My advice to the Public Conversations Project (who are awesome, BTW) in response to them posing a question about social media and “Can real dialogue be practiced online, modeled in a way that will shift online conversations from torrents to curiosity, from blame to understanding?”

Don’t confuse “online” with “Twitter”

I think the strength of the Public Conversations Project is not that it starts conversations, but that it creates an environment in which those conversations can flourish, take on meaning, and lead towards transformative action. There are tons of different platforms, designs and approaches beyond Twitter and Facebook. Form follows function and Twitter, Facebook and most of the other popular social media platforms are not designed to create the kind of conversations you want. I would encourage you to still use them for outreach, fundraising and brief dialogue, but to also look beyond them to other online services or platforms that can create an environment that encourages true conversation. Though you may meet strangers on a busy and crowded street, you then invite them inside to a more controlled and comfortable space. I think the Public Conversations Project could play an important role in describing what that controlled and comfortable (yet still accessible) space would look like online—but to do so you would need to look beyond the current social media hotness.