Don't underestimate the importance of small talk

The usual curmudgeonly complaint about online interaction is that it's banal: a bunch of bloggers (or Twitterers, or whatever) in pajamas (or whatever) blathering on about what they had for dinner (or whatever). But mark me down as one of those who's not bothered by occasionally reading a Tweet about something good to eat.

Consider the lowly business meeting, which -- regardless of whether it's purely internal, or features this week's cast of traveling salesdroids -- inevitably begins with a conversation about the weather. Or, if you live where I do, the pollen levels. (Or whatever.)

All of this whatever plays an important and necessary role.

Small talk is a mechanism for opening channels of communication. It's a tool for establishing social/conversational norms and overcoming our inbred distrust of anyone outside the tribe. Small talk says "I'm here, I'm nonthreatening, and we can go from there."

Where you go is up to you, but it's good to start down that road together, and not separately.

I've been building online communities since the mid-1980s, when I discovered dialup bulletin board systems and -- like so many others in that era -- wound up running one myself. As a system operator, I discovered that small talk is necessary for warming up to substantial conversation. When we discover what we have in common, we're much better prepared to face the places where we differ.

Over the years, the software has changed, the hardware has changed, the formats have changed, and we've gone from hundreds of users to millions. But the principles have remained the same.

In 1994, there were two trivial topics that were guaranteed to get people talking in a non-threatening way. One was to ask whether the toilet paper roll should dispense tissue from the top of the roll or from the bottom. And the other was to conduct a poll: Ginger vs. Mary Ann.

Today, I suppose, you'd have a harder time finding cultural commonalities (if I asked you "Starbuck vs. Caprica 6" would you know what I'm talking about?) but I'm fairly sure most of us still use toilet paper.


Caprica is hot, but Starbuck has got balls...

every time

Every day and twice on Sundays.

Yelvington posts something I'm qualified to write about. The correct answer is Head6, because she's easier to travel with and (slightly) less likely to blow up the world when she's done with you.

Steve, you will not believe this. I have a chapter of my new book dedicated to the importance of making small talk within communities. It plays a major role in building relationships. Please let me know if I can send you a copy. It's called "18 Rules of Community Engagement." Angela Connor | @communitygirl