Conversation to Information and Back Again: The Mobile Web

Information and conversation are two distinct modes of communication. Conversation is ephemeral, in the moment, rich in meaning not only only from what is said but also from the context of what is around us. We easily recognize how the exact same content of an ordinary exchange of greetings is different if it occurs between co-workers on a Monday morning, or two strangers on a dark street on a weekend night. Information, on the other hand, has no similar specificity of space and time. By definition, in reducing experience to explication, it strips out messiness and imposes a more ordered–or at least conscripted–meaning. In return for this loss, this remaining meaning can be sustained across time and space. In other words, the only things that remain from our actual experiences are the things that make it into our documentation of those experiences–whether in stories, reports, recordings, or memories.

Now enter the mobile web. Darin Stewart, in a Burton IT report in 2012, argues that most businesses — and most people, I think — regard websites as sources of information. And most businesses have a separate strategy for connecting with customers on mobile devices. He says, though, that this is no longer a good approach. Instead, businesses should be thinking about a mobile strategy that encompasses all online information–whether internet, intranet, or extranet. He proposes a strategy with three elements: optimization, contextualization, and personalization.

Generally, Stewart’s position is practical and functional. Lots of good talk about capturing consumers, targeting individuals, and segmenting markets. A fine guide for business. But here’s why I think there is potential for something even more interesting here for understanding communication and technology. “Contextualization” is not just delivering information at the right time and place. It is akin to reconstituting information back into conversation. Contextualization takes information and adds back in the ephemeral; it adds in time and place. The extensive diffusion of mobile devices allows this to be done on a grand scale.

Of course, it is possible that “contextualization” will end up in practice as little more than a focused delivery of information, where the receiver is only that: a receiver. Like getting direct mail catalogs, or email spam, the result will be a quick drop into the recycle bin. But it’s possible that something else could happen. If contextualization can enrich the experience of the moment, adding to meaning or shared understanding, then we return back to conversation. This loop has always existed between information and conversation, but the mobile web could bring it close enough so that the loop feels near instantaneous. That is an interesting prospect.

Reference: Stewart, D. (2012). Three steps to maximize content mobility for total online engagement. Retrieved from December 28, 2012.