Live webchats: rarely chatty, rarely live

Despite being personally responsible for the big news story to come out of David Miliband’s trip to No10 yesterday, I’ve never really been a big fan of ‘live webchats’. There’s an undeniable buzz at realising that your question held the attention of Mr or Mrs Celebrity, if only for a few brief moments. And I have fond recollections of the first live (telnet) chat I ever took part in, back in 1995 I think, during which I asked Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm MacLaren if he thought Britain was obsessed with its past (and he did). But there’s a problem.

I don’t often think you get more by watching the responses being typed live, compared to reading the transcript later. So how do you make it an exciting live event? A couple of quick ideas… Webcam-style imagery, either stills or video. If the celebrity is there, let’s see him/her. Or how about taking a lead from Digg, and allowing the users to drive the selection of the next question?

Disappointingly, I doubt either will ever happen. In reality, the celebs want to control what they’re asked. And for many, perhaps a majority, there will be an intermediary typing the answers – and quite probably giving the answers too. The truth is, a live webchat is generally neither truly a chat, nor truly live. (Although for what it’s worth, I hear Miliband is a notable exception on both counts.)

One thought on “Live webchats: rarely chatty, rarely live”

  1. The Live Chat does have it’s place but I’m not sure it is for high profile politicians or controlling celebrities.
    We run I’m a Councillor Get Me Out of Here (sorry for the plug, it’s a way of getting young people and cllrs talking) and we have both a Q&A section and a Live Chat section. The Q&A allows for a reflective and considered answering of questions whilst the Live Chat is a different experience. The young people are vociferous in demanding answers to their questions and the cllrs do their best to engage with them. It is hectic when a class of thirty arrive at once but when there are slightly fewer it builds into a proper conversation and exchange of views.
    It seems to me that the Live Chats on Number Ten fail on both counts. They are not a conversation – just a Q&A and without the time allowed for considered answers (although I guess being politicians they are swift at consideration).
    It seems to me that they use Live Chats because they can and because someone thinks it will look good but I would much rather see Miliband restarting his blog and engaging with the public using that medium.

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