Posted on 8 March 2013
About a week ago, I read blog post by Tom Tunguz entitled “Letter to the Editor.” You should read the full thing, but here’s an excerpt to give you a taste:
“Despite all the innovation in blogging, there’s one part of the magazine that hasn’t been reinvented: the Letter to the Editor.
“Whether on-site or off-site, comments aren’t the right communication vector. Instead, a redesigned, curated section for Letters to the Editor or one step further, Letters to the Author might cultivate a reading community much more effectively than the commenting platforms in use today.”
I have an ongoing fascination with facilitating conversation on the web. This is a point I’ve not seen before, and I tweeted my appreciation of the post. This led to Tom inviting me to take part in a Branch conversation on the subject, titled “Can Branch solve the “Letter to the Editor” problem for next generation magazines?” I figured since I wrote stuff up there, I might as well share it here, as well.
I don’t think Branch would be a good replica of letters to the editor. Branch is discussion between a select group. I have to be invited to participate or ask to participate before I even get to say anything, so in some ways I’m being judged on who I am more than what I say. It has its place, but in some ways it’s just an off-site comments section.
Letters to the editor, on the other hand, can be sent by anyone- I write my letter, and the editors decide if it will be published or not. The editors have control over what gets published, but not over what gets submitted. And they choose things that contribute to and elevate the conversation, even if they disagree with the main point.
One of the frequent arguments put forward by the anti-comments crowd is that if you want to respond to someone’s blog, you should do it on your own blog. The problem is that not everyone has or wants their own blog, even if it is easy. I think this is something a “letters” section could solve – giving these people a platform to respond to writing without making them take up blogging to do it.
So what would a “letters to the editor” section look like? It could be as simple as a subsection of a given site: “letters.yourblog.com”. You could make it a Tumblr with the “submit” feature enabled (example), or you could invite people to email you and publish the best responses. You could give it as much or as little prominence on your own site as you desire.
It wouldn’t be as open as the traditional comments section, but neither is the letters to the editor. What we are going for here is a place for the publisher to showcase what they deem to be the best responses to what they have published. And I think it’s a fascinating idea (and something I’d be interested to see implemented in the new “web magazines” like Svbtle and the Magazine).
I feel like realtime conversation already has plenty of places to happen: Branch, Twitter, comments. The part of Tom’s post that intrigues me is bringing a more open discussion to the “slow” web. Medium, Svbtle, and the Magazine all feel like responses to how fast the internet has gotten. They slow the conversation down by encouraging longer, more thoughtful pieces. A necessary element of this is creating barriers, be they invite-only publishing platforms or having to wait longer for a new piece to be published.
I feel like a letters-to-the-editor platform- whatever it would look like- would still encourage a slower, more thoughtful set of responses from readers, as well.
So that’s where my thoughts stand. There are other good comments from the other participants in the conversation as well, and I have one invite if you want to take part- just tweet me or let me know in the comments section here- I still keep it open.
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