Used to be, not so very long ago, that I’d get back from a trip and garner feedback on whatever presentation I’d given by checking Technorati. Friends, seeing me do this, would invariably mock me for my ego-surfing, but I found it a useful and effective tool: it’s vital for me to know when I’m selling my argument and when I’m not (more on that soon), and people tend to be so much less shy about sharing their opinions of a speaker as bloggers than they are as identifiable members of an audience. You go to the blogs, and you get the unvarnished take, whether that take is “genius” or “windbag.” This can be – has been – invaluable.
Not so much anymore. It’s undeniable that Technorati – seemingly unclear that it is not, in fact, Digg – is drowning beneath clumsy non-“features” that not merely do nothing for me, but frequently crash my browser. But that’s not why this tactic no longer seems to bear much in the way of fruit.
No, my guess is this: in order for Technorati to retrieve content, content must be created in the first place. We’re into a period where the longer-form online writing that typefied the time that, it now seems clear, was High Blogging’s Golden Age is being eclipsed by the kind of microblogging afforded by Tumblr and Twittr and Shittr, to say nothing of del.icio.usness or the various social-networking platforms. And what people microblog is links to YouTubery, not dissections of talks they’ve just seen. At best you’ll get somebody noting that they’re “At a talk by Firstname Lastname.”
Sure, it’s good to know that people, variously, think my talk “HAS JUST ROCKED” or “is t3h suck.” But, let’s face it, from the speaker’s perspective, there’s just not so much actionable feedback you can unpack from 140 characters.
The weirder thing is that nobody seems to Flickr anymore, either, at least not in the circles I seem to be running in. Of everyone who attended DUX in Chicago last week, four, maybe five people used “dux” as a Flickr tag. Five! Out of hundreds in the audience!
On one level, I can understand this – I used to snap and upload every last coffee date, midnight doner and quirky street sign, and now I can hardly be bothered. I’m tempted, pace Eye-Fi, to try and generalize from this that all of the pop-sociology projections of an era of infinite panopticism are off – that the instinct to digitally document everything was merely the spiking infatuation of a jaded roué for an exciting new lover…but that too is a story for a different day. Point is, four or five people Flickring a big-ass conference like DUX strikes me as a shockingly low number.
Whatever’s happening, it’s making it more difficult (for me, anyway) to get a sense of how an audience is responding to a given talk. Did it contain any particularly revelatory moments, or conversely, were there passages that simply did not wash? Concise or clumsy phrasing? Were the pivotal issues usefully framed? Harder and harder to get a sense of this, without putting people on the spot right then and there…and that just looks needy.
As well, thinking about this over the last six months or so has provided me with something that looks an awful lot like the proverbial canary. If nothing else, it’s made me strikingly aware how the sense of individual voice I cherish really only seems to emerge over longer excursions, and of the absence of that from so much of the writing I see online these days.