You may not remember it, but France used to be one of the world`s leading cultures and military powers. Even today, the myth persists of Paris being the capitol of high fashion (haute coutoure, being a French term). I say "myth" in the sense that the origins have faded but the process continues out of seeming habit.
Why culture? Is culture all that important to an evolving nation?
Back in the days of the kings and queens (monarchs), a salon was a way to bring the nobility together with artists, inventors, and thinkers---idea people. In many ways, a salon was similar to the Startup Nation community. The monarchy recognized that a society and country requires intellectual stimulation, art, imagination, and creative energy to grow. And so, they brought these folks together in the royal court. Back then "court" meant part of a castle, not only the legal bar.
Conversation was, in and of itself, the end goal---the purpose of the salon. It wasn`t a debate or an argument, and there wasn`t necessarily always a specific point to be made. The idea was simply to have conversations. Given the mix between the nobility and the "starving artists," nobody was allowed to ask how much anyone earned. It was considered bad form, not so much that you`d be arrested and shot for asking.
Anyone was encouraged to disagree, state their arguements, and have radical opinions. The rule, however, was that such disagreements should be stated in a pleasant, polite fashion. Otherwise, the conversation came to an end. Given that the whole point of the salon was ongoing conversation, ending the discussion would be contrary to the point.
Another aspect of the salon was that although any topic was open for discussion, you were encouraged to keep personal things to yourself. In other words, although there would be complex discussions of sex, people didn`t want to hear about personal sex lives. It was more about the concepts and theories of sex. So too, with many other topics. Again, very similar to how well-run forums work today.
Conversation became something akin to an art form. Even today, in many parts of Europe, the principles of conversation are taught to children. In France, many students can`t graduate from school without taking at least one course in philosophy, a course in rhetoric and debate, and other classes that help teach conversation. It`s a benefit of those "silly" public speaking classes we used to have in public schools. They`re gone, and oddly enough, conversation is becoming a lost art.
Americans tend to talk about the weather, dating, or the somewhat superficial topics of the latest news, TV show, or magazine. Few people spend much time examining their points so as to explain their reasoning. Many people have the habit of making pronouncements or criticisms, but can`t defend their statement with any personal thinking.
The result is, I think, a form of Web site that increasingly comes across as a one-sided monologue.
A conversation should initiate a topic, "So: What do you think about this?" It should be open-ended, asking (directly or by implication) for thought, reason, judgement, and opinion. BUT!...it should also immediately pause for "listener response."
I`ll propose that a "call to action," something many people bring up when discussing Web sites, is just that. It`s a pause for "user feedback."
Web sites are sales tools, information sites, reference locations and many things. But a sales pitch isn`t some unique form of communication. It`s part of the "set" of conversation. "Get the customer talking" is a primary rule in sales.
So too, a Web site offers "clicks" as a way to have a dialogue, rather than a one-sided lecture. Think of the headline on a home page or other page. "This is something I`m saying!" The following content can be either ongoing explanation, or it can be a form of "What do you think about that?"
A nicely done site then has a few bullet points that are "clickable." Those clicks are the text version of saying, "What do you think about that?" Would you agree?
I`ll also offer Amazon.com as a well-done, conversational Web site. "What do you want to do?" generates the immediately obvious "Search." The other menu items, offerings on display and so forth, all are the "opening gambit" in a conversation.
What sites would you use as examples of a two-way conversation with a reader? How about your Web site? Do you open a conversation, or do you just shout out what you want to say?
Most people are so busy thinking up what they`re going to say next, they usually don`t even hear what someone else is saying. "Be a better listener" is a nice little platitudue, but it rarely explains how to improve. Why don`t we have cute little sayings about "be a better talker?"