BBC Have Your Say is moving out into the wilds of the web and joining the conversation where it happens - link [via Peter Brantley] This is surely a significant move that publishers should watch with interest. The BBC is testing the waters of not hosting the discussion.
One of the answers to MBQ (My Big Question: why visit a publisher's website?) contains 'discussions and user generated content' in it somewhere. If the best stuff about your book of the moment can be easily found, and neatly aggregated, on the publisher's site then surely surely surely that's a good reason to visit the site. Right?
Perhaps, though, if the publisher joins the conversation you're already having on Phreadz or Qik or Twitter, then that is a good reason to visit their site - to find out more about the book at source... to see what else the publisher's saying about other books... and so on.
There are real advantages, too, for the publisher in creating and stimulating discussion (i.e. 'undertaking customer engagement') on other people's servers where the storage and serving of the content is someone else's problem (sorry, can't help being pragmatic, as ever). The stock disadvantage to this, of course, is that you're not as directly in control of your own content anymore, or people's interaction with it. But that's the point, isn't it?
The point: joining the conversation, whereever and however it's happening, is an open impulse; it is a release of control and a shifting of roles. And I think another answer to MBQ, if not the answer for a while at least, is that people will come to your site if you make it into a purple cow [tips hat to Seth Godin] - shift the roles, change the content, flip the structure over, and generally do things in a new, unexpected way that connects with readers.