of the 1.8 billion and counting pages on the Web. It has metadata, keywords, part of a blogging world. It is soon to be indexed by some crawlers, soon to start circulating the content oceans, called social media. It is soon to be marked up by its author (given I walk the extra mile and live the “structured data talk”) with basic machine-readable code and become one of the 1.5 billion HTML pages out of the 3.2 billion pages contained in the crawl (47.4%) of Web Data Commons number and counting triples on the web, marked with the schema.org vocabulary.I
Enough said for this side of the content coin. The one that can be more easily operationalized, formalized, measured and optimized.
Let’s look on the other side of the coin. The one that is less prone to classifying, determining. calculation, formulaic approaches. The one that is the territory, not the map. The one that I once told you about thorugh the lense of semantic capital.
Understanding that side of the content coin is how we can unsee content.
When we perceive it as a stoa poikile (i.e. an spaciousness of sorts) where people talk, live, exchange, have fun. And send signals by doing so. As the emptiness that we are to allow when it comes to communication. The place where dialogue, exchange and conversations happen.
Seeing Content Anew
It can be exhausting to all the time rethink content and wonder what it is, how to best create it, when to write it, where to publish it, etc. However there is a way, we can think about content. Archetypally in a way. And it is as branches, as a system that talks to other systems.
Just like the Wood Wide Web, BBC showed us in the beautiful video, any content piece on the Web is a signal, bound to connect – to a platform, to a network of data, to a hub of other content. And we can plan for it but can never forsee its entire dymanics, a rhizoma of sorts (I borrow the “rhizome” metaphor from prof. Michael Kent to whom we also owe the understanding of the dialogic potential of the Web).
It is also inevitably a signal of and a stimulus for a network of exhanges – between collaborators, users, even algortinmic audiences.
And this realization about content, as being yet another atomic part of a network of things, thoughts and larger texts, is what I mean by unseeing content. It is easy to look at a piece formally – I need this text, this count of words, these tags and these keywords. It is not that easy though to look at content by thinking about the spaciousness, or the emptiness we want to allow with this content.
Could it be that it is only possible if we allow for a dialogue to emerge through content?
Dialogue and Web Content Horizons
The dialogue I talk about here is the one David Bohm talked about in On Dialogue.
I give a meaning to the word “dialogue” that is somewhat different from what is commonly used. […] A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a
sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is
present. The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a
stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us.
This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group,
out of which may emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all.
It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the “glue” or
“cement” that holds people and societies together.
In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. EverybodyBohm, David. On Dialogue.
wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In a
dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your
particular view prevail.
This very definition invites a better understandings related to dialogic communication and brings home the point about web content’s dialogic nature.
“Electronic linking, which provides one of the defining features of hypertext, also embodies Julia Kristeva’s notion of intertextuality, Mikhail Bakhtin’s emphasis upon multivocality, Michel Foucault’s conception of networks of power, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s ideas of rhizomatic, nomad thought.”George Landow via From Papyrus to Hypertext by Christian Vandendorpe
And web content, having a hypertextual nature, is inevitably dialogic. Of course “dialogue” means different thing to different people and is defined and practiced withing different domains in all concevable ways.
To nurture the dialogic nature, to make the dialogue thrive – that is to be able to create that spacouosness in the digital marketing communication, we can stand on the shoulders of the dialogic theory.
Enter the principles of a dialogic public relations theory.
What Is Dialogic Orientation About?
Before the Web has even begun to unfold as a thriving collaboration, trade and communication cyberspace, scholar Michael Kent pinpointed five principles to offer guidelines for the successful integration of dialogic public relations and the World Wide Web.
The principles are as follows: 1. Dialogic Loop; 2. Usefulness of Information 3. Generation of Return of visits; 4. Ease/Intuitiveness of Interface; 5. The rule of conservation of visitors.
The principles have been operationalized as follows:
In my research I have taken them to push our digital marketing practices further, beyond the page and the “content marketing” narrative.
To give you a brief view of how these principles map to our digital marketing practices (schema.org annotation included), let me show you a slide of a presentation I gave last year the The Web Conference.
How Can Content Be Dialogic?
The dialogic principles above are intricately linked to a technology that is not based on the structure and the paradigm of print and mass media culture (see Hoffman and Novak) but rather compatible with the “cybermarketscapes” (see Venkatesh) the Web contains. And they could be used as a strong conceptual basis for the design meaningful marketing communications – ones that the user PULLs, not such that the user had been PUSHed. Ones that engage in a dialogue, rather than wave a corporate logo and mission, and whatever other monologic form of push you might think of.
You don’t need me to point you to the endless references of conversational content and the need for talking to your audiences etc in our practices as content creators and digital marketing people. The most prominent latest example is the 4C’s Kotler talks about (Co-creation, currency, communal activation, conversation). You can have a look at them in the context of the transition from traditional towards digital marketing, shown in the diagram:
This calls for a reminder. Marketing and digital marketing are wrongly associated with the 4Ps. There are so many other facets to communication and exchange. Some authors have listed 17Ps (see MAXIM, Andrei. Relationship Marketing – A New Paradigm in Marketing Theory and Practice. ), including people, politics, public relationsh, plan, performance etc. And this very association brings us back to the roots of content.
Can we give people more Ps and Cs, most importantly dialogic moments with content?
Content Wants to Be Dialogic and Live in a Knowledge Graph
Yes, we can.
With a Knowledge Graph (see my paper Knowledge Graphs and the Dialogic Potential of the Web ).
And this itself calls for a dialogue and a broader discussion between disciplines and paradigms. I will write separately about this, yes, for now let’s just note that given we understand that content is yet another portal we create – nothing more, nothing less, we are able to plant the seeds engaging digital marketingcommunication. We need to also be able (technologically too) to build a dialogic arena of sorts. With many asycnhronous elements engaged in the dynamics of what we call understanding and meaning making.
EPILOGUE: Web Content and Being Dialogic
What we seek as content marketers seeks us – that is deeper understanding and from there connecting. This is what draws people’s branches and signals to our branches and signals, to get back to the Wood Wide Web metaphor. To create dialogic content we ourselves need to be dialogic.
For that to happen we not only need to be aware of the entire network of words (and entites for human to computer dialog) we are providing as a navigational network of information to our user but also to the entire web of dialogic experiences we are to create.
A systematic approach towards dialogic communication, combined with a model of the content-user interaction in a hypermedia environment is what I see, unseeing content :), as as the way forward for making the Web a better sea of knowledge and meaningful digital interaction. And yes, the latter two are increasingly important for effective digital marketing communication on the Web (and its good texts).
Stay tuned for the next part of this post: The Dialogues We (Must) Enter When Writing for the Web
This post is part of my research and writing process of a new book called Being Dialogic. I don’t have a call to action for that matter though :) It is a shame. And it is the very essence of the Dialogue – you just don’t know what’s next and let it emerge…
I will see you around the Web. Thank you for reading!