private and public forms of web-based communication

A letter I just sent to Gina Venolia of Microsoft Research:

Hello Mrs. Venolia,

I came across your research via a brief mention on Slashdot - I've actually been thinking about the issue of a "unified theory of web communication" for some time now and have also written about the topic on my blog here:

My basic thesis is that the following methods of online communication: blogs, comments left on blogs, and web-based forums are all simply "skins" on the same public content.

I do disagree with you on one thing - I don't think that email (and forum-based private messaging) fits into this mold. There's an important distinction in terms of "private" vs. "public" communication that I think needs to be taken into account at a fundamental level. I would group email, IRC, private messages on web forums, and Instant Message systems as the "private" class of communication.

As web-based forums nicely demonstrate, there is no reason private and public communication can't be merged into the same interface, of course. You can PM another user and have an "inbox"/"sentbox" completely separate from both your posts on the main forum. This is analogous to emailing a blogger in response to something they said. The two forms of communication nicely complement each other because they serve fundamentally different purposes.

I would be very interested in your feedback. I am not a software engineer, I am actually a grad student pursuing a PhD in medical imaging physics, but I have a great deal of experience in building online communities, including a portal for my religious community (www.mumineen.org), a politically-themed blog devoted to Howard Dean (dean2004.blogspot.com), and years of experience on private web forums run on software such as phpBB and UltimateBB, not to mention USENET.

Due to my hobby in thinking about web-based community and communication, I'd very much like to volunteer for any feedback or beta testing or other discussion on the topic, if you have any need of such. Please let me know if there's some way in which I can contribute.


Aziz Poonawalla

PS. I have reprinted my letter to you on my blog. Please let me know if I have your permission to also publish your replies to this discussion.

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