Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by  Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia. Thesis full text availalbe from the University of South Australia library

THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf~ 2.html/pdf~ 3.html/pdf~  4.html/pdf~ 5.html/pdf~  6.html/pdf~  7.html/pdf~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html~ postscipt.html/pdf~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf~ Bibliography.html/pdf~  911~ thesis-complete.htm/~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  DATA ~ Case Study   1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ These links are from early notes and not the final edits which are in the published version available at the University of South Australia only. Not all links are active due to changing domains. Home page see /

Terrell Neuage ‘Hurricane Floyd Chatroom’


17,735 (words) Thursday, August 07, 2003 11:39 AM 51 pages

Photo from NASA saved September 17, 1999  (


THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf ~ 2.html/pdf ~ 3.html/pdf ~  4.html/pdf ~ 5.html/pdf ~  6.html/pdf ~  7.html/pdf ~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html/pdf ~ postscipt.html/pdf ~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf ~ Bibliography.html/pdf ~  911 ~ thesis-complete.htm/pdf ~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes 1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ DATA ~ Case Study 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Case Study One. 2

CS 1.0 Introduction. 2

CS 1.0.1 Reason for choosing this chatroom... 3

CS 1.0.2 Background to Hurricane Floyd. 4

CS 1.0.3 Research Questions. 5

CS 1.1 Methodology. 7

CS 1.2 Reader-Response theory. 16

Language features. 21

CS 1.2.1 Skills of shared language. 21

CS 1.2.2 Linguistic skills. 23

Knowledge and skills of discourse structure and organization. 26

Metalinguistic knowledge and skills. 27

Phenomenological approach to reading. 31

CS 1.3 Discussion. 34

CS 1.3.1 Two readings of a chatroom... 35

Chat title. 35

Three different Hurricane Floyd discussion strands. 43

CS 1.4 Answers. 47

CS 1.4.1 The Reader is the writer who is writing the reader J... 47

CS 1.4.2  Does the reader or the writer, produce meaning within ‘this’ chatroom, or do they create meaning together?. 48

Case Study One 

CS 1.0 Introduction


There are millions of chatrooms on the Internet, catering to a huge range of discussion topics. A majority of conversations in chatrooms however appear to have become stuck in the ‘hello’ or ‘anyone want to chat privately?’ categories. The chatrooms I am analysing have been selected to be rich in turn-taking and developed conversation.  This chapter on ‘storm talk’ is a study in chatroom language use during an emergency and is my starting point in working with real-time interactive discourse.

It is my desire here to focus in detail on the interactive complexities of on line talk which led me to discuss the ideas of five of the leading proponents of ‘Reader-Response’ theory in my literature review (2.2.3): Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Norman Holland, Julia Kristeva, and Umberto Eco, and these authors have been a particular influence in this case study. I intend to begin my analysis of online “conversational” practices by examining the reciprocity and interactivity of this curious textual form of talk, where readers and writers reverse roles in the mutual construction of “talk-texts”.

CS 1.0.1 Reason for choosing this chatroom

The first chatroom I examine was set up for Hurricane Floyd, a high-impact weather event in the USA on 15 September 1999, which occasioned full alert status for emergency services in the region.  I chose this chatroom as the participants may be assumed to have had more urgent and compelling reasons to be involved in conversation than participants in most general chatrooms, and so might be anticipated as achieving focus and an immediacy of conversational engagement. I indeed found differences between how people relate in an emergency[1] and how they relate in other less urgent social settings.  One of my hypotheses for this thesis is whether people create a different 'textual self' for each electronic communications environment they are in, so that we cannot continue to regard all electronic textual practices as equal. For example, textual practices are different in a chatroom from in an e-mail.  Chatrooms are multivoiced synchronous exchanges where many people often ‘speak’ before there is a chance to answer. In asynchronous e-mail, on the other hand, there is time to respond without the dialogue scrolling by at a rapid rate. This study will show how chatroom participants adjust to the speech conditions of the general, or specific, chat situation.

A prior question arises as to the relativity of formational influences on chatroom behaviours. Put simply, does the speaker make the chatroom or does the chatroom create the speaker? It is certainly observably true that, just as in physical speech situations, the style of talk in chatrooms parallels the specific environment. For example, one may speak differently at a church supper and a brothel. Later in this study I explore this concept of developing styles of ‘speech as home’ or how chatrooms can become a particular socially-regulated environment, even in the absence of a constraining set of architectural and culturally-binding physical cues: see Case Study Three, ‘Speech Acts as virtual places’ (CS 3.3.2). At this stage however it is important to discover how, and how quickly, chat room participants adjust to the communicative practices current as they enter a given chat environment – and especially so under unusual circumstances.

The first chatroom under investigation arose from an emergency situation, therefore I assumed when I first entered this chatroom, based only on the title, ‘Hurricane Floyd Chat’, that only conversation dealing with the emergency situation would be conducted.  I did not expect topics or spontaneous exchanges about relationships, politics or sports, for instance. One of my interests in this room was how a ‘textual self’ was to be presented. I expected an emergency chat to be different from the casual-chatroom-chat (CCC) which constitutes the major part of most chatroom conversation. In an emergency, I expected those present to be seeking information that they could use to protect themselves, or to reassure themselves that friends and relatives were safe. I remembered experiences from earlier emergencies, where authorities had often appealed to citizens NOT to use personal communications systems, such as telephones or even public streets or walkways, leaving them free for emergency services, and depending on official media channels for “reliable” information and advice. What I found was that indeed there were few deviations from the topic, and every contributor discussed the storm at some point. Though many different threads developed in the conversation, each of which I ‘captured’, they were all related to the storm. Though there were no prescribed rules of etiquette for the use of this chatroom to focus talk on the storm, users, by entering and then subsequently remaining in this chat arena, were declaring a concern with the storm. The primary way to set up a structuring model for topic control in a chatroom is to have a chatroom that offers to address only one particular topic, as is the case with this chatroom, which had the issue of concern being the events surrounding Hurricane Floyd.

CS 1.0.2 Background to Hurricane Floyd

“On Sept. 15, 1999, a one-two punch combination of hurricanes hit North Carolina. Earlier, Hurricane Dennis jabbed once at the Carolina coast before doubling back and coming ashore as Tropical Storm Dennis on Sept. 5, packing torrential rains and 70 mile-per-hour winds.  Then came the knockout punch—Hurricane Floyd—ten days later.

Photo from NASA saved September 17, 1999  (

Floyd was a large and intense Cape Verde hurricane that pounded the central and northern Bahamas Islands, seriously threatened Florida, struck the coast of North Carolina and moved up the United States east coast into New England. It neared the threshold of ‘category five’ intensity on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale as it approached the Bahamas, and produced a flood disaster of immense proportions in the eastern United States, particularly in North Carolina.

South Carolina’s Governor Jim Hodges ordered a mandatory evacuation of as many as 800,000 people in coastal areas NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today as Hurricane Floyd aimed for South Carolina's coast, just a week shy of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo's destructive run through the state. Charleston South Carolina’s Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said that the entire city had to be evacuated, anticipating the eyewall of the storm passing over the metropolitan area.” (North Carolina Register, September 15, 1999, p. 1).

CS 1.0.3 Research Questions

In attempting to tease out how participants negotiated their way into a chat transaction around the Hurricane Floyd issue, I aim to deploy some of the key research problems raised within reader response theory, as a way of thinking about how what a potential chat contributor understands of their selection of conversational gambits, from what they read of already existing chat postings. In reader response terms, my questions involve considering the following issues of chat initiation and continuation:

1. Is the reader the writer who is writing the reader – in other words, do participants adjust to the speech acts of others, or to their own interpretations of those acts?

2. Does the reader or the writer produce meaning within ‘this’ chatroom, or do they create meaning together?

3. How important is the particular chatroom context for the reader-writer interpretive relation?

These three questions, elaborated below, are based on Reader-Response Theory. This may appear a paradoxical framework for a study of “chat”, even within this textualised talk environment of the chatroom. Reader-Response Theory evolved as a re-examination of Literary Reception practices, at a period which has over-stressed the authorial function of literary texts, focusing on author biography or the social context in which literary works were created, with little or no attention paid to the biography or context of the reader – arguably just as influential on the interpretive act of “reading” (see for instance Fish 1990, Iser 1989, 2000, Holland 1968, 1975). Reader-Response Theory analysts study the ways readers’ own life experiences and situations influence the understandings they construct as they read, often tracing interpretive differences according to such social variables as age, gender, ethnicity, or educational background (see for instance studies by Schilb, 1990; Bakhtin, 1994; Holland, 1975; Vandergrift, 1987). The implication central to this view of the reading act is that a text is in fact “co-written” at the point of “reading”, since the writer can offer only a potential reading – or set of potential readings – which the “reader” may or not be able to or choose to follow. To some degree, all readers will reconstruct a version of the text, to suit themselves – thus performing in the act of reading, an act of self-construction or transformation – which may or may not be of lasting influence.  

Reader-Response Theory thus poses some interesting questions for the act of chatroom text-talk, where participants “respond” visibly and immediately to the text-talk of other – usually unknown – “authors”. All participants are here simultaneously writers and readers, constantly adjusting their own and their ‘interlocutors’ texts, and so possibly “selves”. With Reader-Response Theory practitioners then, my research needs to pose for chatrooms such seemingly impenetrable questions as:

·        “Is the reader the writer who is writing the reader?”

In others words, is a chatroom participant in the first instance a reader or a writer – and if they are a reader first, encountering others’ chat before posting their own, is the act of reading a simple and unproblematic  “reception” of “what has been said/written (“posted”), or does this act of reading, like those of the literary texts analysed in Reader-Response Theory, involve the (re)construction of views about the writer, the context, the topic focus, to build a view of “what has been said”. This leads to the second question:

·        “Do the reader or the writer produce meaning within ‘this’ chatroom, or do they create meaning together?”

And finally,

·        “Is there any role played by the location, “this chatroom”, in the meaning-making processing of reader-writers in chatroom”:

That is, how important is the particular chatroom context for the reader-writer interpretive relation? Is it a standard or a location-variable process?

Each of these questions is important to the reading process as the written text creates a reader’s response.

CS 1.1 Methodology


This dialogue was ‘jumped’ in to, in order to replicate the “immersion” experience undergone by most ordinary users of chatrooms – both in their first introduction to a given space, and in subsequent visits.  The complete interaction that I ‘captured’ lasted approximately 20 minutes, and left me with a transcription of 279 lines from 45 speakers.  The participants did not all enter or speak at the same time as they would in a pre-announced moderated chatroom, such as in Case Study Six or in the Postscipt-911, when a certain topic was advertised to be discussed at a specific time. This is one of the most obvious differences between a chatroom transcription and a transcription of a spoken conversation. In chatroom transcription everything enacted is present: what is seen is what there is in a text-based chatroom, whereas in taped transcriptions sounds and pauses must also be recorded. Casual live conversation may have several ‘speakers’ talking at one time. This is also often the case in chatrooms, as contributors’ text-utterances arrive in random order, even though they may have been entered and posted almost simultaneously, but some delayed by the technologies of packet-switching which operate across Internet communications. Because the ‘speakers’ did not all arrive at the same time in the chatroom I have numbered them according to sequential chat-events.

There is thus a visual representation in chat rooms of an orderly and sequential flow of ‘chat events’. This is one of the contradictory situations in chats.  They are at the same both structured and unstructured. This is also chat’s chief departure from casual conversation.  In casual conversation there is no going back to an earlier chunk of speech.  What is said has come and gone and may be referred to only within memory, as it cannot be re-run as ‘captured’ text.  In a chatroom one can scroll back to what was said earlier and respond specifically to that. Below are several of the transcription methods I applied to this case study, and in chapter 3, Methodology (3.5 Protocol of a transcription methodology) I show transcription methods used across all of my study, suggesting some of the ways that this new complexity in such speech conventions as ‘turn-taking” or “code changes” is influenced by chatroom texting practices.

In this chatroom I have taken the raw material and represented it in several formats.  First is the raw data as it appears in the chatroom: for example - (Table 5 

Table 9 Appendix 1.

173.                     <ankash>                      noworry in West NC

174.                      <guest-kodiak> MANDY, whre did you hear that UNCC is closed

175.                      <guest-sweetthing> no trees flying yet thank god

176.                      <EMT-Calvin>  thats whty i have such a peace in my heart tonigjt


It is immediately obvious that while all speakers can be said to stay focused on topic – even 176, whose comment on “peace in my heart” can be resolved in the context of a possible life-threatening experience from the Hurricane – the specifics of each contribution appear to be following a non-consecutive logic. Posting 174 for instance is not addressed to the poster of 173 – unless 174 knows something about “ankash” that we don’t (i.e. that her name is “Mandy”). Posting 175 does not reply to 174, and 176 appears to be either “musing” across all or any of the other contributions, or else responding to some utterance outside this sampling.  While all contributors here can be said to be “writers” by reason of the act of posting, which among them can be shown to be “readers”, interpreting and responding to other text? The sequencing of dialogue is – at least arguably – entirely disrupted, so that little responsive or interactive logic is evident. How then are these “conversations” being constructed? From a sampling such as this, it is possible only to hypothesize that a) there is no dialogue: each participant is operating at least primarily in a monologic mode – a proposition which my subsequent analysis will suggest does have some validity in some cases; or b) that the dialogic mode has been stretched across much longer exchange relations than in live natural conversation, and will need to find a transcription method which can reveal it; or that c) chatroom “readers” are able to perceive and respond to very subtle or newly-coded forms of “topic focus” , and so are “writing” within the “reading” act, in ways not yet analysed within traditional text studies, or linguistically-based conversation analysis.

Each of these hypotheses has some validity within this study, and will be taken up at some point of the subsequent analysis. At this stage however I want to pursue the problem of the extended “response” sequencing in chatrooms. Is it possible to actually locate an “initiation point” for all chatroom utterances: a clear “sourcing” statement, no matter at which degree of extension from the “reply”, which can prove a logical dialogic ordering of the kind proposed for live speech, and required in the act of Reader-Response Theory’s “writerly” or interpretive “reading”?

As a second transcription modeling, I have therefore isolated speakers within chatroom discussions, and grouped each speaker’s text together (table 3  For example the chat-author, <EMT-Calvin> in the sequence below, even though saying as early as chat-event 45 that there will be no more dialogue, is still writing at turn-taking 275.  I did not record any more of this particular chatroom - but the speaker could have gone for much longer.  The point to grouping individual speakers is to attempt to identify specific linguistic patterning within their language: in this case for instance a strongly assertive modality. Each contribution is an unqualified statement: <those folks WILL BE sent back…>; <the locals WILL BE the ones to get jobs>: <folks NEED TO BE CAREFUL>. A strong continuity in the contributions: both linguistic-structural: <And those folks…> and in the response structure: a progressing logic rather than a disruptive one – no ”buts” or “on the other hands” - suggests a consensual discussion with co-contributors. Finally, there is of course a very clearly established antithesis being set up between <those folks> – Mexicans – and “the locals” (who in an interesting appropriation also become “folks”: presumably “THE folks” as opposed to “THOSE FOLKS”) – which supports the rather more overt politics of the equally strongly moralized <folks need to be careful for con artest [confidence artists - researchers note] after the storm…>. In chatrooms there are chatroom-event response gaps which prevent the clear continuities of logic and style being surfaced, as they have been here. But they are clearly present, and equally clearly “readable”, in a “writerly” or high-skilled interpretive way, to chat room participants.


Table 3 Appendix 1.

84. <EMT-Calvin> and those folks will be sent back  to mexico

87. <EMT-Calvin> The locals will be the ones to get jobs

99. <EMT-Calvin> folks need to be careful for con artest after the storm


Even in instances of entry-corruption in a given posting – such as posting ‘99’ and the use of the term “con artest” – respondents are able to maintain an interpretive flow and stay “on topic”. In a third transcription protocol, I have isolated those conversational turns which were most clearly focusing a specific topic. In this case the protocol highlights a discussion topic about Mexican roofers that took place between turns ‘75’ and ‘130’:


104. <KBabe1974>                    /\97 >5              i agree with emt-calvin

105.    <guest-MoreheadCityNC>        /\ 97 >5     Fortunately our best friend is a roofer!

106.     <playball14>    /\97 >7            everybody out for a buck    ufortuneately



Here too, by grouping the various contributions which can be seen to be “responses” to this discussion strand, we can see very clear consensus being established – once again within the linguistic and political repertoires. <Kbabe1974> asserts openly: <I AGREE…”> while <guestMoreheadCityNC> endorses the consensus (on the criminality of itinerant Mexican workers) by expressing relief that he can evade their services: <Fortunately our best friend is a roofer!>, while <playball 14> sighs over a moral judgement: <everybody out for a buck>. <SWMPTHNG>’s over-assertive (capitalized) entry can thus be read as a bid to join the consensus, rather than to actively oppose it: <YOU AIN’T TALKING ABOUT MEX ROOFERS ARE YOU?> suggesting the following gambit: “Thought I recognized the sort of complaints”, rather than something more like “How dare you: my best friends are Mexican”. This is thus another consensual bid, underlined by the abbreviation “Mex”, one among a long, sad vocabulary of ethnic-marking diminutives usually found in racialised discourses, though in a chatroom “Mex” could be an abbreviation for “Mexican” as often words are shortened to fit into the rapidly scrolling chat appearing on screen.

Grouping “response statements” in this way does then indicate the sorts of “interpretive reading” demonstrated in reader-response analyses. These respondents are working from cues operating at both the ideological level of content - such as lexical selection: “Mex roofers”, and from syntactical positioning: <Fortunately…> … <I agree…>. Even the use of class or regional dialectical usages, such as ‘’aint” or “folks”, invites consensual identification at the level of community. “Folks” round here say “aint” – and are suspicious of “Mex roofers.” “Fortunate” folks have friends who will do their roofing properly, and not just “for a buck”. These “writers” are “reading” each others cues in heavily reciprocal ways – especially given the quite restricted length of the utterances used.

Fourthly I have created a transcription protocol which can frame two ‘speakers’ interactions. This helps to display the inconsequence of all other dialogue being placed in the chatroom between the utterances of two interacting chatters, and so let us see whether a) chatters appear to be uninfluenced by the interpolated strands of “other” conversations, or b) in some way respond to them as they formulate (“write-read”) their responses to their active dialoguing partner, or c) engage in multiple strands of response simultaneously, or d) “receive” or are influenced by all utterances, and somehow display their reactions in their “returns” directed only to certain utterers. Below for instance, <ankash> jumps across 6 utterances to make her “second” contribution – but who is she addressing? The only possible answer is <guest-sweetthing>, assuring <ankash> that all is well in Concord North Carolina (NC) – presumably where <ankash>’s sister lives – and that <ankash> sends her respondent kisses (“XX”) and intensifies her guest-name from <sweetthing> to <SweetNsexy> – perhaps even a pun on “NC”. The response indicates a deeper relationship of familiarity than the text provides for the uninitiated “reader” – such as us – and reminds us that there are within this form of reading as many possible layers of past experience with these texts as with the literary texts of Reader-Response Theory. Here too there is a cumulative “intertextuality” of overt and covert references, which initiated and uninitiated, experienced or inexperienced, “readers” pick up. But here this inter-text also contains the clutter of other dialogues, which may or may not at any moment intrude upon and influence the reading/writing.




<ankash> Jersey knows, my sis lives there and she is out of school tomorrow, she is a teacher.



<Kitteigh-Jo>   They are better than frogs spiders  are my thing



<playball14>    oh really






<EMT-Calvin> dont have to worry about someone telling me to report to worl



<EMT-Calvin> k



<lookout4110> How ya holding up Werblessed?



<ankash> Thanks XXsweetNsexy!


Here, <Kitteigh-Jo> may be contributing something completely irrelevant to any “hurricane talk” and impossible to access by anyone except her immediate conversational interactant – or she may be commenting on folk beliefs in the pre-storm behaviours of various animal species, and their reliability as early-warning agents: a topic which could be picked up and recognized by other members of the chatroom. And it is also worth examining the small “corrective” contribution made by <EMT-Calvin> at utterance ‘72’, where he recognises his previous mis-spelling of the word “work”, and adds the <k>. This tiny incident shows very clearly the “reading” role of the writer, and the desire to clarify for other readers the comment being made. Chatroom “writers” clearly do read back contributions appearing in the chatroom dialogue box – noting even their own errors – so that the chances of all participants ignoring all contributions other than those from their direct interlocutor are thus diminished. It will be worthwhile examining the full sequencing of future transcriptions, to analyse the influence of the “clutter” between reciprocal strands, as well as the clearly emergent conversational dialogues. To borrow a term from genetics, this “junk” posting may turn out to be as significant and as meaningful as what was originally called “junk DNA” – the segments of gene sequences considered uncoded and undecodable, but which subsequently turned out to be as important as recognizable key sequences, embedding their codes and supporting their messages. 

So what creates this clearly new and developing form of interactive “texted” talk exchange, and moves it towards the directions we are beginning to see in its distinctive development? Before one can engage in a chatroom conversation one needs certain technical requirements – and some of these technologically controlled contexts influence the posting behaviours we are seeing. 

Firstly, chatroom ‘talkers’ need a means with which to communicate such as a personal computer, or other transmission device. Currently mobile phones, palm computers, laptop computers as well as desktop computers are used in chatroom dialogue. Communicating via chatroom is available in many airports worldwide, as well as on planes, trains, buses and ships and within shopping centres, and even restaurants. This extension of a “private” or “personal” form of communication – a feature clear from its current formation around the talk-exchanges of casual “chat” rather than the more formal textual genres of business documents or “literary” writing – into mobile technologies and public spaces has already blurred the social contexts of this chat. “Private” talk on mobile phones is now quite commonly enacted in company of strangers, while as we have seen, strangers are able to achieve rapid consensual talk, in the midst of many surrounding unrelated dialogic exchanges. The growing availability of access to these new talk-texting technologies – even the somewhat perverse emergence of texting via the audio-device of the mobile phone - will mean that eventually it will be as common to chat via computers and as easy as making a phone call.

Short Messaging Services, (SMS) like chatrooms are a rapidly growing way of communicating. Currently, there are approximately 16 billion SMS messages sent globally each month.   The tables below show the growth of Internet-borne instant messenger services (IMs are discussed further in Case Study 2):


Unique Users of Instant Messaging Services
At Home-Work Combined in the US

Source - Media Metrix ( - 2002)


Unique Users (in thousands








All Web and Digital Media







Rollup of Instant Messaging Services














MSN Messenger Service







AOL Instant Message*







Yahoo! Messenger







ICQ Instant Message















Media Metrix
Instant Messaging Services-Average Minutes Spent Per Month Per Person
At Home-Work Combined in the US

Source - Media Metrix ( - 2002)


Average Minutes Per Month








All Web and Digital Media







Rollup of Instant Messaging Services





















Yahoo! Messenger







AOL Instant Message*







ICQ Instant Message







MSN Messenger Service







Minutes Spent Per Month Per Person

Media Metrix
Instant Messaging Services - Average Days Used Per Person Per Month
At Home-Work Combined in the

Source - Media Metrix ( - 2002)


Average Days Per Month








All Web and Digital Media







Rollup of Instant Messaging Services














Yahoo! Messenger














ICQ Instant Message







MSN Messenger Service







AOL Instant Message*








 But of more significance for this study is the degree to which chatroom participants must develop different communicative skills and strategies in order to participate in both forms of texted chat talk.  One often overlooked is simple typing ability. The fast typist has an advantage – although perhaps one equalized by the necessity to learn new non-alphabetic commands on the mobile phone keyboard in order to SMS; a signal too that the emergence of the sorts of specialist “graphic coding” of such symbolic forms as emoticons and recombinant keyboard usage – for instance phonetic and acronymic compounds such as “C U 4 T @ 3pm” – is rapidly evolving completely new types of communicative ability.  At the same time, there are clearly certain requirements of face-to-face conversation that need to be adapted in order to converse electronically.

The overt processes involved in language, the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking (see CS 1.2.2 ‘Linguistic skills’ below) change their focus dramatically in a chatroom. Electronic conversation is carried on most successfully through a process-task approach. The emphasis is put on reading and writing and the processes of listening and speaking are done through text on the screen we are reading from. This in itself adds to the complexity of the text-talk process – and to even begin to see its differences, we need to consider the act of text creation and use in far more detailed ways.

Each of the process-tasks of reading and writing is composed of component sub-skills. Grabe (1992:50-3) lists six in particular in the case of reading. These are: 1) the perceptual automatic recognition skill; 2) linguistic skills; 3) knowledge and skills of discourse structure and organisation; 4) knowledge of the world; 5) synthetic and critical evaluation skills; and 6) metalinguistic knowledge and skills (McCarthy, 1999).  Below I will consider the use of each of these sub-skills in the analysis of ‘Storm’. But before moving to such detailed analysis, it is important to return to the major precepts of reader-response theory, to remind ourselves of the ways in which the variant “process tasks” we will uncover in the chatroom, came into being in the service of these new communicative groups.

CS 1.2 Reader-Response theory


For Reader-Response Theory, there can be no pre-ordained ways of approaching and interpreting texts. No matter how far an author may attempt to control the reading of a text: no matter how overt his positioning of his preferred reader, for what he may think is the ideal reading, actual readers will create variant interpretations. And in the chatroom, where no posting can be made without an initial reading – where even the first participant of the day who “arrives” on site will “read” that circumstance and comment on it (perhaps with “Hi! All alone here: doesn’t anybody use this space?”) – the authorial role of the “utterer” is heavily dependant for its continuance on the ongoing act of reading.

Most simply put, it is the participant-observer in the chatroom, the writer-reader of the text, who influences and is influenced by the chat milieu. But while this is at one level a shared and negotiative act, it is at another a private and self-assertive one.

A group of readers together in a reading environment, often a classroom or a library, sometimes for extended periods of time may be thought of as an interpretive community. Although this is a community of readers, a particular reader's initial engagement with a text is ordinarily a private event with meanings internally experienced in the consciousness of that reader and not necessarily shared (Vandergrift, 1987, p. 34).

As Vandergrift states above, a group of readers together in a reading environment may be viewed as an ‘interpretive community’ – perhaps producing the sort of consensus seen above in the “Mexican roofers” discussion during the Storm chats.  In this case study I will argue that online chatters are just such a community of readers, who engage with one another, usually, after they have read and given meaning to a prior utterance. Even before they become engaged in a chatroom conversation, participants need to read the title of the chatroom, so as to ‘go’ to a particular chatroom, selected for one of many possible reasons: for example, to gather information, meet others or to proclaim a position.

Reading is as important to writing, and as prior to its enactment, as listening is to speaking (see Fiumara, 1995). It is the response to the text by the reader that evokes the written dialogue of the reader-writer-listener-speaker in a chatroom. For example, the two extracts analysed below show  that one person reads what another has written and answers it. But it is how another person reads the turn takings which determines whether a correct response is given.

145 <BASSALE53> im from conn its heading our way

146 <guest-kodiak> where did you hear this


In turn 145 <BASSALE53>, making the first entry in what is thus far captured, is stating that the storm is headed toward Connecticut and <guest-kodiak> seemingly responds, asking where this information was gathered from. But this is an assumed answer, interpreted as such only if one were reading these lines sequentially and had just entered the chatroom prior to turn 145 and had not read any previous lines.  However, scrolling back to an earlier utterance of <guest-kodiak> in turn 127 <does anyone know why UNCC has not closed> has a response in turn 138, <uncc is closed>, from <guest-mandy> and <guest-kodiak>’s response could be to <guest-mandy> and not to <BASSALE53>. A few turns later, at turn 148,  it is revealed that <guest-kodiak> was indeed not responding to the turn before of <BASSALE53> but instead to <guest-mandy> and this is clear with <guest-kodiak>’s next response <i didnt know uncc was closed>. Putting together all the turns of <guest-kodiak> we see there is no concern about the storm heading toward Connecticut and <BASSALE53> makes no more contributions to this particular chat during the ‘captured’ period.  <guest-kodiak> is not reading carefully or he or she would have seen that <guest-mandy> in turn 140 has already answered the question, perhaps thinking that someone would ask where he or she had received the information by giving the source of the information <gocarolinas .com>. <guest-kodiak> makes three enquiries as to where this information was collected from, in turn 146 <where did you hear this>, turn 150 <it doesnt say it on any of the broadcasts> and in turn 174 <MANDY, whre did you hear that UNCC is closed>.

127 <guest-kodiak> does anyone know why UNCC has not closed

138 <guest-mandy> uncc is closed

140 <guest-mandy> gocarolinas .com

146 <guest-kodiak> where did you hear this

148 <guest-kodiak> i didnt know uncc was closed

150 <guest-kodiak> it doesnt say it on any of the broadcasts

174 <guest-kodiak>  MANDY, whre did you hear that UNCC is closed


Not only is the reader reading a previously posted text, but as he or she becomes the writer, it is clear that they are also reading their own writing at the same time as they are writing. There is, in effect, a metatextual awareness obvious.  In some chatrooms[2] we can even see what is being written at the same time as everyone else in the chatroom does. 

Furthermore, a reader may respond, even before the first utterance is complete.  The responder anticipates the remainder of the writer’s thoughts. This moves the chatroom’s “conversational” style into yet another realm of Reader-Response Theory, involving more than simply reading the text.

I am concerned with online conversation which is text based[3]. When I began this thesis (1998) textual interfaces in chatrooms were the norm, following the early stages of direct online communication, when e-mail, newsgroups and chat-rooms were developed (Zakon, 1993-2002; Lynch, 2002). Text based chatrooms are easy to download to computers as they do not take a lot of computer memory to operate. As computers have become more powerful however, chatrooms have developed multimedia applications such as web cams and voice based systems for chatters to add to their conversation (See Virtual Web Cams at which boasts more than one-thousand sites with web cameras for any topic). As a medium for exchanging ideas, communicating using text online has a number of qualities that are useful in exchanging information, the text is highly adaptable.  The alphanumeric keyboard is common[4], and therefore people can assemble discourses on any topic. Using emoticons and abbreviations, discourse online can be quite expressive. Communication can be done in almost any situation.

Reader-Response Theory can be used to reveal the complex web of authorship, readership and intersubjectivity established in the chatroom texting activity. The first difficulty in using an unmodified Reader-Response Theory is however that it is often impossible to identify the author. The author may be using an avatar or username representative of some aspect of him or her self that is being revealed, stressed or constructed at that particular time. For example, <ANGELICSTAR> says <MY PRAYERS ARE WITH ALL OF YOU ON THE EAST COAST....takecare....bye>. The posting so suits the name as to suggest a careful crafting of an online persona, which colours the content and modalities of the contributions. But online, an  author is even able to have a multiple-representation of him or herself within the same chatroom, by having several usernames at the same time (See Case Study 4 for further discussion of multiple usernames). Another complication of reading chatrooms, is the   fact that not only is the author unknown, but the reader is equally  unknown, and therefore unpredictable in response.[5]

The reader of the text is defined variously by such theorists as Umberto Eco, who writes of ‘The model reader’ (1979); Julia Kristeva: ‘The ideal reader’ (1986), Wolfgang Iser, ‘the ideal  "implied” reader’ (1978); and Fish’s (1980) ’informed reader,’[6] while Gadamer talks about the  “original reader”[7], and Barthes gives total  power over  the text to the reader[8], going as far as to say that the reader is 'no longer the consumer but the producer of the text' in his writing on ‘the death of the author’ (See Introduction 1.3.1). There are others who offer variations on this  construed ‘perfect reader’, and almost any discussion of philosophy, psychology, or sociology will have discussions on who the reader is. But who is the proper reader in a chatroom? After careful examination of many varying types of chatroom talk-text, I believe that any definition must include the idea that the perfect reader in a chatroom is one who is able to interact with what is written, so that others can in turn respond to what he or she writes. In other words, the chatroom reader is dually an author: in the Reader-Response Theory sense of co-constructing the “read” text, and in the sense of enabling the talk-text flows by enacting that “active-receptive” role.

The only way we can know if someone has responded in a chatroom to what we wrote is by what they write in answer. The person in the chatroom can perform one of two roles or both roles. One is the role of the witness, who is at one level the reader; the second is the role of the responder; the one who in turn writes, or speaks. Even before the roles are enacted, there is the choice of whether to play both roles.  For example, one can lurk[9] in a chatroom: read only, and not respond.  In Case Study One, there were 48 participants who took 279 turns (Appendix One, table 10). However, four of the 48 people in the chatroom made only introductory comments - although it may be impossible to consider them as classic lurkers, as they entered toward the end of my recording of this event, and may subsequently have contributed. However, they showed they had taken on a lurker’s attributes by commenting on earlier dialogue, such as at turn 208 <BayouBear> saying, ‘LA sent a bunch of crews NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today’, signifying that he or she knew what the chatroom topic was about.  

The classic convolution of the Reader-Response Theory question posed at the beginning of this chapter: whether ‘the reader is the writer who is writing the reader’, is firstly explored for chatroom texts by asking, ‘Does the reader or the writer produce meaning within this chatroom, or do they create meaning together?’ Reading-Response theory claims that a text, any text, has no meaning whatsoever until it is actually read (Iser, 1978; Eco, 1979; Kristeva, 1996). Other writers examine such active or interpretive reading from a psychological perspective (Holland, 1975; Barthes, 1970; Fish, 1990) and take into account the reader’s mindset and what they bring to the text from their personal experiences, which, in turn, influences their interpretation of the text. Language features that are common to all communication are what makes interpretation possible. Using Reader-Response theory to bring meaning to a chatroom text is dependent on various language skills.

Language features

The following features of language common to all communication are relevant to an analysis of chat by means of Reader-Response Theory and will be discussed in this study: skills of shared language; linguistic skills; knowledge of the world skills and metalinguistic knowledge and skills. Each has relevance to our interpretation (Bruti, 1999). To be able to communicate effectively, one needs to have at least two of the four skills needed to share language; reading, writing, listening and speaking. There are other means of communication that can be used in person-to-person communication, such as body language, but the overt processes involved in language sharing are some combination of these four.

CS 1.2.1 Skills of shared language 


In text based chatrooms we take away the two skills of listening and speaking. We are left with reading and writing as the only means of sharing information. In this model, for an online shared language, I would equate ‘listening’ with reading and ‘speaking’ with writing. Reading and listening are as active as writing and speaking are (see especially Fiumara, 1995 and Ihde, 1973, 1991). We have to combine reading and writing with the understanding of symbols and abbreviations to correspond with the chatroom language. If people are using the same emoticons and abbreviations as others in the chatroom but they ascribe different meanings to them then the communication will fail. It has been noted that the links between reading and writing, for example, have been emphasized to such an extent that it is now normal to see them referred to as "literacy" (Wray & Medwell, 1991, p. 3). It is not difficult to say the same thing about online communication. As chat-languages (this includes SMS Messaging[10]) become more widely used they will be accepted as online-literacy. In Case Study Three I will use semiotic analysis to examine how “rich” in significations such literacy can become. Within the frame of Reader-Response Theory however, it is enough to indicate that, in the absence of those intonational and gestural cues available in live speech communicative relations, the “active” or “writerly” reader will be open to any enhancements which can help enrich their reception of a talk-text element.

Each of the "four skills" of reading, writing, listening and speaking are composed of sub-skills, according to Grabe[11]. I have adapted the following six skills necessary in order to create a meaning sphere from chatroom readings,[12] these are, the perceptual automatic recognition skill’, ‘linguistic skills’, ‘knowledge and skills of discourse structure and organisation’, ‘knowledge of the world’, ‘synthetic and critical evaluation skills’ and ‘metalinguistic knowledge and skills’. ‘Perceptual automatic recognition skill’ demonstrates the semiotic argument that perception of a meaningful new system of coding is a “language” in evolution.

’Recent findings on language processing suggest that basic strategies focusing on the most important words in a text for example, and activating background schemata are the same in listening and reading...’ (Danks & End, 1985; Lund, 1991). Despite the wealth of experience this offers chatroom participants in relation to ’reading‘ chaotic texts: those more akin to ’multilog‘ live chat in crowded social settings, chatroom technology limits the degree to which ’complex‘ texts can be uttered: those with sufficient richness to alert recipients to complexities in their meaning. With the fast paced conversation in most chatrooms, if someone writes a long text, others in the chatroom are not able to read and grasp the whole text before dozens of new texts make the message disappear on the screen. Therefore, in an active chatroom with dozens of people speaking, only the words which stand out are noted. Below is an example of a contribution with too many words and a response to it. It can only be assumed that <guest-MisterD1> is responding to <SWMPTHNG> or the change of the topic of the conversation from turn 77 when Mexican roofers are being discussed.  Because <guest-MisterD1> has not made any contributions since turn 45 it can be assumed this response was made to some element  in regard to the last dozen or so turns, and <SWMPTHNG>’s posting is the most likely – here interpretable at several levels, but above all indicative of the impossibility of addressing all levels at once: the racism of the content perhaps; the complexity of the complete message, coded by its relative length, and the over-assertive nature of its “shouted” use of capitals.



93. <guest-MisterD1>              sigh...


CS 1.2.2 Linguistic skills


In normal reading situations one is able to re-read a statement, passage, chapter or even a whole book to locate what the author is saying. In writing, even in e-mails, we can change what we wish to say, and edit the text – even re-run our comments after posting, if we need to correct things. There is control over what is conveyed. However, in chatrooms we seldom have the time to reread, let alone rewrite text.  Are we to trust the words we read?  What about the words we write?  If we are in a conversation on the Internet, and we want to have an exchange of meaning, and our spelling and typing are a disaster, how do we say what we have to say? What linguistic skills do we need to communicate effectively on the Internet? 

Observation shows that the ability to communicate in a chatroom is not based on conventional assessments of command of language, but on an entirely new set of skills.  As these evolve, the formal rules governing the language in use are overturned and adapted. At some point in our language acquisition, we learn rules of sentence structure and word order. We learn how to use pronouns to replace noun phrases, or the order of adjectives before a noun or when to use plurals.  In chatrooms we seem to pay little attention to such rules of grammar. I investigate grammar in Case Study Six (CS 6.2.3) and will only mention this in passing here, as an illustrative point to the creativity of how people communicate online, under the constraints of a high-paced keyboarded texting.

In turn 176 <EMT-Calvin> writes,


176.      thats whty i have such a peace in my heart tonigjt


and in turn 217  he  or she writes,


217.     i am one of the carteret county personal for ems and fire we evacuated the beach and barrior islands NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today


The two examples sound almost as if they could be two different people. Turn 174 is not particularly literate, in conventional terms, compared to turn 214, although there seems to be more accuracy in grammar and textual structure, and even a literary turn of phrase.  It would take longer to write the 20 words in 214 than the 11 words in 173, and yet the spelling is correct, even for complex lexical items such as the Latinate “evacuated” or the proper nouns for place names.  Because we have no idea of what someone is doing when communicating in a chatroom - any number of simultaneous tasks is possible - we cannot know why  a participant  writes the way they do in a chatroom.  What produces the shifts in formal literacy levels between postings 174 and 214 is impossible to fathom – but for the reader such individual elements as the dropping of punctuation ’that’s‘; of capitals ’Carteret‘; the use of uncapped abbreviations: ’ems‘; spelling errors: ’personal‘for ‘personnel‘; run-on sentences ‘… we evacuated the beach…’ can all be over-ridden in the act of reconstructive reception. There appears to be no sense of discontinuity as linguistic control over formal presentational levels shifts in quality: yet another way in which the interpreting “reader” contributes actively to the formation of these texts.

Within a given language system and its social contexts of use, we also learn various social aspects of language usage, such as when to use slang, to make racist or political statements, and when not to. Here, Grabe’s category involving knowledge and skills in discourse structure become relevant. To contribute meaningfully to a discussion, it is necessary to be familiar at some level with the understandings and terms used within that topic: to understand and be able to deploy its particular language practices. For example, in turn 77, <SWMPTHNG> writes,


There were no statements about Mexican roofers or anything to do with roofing prior to this utterance.  Furthermore, <SWMPTHNG> had contributed four turns in the chat which I captured, and nothing implied that he would begin a conversation about Mexicans, with a racist tone. To initiate such a discourse in the absence of previous explicit cues indicates that <SWMPTHNG> sees himself as comfortably amongst friends, or like minded individuals, and so able to begin this thread. Indicators from the previous talk exchanges however reveal only reciprocal flows on other topics, suggesting that <SWMPTHNG> reads the easily fluent FORM of these exchanges as equivalent to a linguistic “habitus”, perhaps similar to his experience of both his ‘lived” speech community, and/or to other chat spaces, in which the politics he is about to reveal – the racialised discourse he is about to enter – are permissible and expected.  I will discuss this issue of “linguistic or discursive comfort level” more when I speak about the theorist, Holland, who takes a more overtly psychological approach, and says that we may infer what we communicate, with our individualized self.  <SWMPTHNG> is revealing that he or she is comfortable with expressing opinions and whether it is racial slurs or not it does not matter. The author in this chatroom is free to speak, as there is no one monitoring the room. I discuss moderated chatrooms in Case Study Six.

We need to apply prior knowledge and experience when trying to make sense of utterances. The goal is not to understand words, per se, so much as to understand the ideas behind the words. And yet, in a chatroom, words are all we have: words from  many different contexts and so arising within many divergent discursive frames – and yet all scrolling in standardized form across a standardized screen in a standardized font. Communicating in a chatroom is akin to learning a new way to apply language.  Yet beneath our use of it as either reader or writer lies the standard social expectations of communication: that there will be at the foundation of each talk-texting gambit an intention to communicate something: a rationally motivated and executed act, which can be interpreted accurately and responded to.

The core of psychological understanding revolves around the notion of motive—desire, want, wish, reason. We understand an action when we know what motivated it. The motives for action are usually clear, since action itself usually indicates the motive that prompts it. Why am I paying money to the cashier in a supermarket? So that I can buy food and eventually eat it. We generally act in order to fulfill our manifest wishes. Sometimes the motives for action can be obscure, as when you see me searching frantically in a drawer and don't know that I left a lot of money in there and now can't find it. Motives are internal mental states that cause action and that make sense of actions; action is seen as rational in the light of motives that lead to it. We apply this reasoning to both the motivation for the ideas of a text as well as to the author's motive for writing that text.
(McGinn, 1999).

The motivation for a text in a chatroom is not easily  known, since it can only be interpreted from the text on the screen – filtered through the “reader’s” own experiential pre-dispositions.  Is the writer attempting to change the course of the dialogue, upset others who have a topic of discussion in process, sell something or use any of an array of tactics for a personal reason? Motivation can only be assumed. In the Hurricane Floyd chatroom the overriding motivation appears to be to find out information on the whereabouts of the storm. Within that chat however, there are personal beliefs stated by several users that take the topic of the storm into a much wider area of discussion. For example, even though the discussion is on the storm, one chatter below shares his or her religious belief in regard to the dangers of the impending storm, while another presents yet more opinions about Mexicans.  As responses one to the other, these exchanges make little sense  - in fact invite a reading suggesting the rather alarming view that Jesus will intervene to fight off marauding Mexican roofers. Within the “local” context of the scrolling exchanges however, there has been enough “experience” of this debate so far, to permit participants to “read” each posting from within its correct thread – just as, within the “local” contexts of religious faith and racialised politics, participants are able to recognize a particular discursive strategy being deployed.

121. <KikoV> we got gun laws to deal with them.........


161. <EMT-Calvin> i have faith in jesus

Knowledge and skills of discourse structure and organization


Discourse structures refer to the specific levels of skill in reading and writing which involve the analytical capacity to determine and select in response the “correct” phonology, morphology and syntax for use in a certain communicative context. Discourse structures mediate the interrelationship between language and society, allowing <EMT-Calvin> to assert his religious belief with such suitable terms as “faith”, and to offer such a comment at the suitable moment in a talk exchange, where issues of danger and deliverance are being discussed. They are the bridges built between what language systems offer, and that category titled “Knowledge of the world”, which Grabe (1992) suggests allows us to reciprocate in conversation: to build in our own minds a sense that we are sharing meanings with others.

In this Case Study, the knowledge of the world is localized to knowledge of the East Coast of the United States of America: a place of storms, but also a place of religious faith, and of ethnic tension – both of which are evoked as discursive frames by varying participants, as if ’natural‘ within talk about such a ’local‘ topic. Notice the constant flow of specific place names and location cues, acting to anchor this talk around its event – but also to ease it into likely “local” discourse selections.  Though there are chatters who say they are from California and one from Canada, they are still knowledgeable about the storm. Whether or not they are able to quite so comfortably move into the extended discursive positionings on race and on religion which we see here, is more problematic. To be able to converse fully in a chatroom we need to be able to both share topic matter and be part of the discourse. 

Metalinguistic knowledge and skills

At first sight, chatrooms seem as close to being pre-literate as they are to being an advanced literate textual state. Language appears to be in a process of being broken down to its simplest rudimentary format. At the same time there is a certain advanced form of communication involved, when one is limited to a few words to state irony, belief structures or humour, and so required to have a command of enough emoticons and abbreviations to create meaningful interaction. Metalinguistic ability is the capacity to think about and talk about language, or the function of language in referring to itself; cf. metalanguage which is called by Jakobson the 'metalingual' function:

“The metalingual function is focused on the verbal code itself, that is, on language speaking of itself, its purpose being to clarify the manner in which the verbal code is used…” Jakobson, 1960 p. 365.


In the ‘Reader-Response Theory’ critical approach, the primary focus falls on the reader and on the process of reading rather than on the author of the text.  There are two basic theoretical assumptions in Reader-Response Theory. The first is that each reading is a performance, similar to performing a musical work, etc. The text exists only when it is read, giving rise to a new meaning, which in this case, becomes an event. The second assumption is that the literary text has no fixed and final meaning or value; there is no one ”correct" meaning. Textual meaning and value are ’transactional,’ or ’dialogic,’ created by the interaction of the reader and the text.

There are many reasons why a person may be in a chatroom and this may determine how the text is read. For example:

·          Pleasure (assumed as this person does not live in the storm area but seems to be just saying hello)

Turn 96. <guest Jojo> Hello Folks~Greetings from Canada~~ How are you holding out down there?

·          Identification,

104. <KBabe1974> i agree with emt calvin

·         Information seeking,

89. <lookout4110> Have the winds been strong?

·        Looking for companionship,

198. <ankash> ImFLOYD would you like to chat privately?

·        Assertion of personal beliefs,

121. <KikoV> we got gun laws to deal with them.........

·        Beliefs (Gun laws - see CS 1:8)


161. <EMTCalvin> i have faith in jesus


We can also see chatroom turn taking as a transaction, much as Louis Rosenblatt did with her transactional theory model for literary analysis.  In Literature as Exploration (1938) she saw reading as a transaction between reader and text. For Rosenblatt, as for other proponents of Reading-Response theory, meaning is as dependent upon the reader as it is dependent upon the text.  There is no universal, absolute interpretation of a text; rather, there can be several probable interpretations, depending in part upon what the reader brings to the text. In other words for Rosenblatt, the reader is not passive. This is obviously the case in chatrooms where the reader shows his or her assertiveness through writing a response to an earlier text, or by submitting a statement, opinion or question to the chatroom. 

 Participants are able to scan back to earlier contributions, or perhaps hold them in memory, and to add in a reply specific to a particular comment, no matter the sequencing of contributions arriving since on the site. While the direct sequential juxtapositioning of texts creates an ”intertext” of one type (chaotic, random, inconsequential) the capacity to “suspend” these “random” flows, and to selectively create meaningfully responsive ones, lies at the core of the chatroom ethos. For example in the table below <guest-kodiak> asks a general question to anyone in the chatroom [i.e. there is not a user name in the request] and in turn 138, <guest-mandy> answers and in turn 146 <guest-kodiak> questions <guest-mandy>.

127 <guestkodiak> does anyone know why UNCC has not closed

138  <guestmandy> uncc is closed

146 <guestkodiak> where did you hear this


There is more discussion on this matter in the next hundred turns I recorded. However, this is an example of meaning generating within a chatroom where a simple question elicits an answer, even though there was not a follow up answer. As a matter of fact <guest-mandy> makes no more contribution to this chat and we can assume perhaps he or she left the arena of chat.

Stanley Fish (1990) like Wolfgang Iser (2000) focuses on how readers adjust to the text. Fish is interested in the developing responses of the reader in relation to the words of sentences as they follow one another in time.[13] This perspective is useful for an analysis of chatroom talk in many ways.  One interesting and quite frequent case is where the writer, usually through pushing the return or enter key on the keyboard by mistake, says only half of what they had intended to say, and the remainder of their utterance appears several turns later.    For example,

Turn 278 <IMFLOYD> i've got a sister........want to see

Turn 281 <IMFLOYD> her she is again


In a sex chatroom, turn 275 would have received a different response.  Here no one commented on the oddness of this phrasing. Reading this text it is possible to use the context of the ongoing discussion to see that <IMFLOYD> is saying he is concerned about seeing his sister. Knowing this is a chatroom about a hurricane we  can  assume, as other online readers appear to do, that  <IMFLOYD> is hoping to see  his  sister because the storm may have a bad effect on her. So it seems that there is evidence enough to show that readers are able to use at least the current context of discussion to reconstruct meaning where only partial contributions are presented. And from the analysis above (dealt with in more detail in Case Study Three below) of the shift to a “racialised” discourse during conversation ostensibly on the approaching storm, (the Mexican roofers chat sequence), we can deduce that chatroom “readers“ are also able to make assumptions about broader social, cultural and even political contexts, to the extent of believing that they are operating in an environment of shared belief.


How is it then that we process such textual cues? Is this learned from the practices of intertextual linking, established within our reading background and acquired alongside literacy – or is it a part of our dialogic skills developed in talk: a central feature of “natural conversation“, rehearsed in everyday chat, and transferred across into text-based chatroom behaviours? How much more can our text-based “reading“ traditions tell us of the chatroom texting act?

Phenomenological approach to reading


The phenomenological method accounts for the reading process by focusing on what happens in the reader's mind as he or she reads (Iser, 1990; Fish, 2000; Holland, 1968). Fish defines his own phenomenological approach as ’an analysis of the developing responses of the reader in relation to the words as they succeed one another in time’ (Fish, 1980).  This definition of how a reader assesses meaning could accurately be applied to real time written Reader-Response Theory in a medium such as a chatroom or SMS messages on a mobile (cell) phone. Where the “”flow” of words suits the already-established contexts of both the chat session itself, and the “chatters” in their broader social settings, a consensual flow of “developing responses” occurs – as we have seen in examples above. More indicative of how chat practice differs from other forms of “conversation” or writer-reader exchange however, are those moments at which a writer introduces a directional change.  In chatrooms this change can drag several others along.  For instance, speaker <SWMPTHNG> begins to speak about Mexican roofers in a negative way in turn 75, 


which leads <EMT-Calvin> in turn number 82 to say

Turn 84 <EMT-Calvin> and those folks will be sent back to mexico.


During this exchange, with the topic being offered by <SWMPTHNG>, six other people added comments. There were a total of 23 speakers during the turn taking between 75 and 130 (see table 5 in Appendix One) with seven, 30 percent, being part of this thread regarding Mexican roofers. This dialogue was thus 20 percent of the chat during this time. How <SWMPTHNG> leads close to one-third of the chatters to follow his/her views is strategically and technically similar to how topics are changed and people follow in face-to-face conversation. In Case Study four, where I look at chatroom talk using Conversational Analysis, I discuss the rules for  turn taking in conversation, using the work on CA by Slade and Eggins (1997), John Austin (1962), Robert Nofsinger (1991), H Sacks (1974), E. Schegloff (1974), and Deborah Tannen (1989).

In phenomenological studies of language meanwhile, speech (the particular signifying act) is considered to precede writing (the field of signifying possibility), in that an utterance must exist as a “phenomenon” to which the interpretive receiver responds. Such interpretation, calling on multiple repertoires of contextual cultural experience, is thus in itself a form of “writing”: a linking of the uttered “clues” back to their possible significatory referents. However in a chatroom, speech itself – the act of uttering - becomes the written text.  Writing in chatrooms is thus always a signifying act at the same time as it is filled with signifying possibilities, i.e. one can initiate or respond in any number of ways, with the expectation of intersecting the “preferred readings” of at least some of the many participants present.

The phenomenological theory of art lays full stress on the idea that, in considering the literary work, one must take into account not only the actual text but also, and in equal measure, the actions involved in responding to that text (Iser 1978, p. 43)


In chatrooms this analytical consideration of the act of reception of a text extends forward, into a complex mesh of “pre-consideration” of that reception process. This is  conversation OVER-heard as well as heard, and at least semi-archived, in that while contributions scroll quickly through dialogue boxes, they do remain on screen long enough for experienced chatters to run multiple threads simultaneously. Isolating one speaker, <EMT-Calvin>, in the turns below we can see he or she goes from telling what the weather is, to discussing Mexican roofers, to answering questions, to giving information.






hahahaha lol



That weather building in cherryt point says it s 126 degrees in cherry point



well folks im signing off here



i need some sleep



i like being self employed



dont have to worry about someone telling me to report to worl






and those folks will be sent back  to mexico



The locals will be the ones to get jobs



folks need to be careful for con artest after the storm



i aint worried our new 99 home is under warrentyu



morehead guess how many tie downs are on here



68 tie downs



well our home is really not considered double wide



folks my God is able



i have faith in jesus



if he aint done with me



 i wont get hurt



thats whty i have such a peace in my heart tonigjt



so howdy neighbor



but i know alot of graphms



i am a member with beaufort ems



folks dont worrry we have got  power crews comiong from other states



i am one of the carteret county personal for ems and fire we evacuated the beach and barrior islands NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today



and a mandatory evacuation for folks in flood prone areas



Swmp are you near paris and



morehead you got a plane at  beaufort air port






and yes i been to topsail beach just last month to unlock a car



hi wes



Im a talkcity op also



i am a room op in room called fire-4-God


The sophistication here rests not in the first instance in the “writing” as “utterance”, but in the phenomenological reception “writing” of attaching those utterances to conversational and broader cultural contexts: to “receive” them as meaningful. The phenomenon of chatroom communication thus doubles the phenomenological “status” of each participatory act, to produce not “writers” and “readers”, but “writer-readers”, who consider the reception of their posting and pre-dispose its possible interpretive ambits, and “reader-writers”, who actively connect the utterances they scan to known contextual repertoires, to render them meaningful. Once again chatroom texts, seemingly so reduced and basic in semantic loading; so primitive and abbreviated in linguistic form, prove to be the complex constructions of a carefully considered communicative processing.  

CS 1.3 Discussion 


The reader is left with everything to do, yet everything has already been done; the work only exists precisely on the level of his abilities; while he reads and creates, he knows that he could always create more profoundly; and this is why the work appears to him as inexhaustible and as impenetrable as an object (Jean-Paul Sartre, What is Literature, 1949, p. 176).


The sorts of pre-dispositioning of interpretation or “reception” involved in chat-reading are captured here in Sartre’s attempt to capture the complex processing of literary texts. Interestingly however, Sartre here, like Eco rather later (1979), glimpses the degree to which the literary texts he is discussing are already heavily invested with what later commentators called “preferred readings”. These pre-empted interpretive strategies are built in to serious literature, which attempts, as Sartre puts it, to already do everything: to make certain that the reader “gets it right”, or reaches the same interpretive conclusions as the writer. Eco goes as far as to suggest that those “popular” literary creations which critics consistently accuse of being “formulaic” or over-simplified in their techniques, actually offer the newly creative and “liberated” reader of the post reader-response moment, MORE freedom to interpret than those of high-literature. In popular texts, according to Eco, everything has NOT ‘already been done’. The formulaic structure leans heavily on prior texts, inviting memory to make comparisons. Plots are often ill-knit, and character motivations unexplained. There is indeed much for the active reader to do: part of what Barthes described as the openness to interpretive “pleasure” in such texts, which he called “writerly” (scriptible), in that they leave the reader to “co-write” in the otherwise incomplete spaces.

Is this part of the “doubling” in role which operates inside chatrooms? While the term “scriptible” or “writerly” is useful in describing the work done by the heavily interpreting chat reader, its opposite: “”lisible” or “readerly”, is used by Barthes and Eco to describe not the “active” interpreting reader of the “open” text, but the “disciplined” and more “passive” readers of literary texts, in which in Sartre’s formula, “everything has already been done”. In chatrooms, where everything is very much still to do – where the rapidity of text entry and scrolling and the multiplicity of strands produces especially “scriptible” texts, entries are far from “lisible”. We thus need not the “either/or” of the old postructural binaries in which Barthes and Eco were at that time working, but the “and-and” of poststructuralism, to allow both “posting participant” and “reading participant” to work on texts which are heavily “scriptible”. Here, I argue that we have both a “writerly writer”, and a “writerly reader”.

CS 1.3.1 Two readings of a chatroom

Chat title


There are two actual moments of reading a participant undertakes in understanding meaning within a chatroom. Firstly, the title of the chatroom is read. Chatrooms are divided into what could be closely referred to as communities and within the communities there are further divisions or rooms. This is like being in a section of a city that appeals to us. Chat servers are large entities with many areas for people to engage in chat[14].  For example, is one of the larger chat servers and it has divided its services into three areas[15]. TalkCity reports more than 10,000 chat sessions a month, and with over 5 million active participants each month it can be seen as a significant city[16]. There are rooms for any topic imaginable and my purpose in visiting the various rooms within the TalkCity arena was to get a “feel” for the variety of conversations in different rooms. I hoped to find whether the chatters carried on conversations which were reflective of the chatroom title. Does the “specific use” chatroom I have been analysing above, the emergency chatroom for Hurricane Floyd, display the same reading techniques as a general chatroom?

I was unable to “capture” dialogue in TalkCity as their rooms appear in java applets, which will not allow cutting or copying and pasting.  My comments therefore, will not discuss cited examples of actual text as I do in the chatrooms in this and other case studies. Instead I will give a general overview to identify whether there is turn-taking as described in the individual case studies above. I was not looking for actual turn-taking in these rooms but to discover whether topics of conversation were based on the title of the chatroom. Here, I sought to find how the writerly-writer who initiates a conversational thread, and the writerly-reader who responds, can be shown to demonstrate especially “open” and “active” strategies of initiating text and responding to it, based on the title of the chatroom. Barthes would see this turn-taking as ever present:

The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages. (S/Z 1975 p. 5)


The eight TalkCity rooms I visited: dealing-with-disability, diddling’n’doodling, flippinchicks, massachusetts_flirts, not-necessarily married, married-lonely-hearts, not-necessarily married and sexy-adults-who-arent-shy, displayed something of the experience of rejection  frequently reported when readers with a predisposition towards “lisible” text enter a chatroom and encounter the apparent chaos and impenetrability of “scriptable” texting. There is so very frequently no neatly-waiting, well-formatted, accessible text to “read”.  Chat seekers have to work hard even to find that “already done for you” site, selecting from variously titled offerings, which may or may not be comprehensible to the uninitiated “newby”.   In this case I had selected the site called dealing-with-disability. I checked into this room on several occasions and there was no one in it.  The time of day I visited was between 9 AM and Noon Australian time which meant the middle of the night in the United States of America.  There was a set topic, “Showing we care”, but as there was no one to chat with I moved on to the next room, my expectations of a topic-focused session thwarted – and since this was not the sort of space in which one “hangs”, motivated simply by a desire to encounter others, I moved on – and assumed that others had done the same. In the  next room, diddling’n’doodling, I expected a far more “open” topic, the sort of invitation towards “scriptibility” which would entice chatters - yet no one was in  this  room either, and there was no one in the flippinchicks room either. I am unsure what either of these titles represents; in fact  my only reason for entering them was due to their unusual names, so that in the total absence of any chat-in-progress cues to topics and behaviours, I was unable to contribute even an opening gambit.

It is possible then that even the very undirected titles of these spaces discourage the “writerly writers” of chat, who seem much more drawn to the totally opportunistic exchanges offered by rooms titled around social relations. For chatters, these spaces are not places for texting around topics, but for talk directed to “meeting people”. In the chatroom, massachusetts_flirts there were 21 visitors. In massachusetts_flirts there was a lot of “talk” with no more than the usual chatroom greetings, “hi”, and the usual predominance of people enquiring whether there were ‘any females who want cybersex’. There were a few topic-strand initiating statements, such as ‘I will never eat McDonalds again’, with no follow up, even by the same person.  It seemed in this chatroom people were just passing time without  an obvious purpose to communicate – or perhaps wishing only to communicate their boredom and opportunistic “cruising”, awaiting the arranged or spontaneous interest-fixing gambit. . This curious semi-engagement, half cruising half lurking, is one of the features of chatrooms, which makes it a new genre of social engagement. It is unusual in other forms of conversation, such as person-to-person at a public gathering, for everyone to continuously say hello and to ask if anyone wants to talk – but since this is the foundational means of representation of presence in chatrooms, participants are learning to code and decode social availability around these very basic conversational cues.

When in the not-necessarily married chatroom, which had five participants, I said I was doing a PhD on ‘Conversational analysis of chatrooms’ the five people already in the room used that topic to dialogue on  my  PhD  for about half an hour.  It became a question and answer chat and shows that whatever was being discussed in a chatroom can be changed – as well as suggesting that in these “social-relational” spaces, there is most often an absence of topic.

Of course, I don’t know what was previously said, but for the approximately 200 turn takings I was involved in questions and answers which were almost sequential.  Someone would ask a question, and I would answer, effectively de-tracking the chatroom-title focus activities of the site, and yet perversely creating a very centred and active talk-text. If the goal is simply to encounter others, my otherwise irrelevant or at the very least marginal discussion topic achieved that. Indeed, the frustrations of this lack of topic focus have already translated for many chatroom users into a ritualesque exchange sequence, as motivated users attempt to cut through extended chat and select chat-partners directly to their purpose.  The a/s/l coded question so common in chatrooms (“Age? Sex? Location?”) is at a social level produced by the restrictions of a texted exchange, and has been interpreted by many commentators as the residuum of the need for physical or embodied cues in negotiation of social relations. But from a reader-response perspective, it indicates the problems of the drive to the scriptible in chat talk-texting, where participants want not to exchange talk in the service of topic, but to achieve sociability.

The !sexy-adults-who-arent-shy room  had seven participants – and once again, when I entered, everyone wrote in something to the effect of ‘neuage are you a male or female?’ As a possible “sexy adult” I had to be “screened” for compatibility: literally “made to appear”, in texted talk, as the physical entity desired – or at least a convincingly text-coded facsimile. The fact that the embodied features “revealed” by my (claimed) gender were unverifiable remains irrelevant. What matters is that I perform the required exchanges, in the required categories.  While my physical anonymity is guaranteed by the technology, it must appear to be breached in my talk. And while in topic-focused chatrooms that anonymity is unproblematic, since the topic and not the person is central, in the seemingly topic-generalised spaces for sociability, a persona must be enacted – and to truly satisfy, as richly as possible.

The chatserver Chatropolis  (,)  had 1684 users when I visited. The rooms on this server, unlike the ones in Talkcity, appeared at first glance to be  very topic-specific, and certainly the users participating were interested only in the topic in question.  Chatropolis is very much a sexual encounter service, with  a number of specific areas: Cybersex,  Image Exchange,  Alternative Lifestyle, Vampires,  Bondage, S&M, Fetish, Gorean Lifestyle, Role Playing and Bars, each with many rooms. Cybersex for instance itself has sub-rooms such as [AnalopolisAnal Sex Chat’], [Bed & BreakfastGeneral Chat’],  [Bits of Tits Breast Chat’], [Five Knuckle ShuffleMasturbation’], [Gang Bang Cyber Sex’] and [Hairless and HornyShaved Smooth’].  As with TalkCity above these can be read as topic-specific rooms – yet in each the persona-presentation is demanded in the same ways listed above.  Rather than a central topic dominating conversation and rendering persona-projection secondary, what might at first sight appear to be a topic-focus is instead a location for initiating persona-performed inter-relational talk. When these spaces are active, newcomers are cued less by topic than by behavioural observation of talk strategies – and are “positioned” within the ongoing flows by the anticipatory responses their arrival produces – and most often in intensely coded ways. But when these spaces are inactive, no relational strategies are available to cue incomers. In other words, it becomes possible to hypothesise that in topic-headed chatrooms the topic itself acts as a lisible and a scriptable space, forming and structuring a first texted-talk gambit. But in social-relational spaces the “topic” is the relation – and until activated, can be neither “read” nor “written”.

 I explore this more in Case Study Two when I use a pop-celebrity site on Britney Spears, to explore how  people in a topic-headed room focus on the topic of that room. But where the chatroom’s title invited chat for the purposes of establishing social or personal relationships, the texting was in fact minimalised.

Before anything can be understood in a chatroom what is being said needs to be read. There are thus two readable texts available within chatrooms that are important to guide a person who is new in a room. Firstly, the title of the chatroom draws one to it, and establishes some predispositions towards both initiating postings, and responses to any chat already posted. However, unlike the title of an article or a book which gives an indication of what the subject matter is, the title of a chatroom may be unrelated to what is actually there. For example, in case study 3 the title of the chatroom is ‘Britney Spears Chatroom’. But in the 70 lines I “captured” there was only one mention of Spears, in line 39,

Turn 39. <Joypeters> real brittany spears on line


So was this title misleading, or could there have been discussion of Britney Spears for days, while the few lines I captured had nothing to do with her? Discussion of that site in Case Study 3 will demonstrate the degree to which chatters may be seeking more the social context of “Britney” chat, than its actual enactment – in effect, seeking fellow Britney fans as social companions, rather than information about the idol herself. In such cases, it is this  second, social-relational “readable text” which new entrants to a chat space use to orient their subsequent postings, through the reading of the first few lines seen when the chatroom is first entered.

Everyone who enters a chatroom has an agenda or reason to be there. It could be because they simply want to be part of an online community, or because they want to experiment with a persona, or with writing styles, or to share or gather information.  Not all motivations are central for all participants – and nor are all utterances “readable” as related to all postings. With these conventions of talk-sequencing suspended by the multiple posting and the randomized entry points into the dialogue box, it is often impossible for participants to assess whether the responses are for them. When I entered the Hurricane Floyd chatroom I pasted in my initiating explanatory statement, which the ethics committee at the University of South Australia requested that I make before saving any dialogue in a chatroom for research.

<Neuage> ‘I am saving this dialogue, as long as I am in this room, to use in research on Internet Chat for a postgraduate degree. If anyone is opposed to me saving their conversation say so and I will not save the chat’.


The first utterance I saw after submitting my above statement was;


3. <EMT-Calvin>                     hahahaha lol


How should this be read?  Was this chatter commenting on my statement about saving chatroom dialogue or is <hahahaha lol> in response to something said earlier?  Chatrooms are discourses already in process and so one is entering into an established conversation. What is “read” is not necessarily what is being “said”. The same problem would occur if we were to begin reading any text at random in a book. Until more is read one cannot correctly enter into discourse. For me, the next few lines clarified that this chatroom discussion was about the hurricane, as the title indicated:


5. <Werblessed> Where your hous thilling

6. <Kitteigh-Jo> near Princeton

7. <RUSSL1> right over my place

8. <ankash> New Jersy in under Tropical Storm Watch now Right?


Listing the first few lines I “captured” from each chatroom however gives an indication only of what is being discussed at the time. Along with the reading of the title to the chatroom, the reading of these first few utterances seen in a given chatroom determines how the new participant will respond. Because most text-based chatrooms are already conversation in progress the first lines seen are rarely the starting point of the chat, yet must act so for the newcomer. It is at this moment that the accessing of “scriptible” text - already entered utterances which are both meaningful, yet open to interpretive contribution – is crucial to successful, and maybe to worthwhile, participation.

I examine this issue, applying different analytical tools, in the next case studies. In Case Study Three,  the Britney Spears chatroom, the dialogue  is very much the reduced, relationally-oriented chat exchange that one would expect in a very general non-topic-specific (NTS) chatroom – suggesting that the topic-specific/non-topic-specific rule for anticipation of chat behaviours is heavily modified once participants ”read” a site’s talk-texts. The Britney Spears site shows heavy use of abbreviated codes and SMS styled exchanges:

1. <SluGGiE->      lol

2. <Mickey_P_IsMine> LoL


In contrast, Case Study Four is titled ‘Astrology Chatroom’ so we would expect to find a discussion on astrology occurring here. In the first two lines I read as I entered this was the case.

1. <gina2b> everyones a know it all!

2. <dingo42> nicole wahts your sign ??


What is shown here is that the users in this chatroom were first and foremost interested in the title of the chatroom, wished to discus astrological analyses, and did so in a discursive frame established outside general  talk-texting codes: within the specialist terms and phrasings of astrology itself. While the tensions and demands of chat exert various influences on this talk, it remains centred in topic. 

In contrast, for Case Study Five I chose a room at random from one of the thousands of rooms available on the chat site. It was simply called “room #50”. The lines I first read upon entry confirmed that this might indeed be a non-topic-specific chatroom.

1. <tab_002> HI nice to see you too Jennv :)))))))

2. <Leesa39> ooooo my sweetie jake is angry


In this chatroom there was no specific topic and with no expectation of what the subject matter would be the visitors to this room seemed not to have a set agenda – at least, beyond the saturating relational play of their talk, which suggested ongoing familiarity and long-term chat acquaintance. Thus the almost complete non-referentiality of the chatroom title: significant only to those already “in the know”, or sponsored onto the site by a regular user (“meet you in room# 50”).  


I chose a software development site chatroom for Case Study Six because I particularly wanted to collect topic specific chat from a moderated chatroom. In this case study however it was not until turn ten that the topic of software was brought up. The nine turns before were greetings and utterances unrelated to the topic of the chatroom. Turns 10 and 11 mark the beginning of a chat on 3D animation which continued for five-hundred more turns.

10. <web3dADM>  just got the Cult3D folks to agree to show up on March 3

11. <Justin> what's cult3d


Here, the topic appears to have controlled the talk behaviours to such a degree that entrants to the site meet at pre-arranged moments. The social-relational work is formulaic, even phatic, in socio-linguistic terms, acting to re-establish cooperative talk-texting relations, before the “real work” of the discussions begin.

 For Case Study 7 I have used a chatroom on baseball. Here, not only are the usernames related to baseball, but the statements are all about baseball teams:

4.  <BLUERHINO11>  sox beat the tribe

5. <NMMprod>             Nop

6. <MLB-LADY>          no clev fan but like wright


In this space I suggest that a combination of the intense specialist expertise of the participants “focuses” the talk – but since this is a general or socially widespread expertise, as opposed for instance to that of the software specialists above, the tags or online “handles” of participants’ names act as part of the scriptibility processing.

If, as I therefore hope to establish in ensuing case studies, there is such variability in “writerly-readings” of chat practices, are then any standardized techniques which could be said to particularly mark chatroom texting from that encountered in other online communicative spaces? 

Three different Hurricane Floyd discussion strands


I have saved three samples of non-chat approaches to  online communication for this topic-focused case study, to illustrate some of the ways in which chatroom “talk” differs from other Internet based conversations. The first is a bulletin board of one-way communication, where people were able to leave messages for others in the ‘1999 Message Line of World Wide Inquiries Lost and Found Hurricane Floyd Review’. An example from this communication shows that the writers are not engaged in real-time conversation, i.e. there is a day in between the correspondence, and yet  they are still leaving messages to describe their situation[17],



East Bay St., Charleston, SC

Gone to Atlanta, am fine
 I will call; cell phone dead.
Went by and picked up Betsy.

09-15-99 - 11:23 AM

Effingham, SC

Am fine, hatches battened out,
going to Mother's


Here the text, while reduced in terms of syntactical formulae, shares little with online chat. It is “corrected” in the sense of using standard spelling, capitals for proper nouns, complex punctuation, and interestingly a strongly verb-dominant selection of strong-modality assertions. It’s ‘telegraphese” signs it in semiotic terms as a message of urgency, while its use of referents (“Betsy”; “Mother’s”) indicates a selectively limited set of addressees in each case. The contributor’s name is - unusually in online text – formal and geographic. Yet despite the specific directedness and even exclusivity of the text, it is lisible in its familiarity to audiences more broadly. This is a regulated communicative genre, built around written memos and notices and perhaps their more recent audio extensions (phone messages) – with all of the codings intact for conveying that status. We may not know “Betsy”, but we know what she is being told, and why.

The second online message shows the difference between a chatroom correspondence as in Figure CS1.31 and a text which may have been planned before sending online. This too was on the Hurricane Floyd Messages board[18],

By <wpapas> on Monday, September 13, 1999 - 08:45 am:

Significant safety concerns for family, friends, and property on San Salvador, Rum Key, Turks & Cacos. If anyone is on line there Please post to messaging board, I know there are those monitoring short wave radio on San Salvador; Please radio The "Pitts" Sandra & Nick on San Salvador and forward any request or messages. There was very little news before after and during Dennis.

 Sincerely. Wp


48. <ankash> Tornadoes in Pender Count


The difference between a text-based chatroom and the bulletin board and message board above is shown in the immediacy and shortness of statements in the chatroom. There is little Reader-Response time to evaluate what is said in  text-based chat. Word usage to transfer meaning must be short and comprehensible  by others in the room. However, as those “others” become more familiar, either by constant participation or by the hardening of practices into communicative codes – general across chat spaces or topic specific – talk-texting can become more and more reduced: less generally lisible, but more powerfully an invitation to writerly participation. With BBS or e-mail, texting remains more formal and closer to traditional “written” communicative genres. Often there is not an expected immediate response with bulletin board or e-mail messages, as the  others addressed may not be online. The time lag acts as a pressure towards more generally readerly textualising: it opens access to more users, even when still specifically addressed to one.

Put another way, the role of the reader in a chatoom is ultimately to become the writer of a text. If the person is only an observer or lurker, then the role of the reader can involve any number of motives. But when one participates fully in a chatroom, strategies must come into play in order that the reader may find meaning not only in the words, with their misspellings and often improper grammar, but also in the use of very reduced forms such as emoticons and abbreviations.

One of the features of ‘Reception and Reader-Response Theory’ as I am using it in chatrooms is that it shows how a reader brings certain assumptions to a text, based on the interpretive strategies he/she has brought to a particular talk-texting community, from other social-cultural contexts. Increasingly, such socio-cultural contextual experience and therefore capacity for interpretation involves online communities themselves.  “The community” here then is the Internet community, and every chatroom is an individual textually based social community. Interpretation of a  text will depend on the perceived purposes or dynamics or cultural sphere of the chatroom community. And reactions to specific instances of chatroom utterance will depend on general regulatory features established within that talk, even if nowhere else. The fact that such “talk” within a community can at times be “policed” by others within the chatroom, indicates that users are consciously developing special regulatory systems.   For example, a “speaker” may be harassed into either conforming or leaving a chatroom if their talk is inappropriate for that room. In this regard, the extended “greetings” sequence used by the specialist software developers on their moderated board can be seen as reconfirming the cooperation and collegiality necessary to their task of specialist information exchange.

A mild form of this is present in the lines I have been working with in this first section. The “speaker” on the Hurricane Floyd chatroom, <SWMPTHNG> in turns 107 and 117 is starting a process of getting the chatroom interested in talking about Mexican roofers.  The “speaker” <Zardiw> in turn 125 makes a short sharp comment to let <SWMPTHNG> know that his/her lines of dialogue are not necessarily appropriate.  Of course this is a very mild rebuttal compared to when several participators push a person out.  Nevertheless <Zardiw> deploys direct address (“smptthing>) – even with an enraged stutter on the keyboarding of the “t” – as well as a “shouted” punning insult on the respondent’s name, to express rejection of <SWMPTHNG’s> views.




125. <Zardiw> smptthing................go back to your SWAMP


Clear from this small exchange is the capacities chat participants have already evolved to work within the regulatory systems of online chat, to patrol the boundaries of their online community. <<Zardiw> explicitly rejects views racialised political expressed on a non-political site – even though, as shown earlier, <SWMPTHNG> has felt enabled to express these views by the very communalism which the supportive information exchange during a crisis has evoked. In other words, what <SWMPTHNG> reads as consensus and safety and therefore shared social values, <Zardiw> demonstrates is only to be read as a temporary informational communality. As a reader, <Zardiw> “re-scripts” <SWMPTHNG’s> contributions, and shows a clash of social discourses – yet all without abandoning the specialist codings of online chat itself.  A semiotician might feel compelled to note even the “space” opened by <Zardiw’s> multiple points of suspension (“………..”) and see in it a deliberate distancing. Later case studies will apply a semiotic analysis to chat, to pick up exactly such moments. But at this point it is clear that the pace of online chat has proven no barrier to sophisticated strategies of reading and of writing – most often simultaneously applied.

CS 1.4 Answers


CS 1.4.1 The Reader is the writer who is writing the reader J

The Reader is the writer who is writing the reader J was my original question for this chatroom.  To write in a chatroom is to seek to be read, to provoke recognition and the response which guarantees socially constructed identity. It is an existential act – perhaps even more demonstrably so than the physically embodied exchanges of “rl” communication. .  The reader’s response is also the response the writer seeks – and works to provoke.

A reading of any text however produces a set of responses or gives us  variation in  feedback, as I have shown in this Case Study. Even my question above, ‘The Reader is the Writer who is writing the reader :)’ can produce a large number of sequences of textual responses – and especially so online.  For example in a search engine we can get thousands of websites  just by putting in almost any words. I If I put in ‘Hi’ into Google, I get, ’20,800,000’ responses. How difficult  is it then in a chatroom, when there are so many ways to group our two to six words, to interpret the words or phrase we write?

  1. <guest-Jojo>                pretty freaky


‘Pretty freaky’ has 128,000 responses in Google. It is only in context that our words can mean anything and it is this, content in relation to context, which I attempt to explore in each of my Case Studies.


In relation then to my final research question for this section:


CS 1.4.2  Does the reader or the writer, produce meaning within ‘this’ chatroom, or do they create meaning together?

An answer has become clear. As with the central precept of reader-response theories,  both the person writing and the one reading are co-language-meaning creators. Meaning cannot exist in a vacuum and the only time a vacuum of communication exists in a chatroom is when there is only one person present – and even then, in some circumstances, their response to the “cues” of the chatroom, such as title, can be significant. I could be present in a chatroom and write my whole thesis, with questions and answers and text  continuing forever. However, if no one joins me, or even if someone does join the chatroom and only reads my writing and does not write anything, then there is not a conversation. Chatroom text takes us further than Sartre’s "The reader is left with everything to do, yet everything has already been done…”; (What is Literature (1949, p. 138).  Of course he was not anticipating the type of reading done in chatrooms, where not everything is done for the reader. Later commentators come closer to the interactive or inter-textual work enabled by chatroom technologies, seeing the rather more active role played by readers as (at least) co-authors of texts. The passive reader is no longer passive. In a chatroom even the one who reads and does not engage with others occasions response, being denounced or at best tolerated by participants, and called by the derogatory title of a lurker: one not involved, but considered close to the socially unacceptable role of the voyeur or stalker. For this thesis I have been nothing more than a lurker in all my Case Studies. I have saved the log files of the chatters and not contributed once in any of the chatrooms. I have sought to be  a reader only, defending this role as observer-researcher who is tracking conversation to develop a theory or theories of how people communicate online. Yet ultimately  even the very extended and indirect “writing back” of my thesis analysis and commentary produces an interactivity: a long delayed, but nevertheless culturally and socially responsible, “response”.


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Blog updated 17 September 2014  K - 12 technology (updated February 04, 2014). Travel Site (2014) updated 04 August 2014. Videos/Blogs on Youtube, Twitter, Wordpress, Photo albums. Updated 15 Second Street, Round Lake, New York and photos from parent's 1943 wedding as well as Leigh's page. Farmville page updated Thursday, March 17, 2011 5:58 PM. updated 04 August 2014 10:31 PM updated 04 August 2014 7:21 PM.    Resume updated 04 August 2014    

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