Sunday, October 23, 2005

OMG NYT article on IM etc.

Go read this article, from NYT Sunday Styles, now. Better yet, get a print version if you can, because there's a killer screenshot of some IM convos between two teenagers. And we can discuss.

I'm running out the door, but two things:

1. The mother refers to IM as "the I.M." and her daughter's iPod as "the iPod." As in, "She's always either on the IM or playing the iPod." I feel like using definite articles here is definitely a sign of an out-grouper.

2. A girl in the article talks about the fun of having five-way IM conversations. Do we have a hunch as to how prevalent it is for IM convos to be between more than two people? I still think it's less than the one-to-one, but is its group chat function growing?

3. Multitasking sure is the theme of the year.

Whoops! That's three things.
lots of people use IM for group chat. that's why i questioned the distinction of IM as a "one-to-one" interaction as opposed to "one-to-many" medium.

i've also seen lots of cases of message boards that have groups of members break off into IM communities. this establishes a kind of in-group/out-group dichotomy within the message board community.
Yes, what to call the ol' IM then? Does it depend on the situation? Can we lump it as "potentially one-to-many"? Because I think it's important that it is often used as one-to-one, as well...I guess this is true for every application that has potentially one, potentially many receivers for any given outgoing message...
exactly. rather than try to come up with blanket terms for these media, it might be best just to describe the features. Im and IRC can be identical depending on which IM program you're using and how you use it, and which IRC channel you're in and who's in it.

so i think we can't go wrong if make it a point to describe the medium and not leave it up to our audience's familiarity with the terminology.
so i'm not sure where the lines between AIM chat and AIM instant messaging are being blurred, or why we would need to distinguish an instant message as being potentially one-to-many.

when multiple users are speaking to each other using AIM, they're doing so in an actual chatroom that the program creates rather than the typical instant message box. the chatroom format is certainly close enough to an instant message box that i wouldn't automatically lump this chat in with the kind of talk that happens in IRC, since the AIM chatroom retains all the text formatting, auto-emoticons, and file-sharing of an instant message, but it's certainly something that i would call chat (especially considering that most 'commercial' chat programs, such as AOL chat and Yahoo! chat are styled similarly). it's also pretty distinct from IRC in how much more rapidfire spam-bot action you see going on in the public chatrooms.

generally speaking, i would simply distinguish the two AIM formats with the labels 'multi-user chat' and 'one-on-one instant-message'. in an interactional study, i might also distinguish AIM chat from other forms of chat if i saw its use to be potentially very different (especially in the squires-esque concept of multimedia relationships).

is there any reason to do otherwise?
re: josh

i've also seen the message boards break off into subgroups via instant message programs. it really changes the dynamic of things, and i think it would be interesting to see research on group communication that tracks how this split affects relationships between members.

i can cite a horror story or two back from high school of message board members who are great on the bbs, but aren't people you want on your buddy list.
one last comment - i loved how the moms in the article were cracking down on IMs the way my mom cracked down on cable tv the way my grandmother cracked down on black-and-white tv.

i also loved the predictions that our country may get fat because of the internet.
i think the most significant difference between these group IM chats and IRC is that in IRC (to my knowledge) anyone can join a room at any time. in IM group chat, people have to be invited to the conversation. hence there are no bot problems. this would be especially significant for people looking at group interacting, status, and heirarchy in these kinds of groups. who gets invited and why? who is allowed to do the inviting (theoretically, anyone in the "room" can invite others, but are there social protocols at work here as well)?
So can we call it "IM chat" when it's between multiple users? I agree there's something still different from a regular "chat room," also namely because you know (theoretically) exactly who you're talking to which I think (? chat isn't my specialty) isn't usually the case in chat.

Affordance-wise, is IM any more instantaneous than chat, or might it seem that way because there's less interference (i.e. turns and referents are more clearly delineated/identified)?
well, the AIM chat feature actually allows for chat to take place in public chat rooms that anyone can access, and these are the ones that seem to be completely taken over by bots. at least they were last night when i gave a lookaround.

you can also have private chat rooms that are invitation-only, which is the feature that the girl in the NYT article was referencing. they function a lot like a conference call would on a landline, only bound within a chatroom. and i think this may be the distinction you're looking for, lauren - whether a chat is public or private? this is where you'd be more likely to see the difference in chatters chatting and real-life-friends chatting, which definitely gives the talk there a different kind of feel.

you may see more lag on an IRC server than you typically would on AIM due to the sheer number of speakers, but i'd guess that it's so minimal as to be unnoticable. so i think any issues of instantaneousness are just perception. regarding interference, well, this is the reason i'm lumping multi-user-AIM into a chat actvitity. you see the same interference in turns, referents, and the general sequencing of things occuring there as you would on any other chat platform. actually, i'd think that with some actual data anslysis you would see LESS referents in group chat, since the dynamic of offline interaction is going to be more at the surface.

this kind of chat has been going on for at least a decade now - we did it in high school via AOL private chats. it's just caught on in popularity/made it into the public eye kind of recently.
joshua, you post reminds me of the importance of hardware in developing attitudes about speakers online. you said above that larger chatrooms may lag. people with the ol' 56k lag bad (especially when multitasking). starting new post...
Really interesting stuff!

I'd just like to add that in chat, size does dissertation data is from a virtual team holding their meetings in a chat room (run in a closed system via Blackboard), and I can tell you that the interaction dynamics are quite different from those in large, open chat rooms such as the ones on IRC. So my guess would be the same goes for an AIM chat of five or so friends,where the talk is very much like group communication (as opposed to what some of the IRC research says, which seems more akin to either multiple dyadic conversations or some kind of public communication). I'd love to have that stuff as data! (the IM chat).
that sounds like a dissertation i'll have to reference someday.

i think it goes without saying that the group dynamic of a virtual team is going to be drastically different from that of, say, an IRC chat, but there are so many possible reasons for that besides group size alone - group dynamic, group purpose, interpersonal relations, speaker style and CMC experience and background, etc. i'd think that you'd be just as likely to see differences between the blackboard chats and the AIM group chats, and i'd reeeeeeeally like to see a data comparison for those.
Thanks for the comment Kris, and nice to see you're coming out of Austin. I hope to be coming out of here at some point too...

What role does prior FTF contact have in your study?
Hi Josh!

Well, the 5 students in my team did have some f2f contact...4 of the 5 had an initial meeting with their professor to get the syllabus and information about their project; the 5th signed up late and only met with me f2f before the team held their first virtual meeting. They had a 2nd f2f meeting with the prof halfway through the project. Ironically, at the first meeting, 2 of the students discovered that they had a shared acquaintance, and thus "knew" each other slightly.

I am looking at this interaction from a CA perspective, so I don't have any pre-test/post-tests or anything to measure the effects of the f2f meetings, although I can say in the virtual teams literature there are some mixed findings about the influence of prior f2f contact on team performance.

I do have data from a pilot study of a team interacting through chat while physically in the same room, now that does make a difference to the interaction.
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