CASE STUDY 2 Terrell Neuage Conversational Analysis of Chatroom Talk PhD Thesis

Monday, 4 August, 2003 1:37 PM


Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.

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


Case Study 2. 1

CS 2.0 Introduction. 1

CS 2.0.1 Choosing an IM chatroom.. 2

CS 2.0.2 Questions. 3

CS 2.1 Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC). 3

CS 2.2 Discussion. 9

CS 2.2.1 Is electronic talk comparable to verbal talk?. 11

CS 2.2.2 Instant Messenger 17

CS2.3 IM Chat Data. 23

CS 2.4 Findings. 33


Case Study 2


CS 2.0 Introduction


Computer technology in and of itself impacts on the “interactive” writerly-reader/writerly-writer who is responding to the reading of online text, as shown in Case Study One. This impact changes the exchange of information. Chatrooms have much in common with oral folk telling. The story is not put into print, to be archived and resuscitated at whim. It is written, and then lost. Ideas are written and read and re-written without ‘readers’ often knowing where they originated.  What differs between computer technology and oral folk telling is that computers can ‘capture’ the story and allow readers to examine it - and yet unless oral speech is recorded there is no permanence to its existence.  Memory alone allows it to be reviewed, critiqued, reconstructed – or even to achieve its intended outcomes in affecting or motivating listeners.

In chatroom postings the fusion form of the ‘talk-text’ has qualities of both speech and writing. As was established in Case Study 1,  how meaning is given to the utterances in a chatroom is dependent on the reader of the text as well as on the writer of it – a processing which is arguably more clearly understood in this combined communicative form than it is for conventional speech. The “distantiation” effects of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) act to problematise chat texts: require us to think more carefully than is usual about what is going on, and to act more creatively than usual in ensuring that our intended messages are received. CMC provides the technology for speech communities to exist with no more than typed characters to hold the chatters together. Into these few standardised characters we pour all the complexities of our selves and our social interactions. It should then be no surprise that complex codings are so rapidly evolving, to convey at least something of those complexities.

At one level, CMC systems are themselves diversifying, providing more and more distinctive services, with users selecting multiple specialist channels for different communicative tasks and situations. One such aspect of CMC I will discuss in this Case Study is Instant Messenger (IM). ‘Over 41 million people (40 percent of Internet users) use it at home. Almost 13 million people use it at work (nearly 31 percent of the work population), spending 45 percent more time on it than at home. Approximately 63 percent of all Internet users are regular participants.’ (Approximately 63 percent of all Internet users are regular participants.’ (Nielsen NetRatings[1])‘. So what is distinctive in Instant Messenger as a CMC service? When are users selecting it – and how are they developing its functions into their communicative repertoires?

CS 2.0.1 Choosing an IM chatroom[2]


Because Instant Messenger (IM) chats cannot be viewed by anyone outside the specific cyberspace of two participants, unless permission is granted, it is impossible to save an IM chat. I received permission from the two participants to use this in my work providing I did not identify them in person. For this case study I ‘captured’ two Instant Messenger conversations. The first is an Instant Messenger conversation in 1999 between mutual acquaintances, (A and B) who have never met physically. They had been connected to the same religious cult in San Francisco toward the end of the 1960s and they had “met” each other thirty years after the cult became defunct, in a chatroom about the ex-Order[3].  I “met” the two of them in the same chatroom and maintained correspondence with them for three years, physically meeting one of the two in Los Angeles in April 2001. The second Instant Messenger conversation I saved was between myself and one of the participators (A and C) in the first conversation. It is difficult to save this sort of chat under normal circumstances, as it is impossible to view the screen of another person. I gained permission from both person A and B so that I could copy and save their conversation for my study. Furthermore, this gave me the opportunity to compare aspects of conversation between A and B and then between A and C. The absence of physical cues meant that the interaction in both cases was solely reliant on text messaging.

CS 2.0.2 Questions

I approach this case study with two questions related to Computer-mediated communication.

  1. Do computers change conversation?
  2. Are Instant Messenger chatrooms closer to offline-person-to-person conversation than dialogue in a multivoiced chatroom?

Does the technological design of computers in itself change conversation? In asking such a question, is it worth considering whether Instant Messenger chatrooms, with their one-to-one talk relations, are closer to offline-person-to-person conversation than dialogue in a multivoiced chatroom? In other words, is chat room talk more affected by CMC interventions, than by its approximations or deviations from familiar speech relations in the physical world?

My first question seems obvious in the light of knowing that many of the person-to-person cues of conversation are removed with text-based chat. A study of the medium people use to communicate through, such as this case study will attempt, is important in answering a subsequent question: see 3.2 question 3 ‘how is electronic chat reflective of current social discourse?’ As the inter-relational elements of communication pressure CMC to expand its service modes – from BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) to IRC; from IRC to IM, and so on – how is each new mode formed from existing practices – and what pressures, in turn, does it exert on its users?

CS 2.1 Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)

Computer-Mediated Communication is the process of one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many communicative exchange using a computer-based communication channel; currently at least, taking place predominantly in a text-based environment (Oshagan, 1995; Boudourides, 1995). Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) is NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today being theorized within multiple disciplinary frames, including: Spears & Lea's SIDE Model, Speech accommodation theory, Walther's Social Information Processing model and Fulk's Social Influence model. Each attempt to locate what is specific to computer-mediated communicative exchanges, as distinct from their “real life” counterparts – but given the disciplines in which each arises, a different emphasis ensues. What then does each have to say about the rapidly diversifying forms of CMC – and which are of most use to this study?

Spears and Lea (1992) in their SIDE Model (social identity model of de-individuation effects) explore the social-psychological dimensions of CMC. One of their observations of most significance to this study is that groups communicating via computer sometimes exhibit more polarization[4] than equivalent groups communicating face-to-face, but less polarization on other occasions (Lea & Spears, 1991; Spears, Lea & Lee, 1990). Spears and Lee found that “True co-authoring stresses the need for support of multiple writers which have equal control over the text and within the interaction”.  It is evident that communicating via computers is more time consuming than face-to-face as in face-to-face communication participants are able to quickly shift from person to person. Galegher and Kraut found that, ’the greater amounts of time that people in the restricted communication conditions spent working and communicating about the project can be seen as adaptations to a difficult set of circumstances’ (1994). As is discussed throughout this thesis, chatrooms can become a community, where the individual takes on the chatroom single-mindedness. Fish’s (1980) "interpretive community" and Bizzell’s (1982) "discourse community" are appropriate models by which to explain the acquisition by the group of shared meanings and understandings–shared cognition–which are vital elements in community formation (Giordano, 2000; December, 1993). For example if the topic in a chatroom is very specific: perhaps  sports, sex, politics or religion, as I have shown in these Case Studies, chatroom  users tend to display  similar thinking; in time even coding responses in specialized forms.. A 'speech community' can be identified by linguistic convergence at a lexical and/or a linguistic structural level. Because Computer-Mediated Communication is strongly oral in nature, even in its texted modes, (Giordano, 2000) the turn-taking that builds discussions, and from them, communities of consensus, is often performed in a playful manner.  One form taken in this play across words is the way people in chatrooms accommodate others in the room by ‘speaking’ the same language: mimicking one another’s lexical selections, modalities, specialist codes. I show this in several chatroom, specifically Case Study Seven, with the chatters using baseball-related usernames and discussing baseball at an intensely referential level, that only those who understood the game could follow. What emerges is a linguistically-defined community, where only those who can access the codes of exchange can access the communality. In Spears’ and Lee’s terms, the polarization in such groups is especially low – except in relation to attempts by non-experts to “enter” the space and contribute to the discussion. Social identity and de-individuation are high – but demarked purely in language, since that is the only available register. To return to the research frame of the previous case studies, this is a discourse not lisible to the general reader, and that alone seems to attract the scriptible or writerly participant: someone who wants not to consume, but to help enact this discourse. Paradoxically, entrée to such online communities appears more accessible as the discursive modes become more specialized – they offer higher levels of de-individuation as they demark themselves more clearly from “everyday” registers. To first time or casual Netizens this is a curious and frustrating phenomenon: either you encounter specialist chatrooms where you cannot easily “read” the evolved and evolving local codes, or you enter general social spaces in which no codes dominate, and so must exchange unprofitable and even phatic conversational gambits before a “scriptible” relation can emerge.

One complex and as yet under researched issue in relation to this perversity of site-accessing practices lies in the dominance to date of linguistic behaviours arising in English.  It must be anticipated that non-English speaking communities online have based their chat practices on their own culture, and that they will be demonstrating specific practices arising out of the structuring systems of their own language traditions. Online communities have to date been dominated by English speakers, because of the work done by Microsoft and other English centred software companies. However there are many language-cultures entering the computer age of communication – and even some experiencing renaissance because of CMC services supporting diasporic interconnectedness. After English the most common language on the Web is Spanish, followed by Japanese, according to the “Courier International” (July 5, 1968) – and with China expected to be the dominant online nation by 2005, English can be expected to decline. There are projects in development that will make it possible for foreign languages such Arabic to have their own presence on the Internet (see the online Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University[5]) and others now complete, accommodating such languages and variant scripts as Tibetan.  But even without entering the “macro-level” variations encountered by changing entire language systems on the Net, specialist researchers in linguistics are able to provide ways on investigating in detail how particular specialist speech communities, even within one language group, and even in aberrant “speech” communities such as online texted talk, can be revealed as adapative and responding to new circumstances. Speech accommodation theory or "accommodative processes" (Giles and Powesland, 1975) in person-to-person talk are the changing or learning of elements of language-centred behaviours  such as accents, in order for a  speaker to ‘fit in’ with their environment.   In chatrooms we find change in language, just  as would be found in oral communication.  "Language is not a homogeneous, static system. It is multi-channelled, multi-variable and capable of vast modifications from context to context by the speaker, slight differences of which are often detected by listeners and afforded social significance."  (Giles, H. & Clair, R. 1979)  People make themselves accommodative to those they are with (Edwards, 1985; Fouser, 2001, p. 268). And while features such as “accent”, an audio performed technique, cannot (yet) appear in online chat, there is plenty of evidence in the chatrooms selected for these case studies to reveal the invention and widespread use of substitute codings in texting. Indeed, as users play across language to display their communality with other chat participants, they create many elements of online texted-talk which make it a distinctive new set of linguistic creations, and not a single entity, replicable and recognizable in every case – as it often seems to be now.

Already some evidence for this is occurring. According to the Social Information Processing Model (Walther, 1992) people learn to verbalize online that which is nonverbal offline, by using emoticons and images (Utz, 2000). The use of verbal paralanguage becomes an important factor in the development of impressions. Walther and others (see also Hiltz & Turoff, 1978; Rice & Love, 1987) have questioned the validity of online presence being regarded as similar to offline communication. People are motivated to exchange social information with others only if they are able to decode the verbal messages of the communicative partner.  Walther argues that with enough time spent together, people online will move to form relationships by decoding one another’s messages – such as those who persist in the “general topic” or social-encounter chatrooms, mentioned above as problematic to many new entrants, because they are so loosely topic-defined, and display too few behavioural cues. The popularity of such spaces, even after many reports of negative experiences, suggests that clearer sets of cues and discursive strategies will evolve and become commonplace. In fact some commentators are certain that such spaces are the latest in a long line of socially-evolving cultural locations controlling and forming communication. Computer-Mediated Communication is regarded by some as the fourth age of civilization and its prime new model of communication (Strassmann, 1997).  Ferrara refers to synchronous CMC as interactive written discourse (IWD) and suggests that it represents an emergent linguistic register (Ferrara, 1991).





1 million BCE-10,000 BCE




10,000 BCE-1500 AD




1500 AD-2000 AD




2000 AD-

electronic message



From "Information Systems and Literacy" by Paul A. Strassmann (1997). 

There are already several online journals dedicated to Computer-Mediated Communication. The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication ( published by the University of Southern California, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have each had numerous specialist articles, focused around specific communicative uses, such as issues on CMC and Higher Education, which shows the value of using computers for distance education; or Play and Performance in CMC, an edition discussing the use of Chatrooms.  The largest and third oldest online journal on communication is The Communication Institute for Online Scholarship ( based at the University of Albany, New York (SUNY) containing thousands of links to academic institutions and scholars who write on topics of CMC. Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine ran issues from May 1994 to January 1999, reporting about people, events, technology, public policy, culture, practices, study, and applications related to human communication and interaction in online environments. Volume 5, issue 1, (January 1998) had a special focus: ‘Disability and CMC’ to shows the value of communication through computers for the disabled; while Volume 5, issue 1 had a Special Focus: ‘Online Relationships’, focused on the meeting of people online and couples who had later met offline and formed relationships. This proliferation of studies suggests an already rich variability in online communicative repertoires – as well as a flurry of academic and analytical attempts to describe and explain these new processes. The very existence of such a rich new literature supports a view that diversity in CMC practices is likely to expand rather than to standardise across all formats.

What follows then is an attempt to add to this diversity of inquiry, as well as to the growing awareness that online communication and its texted talk is already not one but many phenomena, each with special responses to the particular pressures of the technologisation of the speech relation enabled in the software, but also with evidence of creative re-positionings around those pressures. In pursuit of my programme of the testing of a range of existing analytical tools for understanding speech relations and practices, in this Case Study I intend to review speech behaviours in a one-on-one use of the IM or Instant Messenger site.  And in the first instance at least, I seek to uncover and foreground those distinctive speech practices which are either appearing only within IM, or are especially heavily used there. Without wishing to imply that such changes in linguistic behaviour are technology driven, I do want to assess how far the software appears to restrict or enable certain types of communicative act – and whether such preferred IM forms are sufficiently recurrent as to characterise this type of texted talk.

CS 2.2 Discussion


‘It is in the history of any particular communication that the utterances can be studied for their mappings’[6]. For example, grammar could be derived from distributional analysis of a corpus of utterances without reference to meaning. What is reflected is the consensus users establish at a certain social and cultural moment and location, as to what is or is not utterable, and as to how it may be uttered. The World Wide Web however, as we have seen, brings new ways of engaging in conversation which are emerging with the growing wide spread use of computers as a form of communication. How much people begin to rely on the Internet or other computer-based mediating devices as a source of communication will determine many  of our future practices in communicating – even impacting on person-to-person conversation.  There have already been surveys suggesting that the amount of time some people spend on the Internet in chatrooms is disproportionate to the amount of time they communicate face to face with others[7]. 

In Case Study One I discussed how chatroom users respond to reading chatroom text. In this case study I consider in more detail the technology which mediates the communicative act. The introduction of computers has changed the communicative act of “conversation” by allowing for new forms of discourse exchange which are not possible with physical offline person-to-person contact. The most obvious is the ability to speak with others over large distances through synchronous textual dialogue, providing an “interactive written discourse” (Allen & Guy, 1974, p. 47). Without the physical cues associated with offline person-to-person conversation, in a chatroom, the “speech splits off from visual co-presence” (Hopper, 1991, p. 217). Other ways of transferring meaning then become important, including specific chatroom features, such as emoticons, abbreviations and font style, size and colour of text. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) with its new repertoire of possibilities has several functions to play in the chatroom communicative act.  Several researchers have found for instance that the more emoticons a person uses, the more friendships he or she builds (see Ultz, 2001 and Roberts, Smith, and Pollock, 1996).

Firstly, computers can be considered to enhance or to hinder person-to-person communication. Computers can for instance enhance communication for individuals with disabilities, who cannot easily converse; for people who do not have access to other forms of communication or information sources due to distance or social restrictions; and for people who have social difficulty in communicating with others in face-to-face situations (see Grandin, 1999; Rheingold, 1991, 1993, 1999; Turkle, 1984, 1995, 1996). Computers can however also hinder communication: because of technological problems such as networks malfunctioning, or people hacking into computer systems and disrupting discourse flow or sending information as someone else (Harvey, 1998). Social interaction skills can be underdeveloped within real-world encounters, leading to equal or even intensified inhibition with computer communication (see Perrolle, 1998).  As society becomes more dependent on computers those without them may be disadvantaged in communicating with others. And as is discussed throughout this research it is the interchange in online communication that may have the most impact on how we ‘speak’ in the future.

Secondly, computer exchanges are now fast enough and their repertoires similar enough to physical real-time communication to replace or be an adjunct to offline person-to-person talk. Because of the capacity for anonymous communication in a chatroom environment fellow chatters have little to judge an individual by, except his or her statements (Kollock & Smith, 1996, p. 109; Schegloff, 1991, p. 49). Chatrooms are  a virtual ‘mindfield  where only the mental activities of chatters are known. It is not possible to know about the other chatters in a chatroom except from what they choose to tell us in their written statements.  Therefore, “the most important criterion by which we judge each other in CMC is one’s mind rather than appearance, race, accent, etc” – at least insofar as the text can be thought of as equivalent to or representative of, “the mind”.  (Ma, 1996, p.176). Therefore computers, as an extension of at least the socially represented self, become part of the speech act (see Case Study 4).

And thirdly, CMC embraces several genres of communication, with the multi-layeredness of online communications such as e-mail, or discussion lists, as well as chatroom interactions. Together, these provide a range of new genres for the transference of ideas, information and creativity. There are many ways to create new textual landscapes within the possibilities of collaboration available with online communication. This study will suggest however that linguistic, lexical, and stylistic convergences form faster in chatrooms than in discussion groups and newsgroups, due to the instant collaborations between chatters. Asynchronous study allows time for reflection between interactions: it offers the same forms of critical “distantiation” offered by print-based media – in effect merely dispatching printed text more speedily than physical means, and making it more readily available for transformational use in reception than in competitive contemporary text transfer systems, such as faxing.   Synchronous interactions allow real-time interactive chats or open sessions among as many participants as are online simultaneously, creating for the first time the possibility of immediate text based reciprocal exchange – and so for very rapid consensual development of new linguistic behaviours and codings.

CS 2.2.1 Is electronic talk comparable to verbal talk?     


Chatrooms are close to combining 'spoken' and 'written' language. Computer-Mediated Communication  is still largely a narrow-bandwidth technology and it will be another decade before world- wide usage of fibre optics or 4th generation WAP will be available to carry videos and the amount of data needed to enable full oral and visual communication world-wide (Technology Guide, 2001). Much of the information we obtain in face-to-face interaction is from body language, sound (phonetics and phonology), and other physical codes. In narrow-bandwidth communications, such as on the Internet of 2000, this information was not transmitted, causing frequent misinterpretation. When cam-recorders are mounted on the top of computers and combined with text-based chatroom 'written' language, and participants can see one another and write at the same time, we will have other tools to analyse how language between people is exchanged. In the meantime, it is important to assess existing techniques for observation and analysis of the emergent new "talk" of this interactive communicative format. 

The impact these forms of communication may have on future interactions between people is just beginning to be studied. Verbal language was the first major step toward interconnection of humans (Chomsky 1972, 1980; Pinker, 1994) which led to a fundamental change in the way we collected knowledge about the world. With symbolic language people are able to share experiences and learn about others’ lives as well as share information on their own. Chatrooms are one area of this rapid evolution in the sharing of minds. Language has allowed us to become a collective learning system, building a collective body of knowledge that far exceeds the experience of any individual, but which any individual could, in principle, access. We have made the step from individual minds to a collective mind. As shown in the table above (From “Information Systems and Literacy”) individualized communication has evolved from tribal to feudal to national to the current universal collective sharing of ideas and ‘talk’. The Internet provides a global brain that is based on the integration of computer technology and telecommunications (Russell, 1983; Bloom, 2000). With the various forms of online communication chatrooms are the closest to person-to-person offline conversation.  Chatroom conversations are more hastily carried on than e-mail is. Conversations in chatroom are rarely planned out, making this environment an ideal source of casual conversation analysis. Chatroom conversations are informal, often experimental and frequently used for entertainment and escape (Rheingold, 1999). Virtual conversations, as they are in chatrooms, can be undertaken with the intention that they have little to no real life significance, or they can be as real as any off line community is. 

The Internet provides the link for an electronic interactive conversational – and so its hypertextual format has an immediate impact.  Electronic digital technologies lack a sense of linearity; in fact, they are based on a nonlinear structure that tends to facilitate a more associative way of organizing information, through the  hypertext principle. (Landow, 1994 and 1997; Bolter, 1991). While print media work as a flow of conversation or writing directed in an organized progression, online conversations fragment multi-directionally.  Conversation on the World Wide Web, whether in chatroom, Instant messenger (IM), discussion groups, or even in role-playing games such as MUDs and MOOS involves two new paradigm shifts (See Introduction 1.2.4). Firstly, there is the shift from print to computerization.  Print relies on hierarchy and linearity (see: Comte, 2002; Landow, 1994; Chandler, 1999).  Critical theorists point out that traditional print is linear, while human thought is not (Edwards, 1985; McElhearn, 2000). With computers and hypertext we can leap from thought to thought without a sequencing event.

Computer interactivity however can be either asynchronous or synchronous. Instant Messenger, ICQ, and PalTalk have only two voices at one time, but not necessarily following one another. In text-chat only one line shows at a time, unlike the overlaps in voice-chat or in real-life chat. People still "talk" at the same time.  One does not always wait for a response. If two people are typing rapidly back and forth, they can return and respond to something which was said whilst the other was typing. But their typed lines appear as if in dialogue. The software mimics a conversational relation, at least in its reciprocal relation on the screen. Therefore IM and its variants are a synchronous CMC format.

Asynchronous communication is communication taking place at different times or over a certain period of time. Several currently used examples are e-mail, electronic mailing lists, e-mail based conferencing programs, UseNet newsgroups and messaging programs. Asynchronous communication requires computer conferencing programs and electronic mailing lists that reside on a server that distributes the messages that users send to it. Any computer user with e-mail and a connection to the Internet can engage in asynchronous communication. Web-based conferencing programs that distribute many messages, or messages containing attachments, require more system power and a current model computer with a sound card and speakers and a fast connection to the Internet. (Aokk, 1995; Siemieniuch & Sinclair, 1994).

Synchronous communication is communication that is taking place at the same time. Several voices can be going at once or there can be multiple conversations involving multiple subjects happening at the same time. Several currently used examples of synchronous communication are: Chatrooms, MUDs (multiple-user dungeons), MOOs (multiple object orientations), videoconferencing (with tools like White Pine’s CUSeeMe and Microsoft's NetMeeting) and teleWeb delivery systems that combine video programs with Web-based resources, activities and print-based materials.

To use synchronous communication in a text-based environment one can have the chatroom on their server or the chatroom can be imported into their Web site as an applet. An applet is a program written in the Java programming language that can be included in an HTML page, much in the same way an image is included. These programs open in a separate window from the main source window being used. Real-time interactive environments like MUDs and MOOs are Unix-based programs that reside on servers.  In both kinds of synchronous communication, users connect with the help of chat-client software and log in to virtual "rooms" where they communicate with each other by typing onscreen. Because MOOs and chatrooms frequently attract many users, it is advisable to access them using a high-end computer and a fast connection to the Internet. MOOs and chatrooms often have their own sound effects to denote communicative gestures (such as laughter and surprise); to use or hear them; the computer must be equipped with a sound card and speakers.     

As we have familiarized ourselves with all of these new possibilities, a second paradigm shift is currently taking place around the changing environment of on line discourse, parallel to the shift from print to the Internet (See Introduction 1.4.2).  Within the Internet interactive environment, there is a shift from e-mail and discussion groups, to chatroom and "Instant messenger" and ICQ by users of online technology. (Cassell, 1999; Atkinson, 2000). E-mail and discussion groups are more or less a one-way road. For example, one usually waits for a return e-mail, which often is a complete response with several paragraphs: a considered and edited "textual" piece.  Conversely, chatroom environments are composed of one or two lines of text from one person followed by a response of one or two lines from another person.  Chatrooms thus consist of spontaneous and casual “conversational” text, while discussion groups are e-mailed "texted" responses, which are usually thought out and spelling and grammar checked before they are sent to the discussion group. Discussion groups, I hypothesize, are even more controlled and planned than e-mails, more "textual". In other words, the Internet has already produced its own set of "text-talk" genres and practices.  The online universe of discourse is rapidly diversifying.

Because of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC), the World Wide Web activities of ordinary users have  taught a new form of communication to hundreds of millions of people in less than a decade. Such learning is a social and interpretive activity in which multiple members collaboratively construct explanations and understandings of materials, artifacts, and phenomena within their environment (Dewey, 1966, c.1916).

World Total

544.2 million


4.15 million


157.49 million


171.35 million

Middle East


Canada & USA

181.23 million

Latin America

25.33 million (September, 2002)

In the past five to ten years millions of people have learnt how to send e-mails and use computers to participate in chatrooms. As the figure above shows there were approximately 544.2 million people online at the beginning of 2002 [8] , whilst an estimated thirty-million people were online world-wide in 1995. One in twelve people world-wide have learnt a new communication technology and its associated texting and talk-texting behaviours over the past six years.

This case study then introduces the technology into consideration of the new online discourse between people. To summarise: the technology used for text based interactive chatroom discourse is CMC based.  As technology advances and changes so too does communication – and CMC techniques are proving no exception. One of the primary changes away from the text-based-chatroom (TBC) is the move to new technologies which replace text with talk and multimedia capabilities of videos, DVDs, webcams and sounds as well as 3D animated worlds and author/avatars. In the new chatrooms the text is replaced by sound waves, which may not be the author’s actual voice, but a simulation of his or her voice, tone and mood:  a constructed “other” as substitute “self”. Already in graphics enabled chat “habitats” the author’s username is replaced with a representational avatar. Even the simple one-to-one messaging services of ICQ and IM are now multimedia communication tools which contain features such as file transfer[9], voice chat, SMS paging, post-it notes, to-do lists, greeting cards, and birthday reminders. Chatrooms which were once text-based only are in the process of incorporating virtual worlds and the use of “intelligent agent” avatars[10] instead of just usernames.  Meanwhile, each variant within the new sets of on-line interactive communications media is establishing its own sub-culture of use.

CS 2.2.2 Instant Messenger

Computer-Mediated Communication which uses the Internet takes users via e-mail, discussion groups and chatrooms beyond the immediate physical world. Within online communication a user  becomes socialized by learning a number of new “socio- technical” skills such as typing, reading and writing at the same time and learning the protocols of online discourse which includes emoticons and abbreviations. The different forms of interactive or ‘conversational” CMC genre such as e-mail (see, Hawisher and Morgan, 1993), Homepages (see, Dillon, and Gushrowski, 2000; Chandler and Roberts-Young, 1998; Döring, 2002), discussion groups (see, Giordano, 2000) and chatrooms each have different talk-texting behaviours.  Spooner and Yancey (1996) for instance argue that e-mail is "pre-genre,  i.e., in the process of becoming genre" because “the material conditions of the late 20th  century have enabled a group of generally well educated, relatively affluent people to communicate in a new medium”.  So which genres are under development in IM?

Within the chatroom genre the Instant Messenger chat arenas are the closest to one on one offline dialogue. The popularity of the format is already some guarantee of the likelihood of a generic (re)development in process. ICQ which began in November 15, 1996 has grown to an online communication network with more than 120-million registered users by 2000 (Niese, 2001)  and is available in nineteen languages[11].

 ICQ Screen

The importance of online communication has been highlighted by a study released by Jupiter Media Metrix (, November 2001) which found that Americans last year spent over 18.5 billion minutes, or 309 million hours, logged into IM services such as ICQ and Instant Messenger. Accurate world-wide studies of how much time people spend online in chatrooms are not currently available but one would assume the amount of time spent world-wide, with people logged into IM services would be high, since the number of people logged into online chatrooms of all kinds is growing. The Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2002 reported that half of Australians now use the Internet, and a third of all households have Internet access. About ninety percent of 16-20 year olds use the Internet regularly. Almost 55 percent of all Australians, or 10.6 million people, had Internet access in January 2002, according to Nielsen NetRatings ( These are higher levels of penetration than most European countries. E-mail/chat remains as the Internet’s “killer application” since 92% of the users reported using e-mail/chat and 71% of the users ranked it as the most frequently accessed application. ( One study reported in BetaNews (Niese, 2001) estimates that more than one-hundred million people are in chatrooms each day. Computers as a form of communication thus affect many aspects of human discourse from daily correspondence to entertainment and information purposes.

The sheer mass of such activity once again raises the question: do computers in and of themselves change how people communicate? Firstly, Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) can be expected to promote more diversity of thought than offline communication primarily because people from so many cultures and social groupings, i.e. age, race, gender and beliefs, are able to be together without the hindrances of physical presence. As my subsequent analysis will show, such discourse is already observably different from that between people in offline-person-to-person conversation. It has been argued (See Berge and Collins, 1995; and work by Sloman, 1978), that Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) enhances dialogue[12]. A study by Ruberg, Moore and Taylor (1996) reveals that the CMC discourse encourages more experimentation, sharing of early ideas, increased and more distributed participation, and collaborative thinking compared with face-to-face communication.

Instant Messenger Services are an outgrowth of MUDs and MOOs which are textual created games and learning environments, as discussed in the Introduction. Chatrooms, ICQ and IM especially, are reader/writer driven interactive sites. One participant enters and writes text and another person responds.  Often there is the feeling that one is writing and reading at the same time. In chatrooms this can become chaotic due to the near impossibility of following the rapid scrolling of text, and it is especially difficult in a room where there may be dozens of people waiting for one person to say something then answering that one person. What differentiates "speakers" within chatrooms is their logon names. If there are several voices, none following any particular protocol, all "talking" at once, the question becomes, "what is being said?" and at the same time "what is being heard?" To date, no explicit protocols have emerged for managing the flows of talk, or even for identifying the flow of talk, though for my analysis in the individual case studies, I have developed a transcription methodology to examine online chat flows and types of speech.

Instant messenger services however come closer to an offline-person-to-person conversational turn-taking environment. Unlike multi-voiced chatrooms and discussion groups no one else can enter the dialogue. Here the "talk-text" dynamic comes especially close to that isolated in the "turn-taking" categories of Conversational Analysis, so that IM can operate as a foundational text for other Net forms, such as the multi-voiced Internet Relay Chat (IRC) services. But is IM “the same as” live dialogue? Are alternative behaviours and functions emerging from its use?

One other aspect of Instant Messenger ‘talk’ that is different from the multivoiced chatrooms is that with some computers there can be a voice wave used. Instant Messenger utilizes Text-to-Speech technology. When a new message appears the computer reads it aloud in a chosen voice. You can hear the voice whilst running any program, such as a graphics or word program and do not have to bring AOL IM to the front to hear it. The voice is however not the other person’s actual voice, but a simulation by the computer, that is picked from a limited range of options, by the user. For example, I was using an Apple brand computer during my dialogues with the person I have referred to in this case study. I was able to chose from a large range of voices and chose a voice called ‘princess’. Every time my IM buddy wrote words the computer would read the words back to me in the ‘princess voice’, which was a soft feminine vocalisation. Over several months I equated this person with the voice of my computer. After nearly six months of daily correspondence in Instant Messenger she telephoned me. She lived in California and I was in my office in Adelaide. Her ‘real’ voice, her offline physical voice, was much different from than the ‘princess voice’ I had heard on the Internet. Instead she had a deep husky voice and swore every other word, something she has never done during our Instant Messenger chats. It was difficult to associate with her offline voice, and my impression of and indeed future relationship with her changed.

In the film "You’ve got mail", (1998, Warner Bros.) Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan dialogue through an IM environment. However, people still have to find one another online before they pair off - unlike in a chatroom where people meet through the random chance of entry at a particular moment. One of the features of chatroom ‘talk’ I am interested in is establishing at what point the dialogue between strangers or even acquaintances changes in the online environment. For example, in the movie 'You Got Mail' the dynamics between the two strangers change when one of the participants (Tom Hanks) writes, "we should meet". This is however a fictional dialogue - one which parallels a major "moral problem" discourse in relation to IRC and the constitution of electronic persona. There are such moments in “real” online IM dialogues (see Internet dating sites[13]).

In Instant Messenger someone steers the conversation into a particular area of discussion, establishing, in CA terms, the "flow" or speaking space for a topic (See Case Study Six). This allows me to look at a simple two-person chatroom before I begin to analyse the multi-voiced chatrooms. Multiuser chatrooms are public and anyone in the chatroom is capable of viewing what others are saying, unless participants go into a private chatroom and only allow one other person to join in. Instant Messenger chatrooms can only be used by the two people in them. This in itself can be expected to change the speech dynamic and behaviours available in this space.

My research data for this Case Study consists of two conversations, one between two people I knew to be IM users, and one between another person and myself. Otherwise the very privacy of this format makes it extremely difficult to observe and study.

IM Screen

When I ‘captured’ these two chats in 1997, AOL (American Online) Instant Messenger (left) was the only IM available and it was only useable as a text-based turn-taking instrument. The two people ‘speaking’ could observe letter by letter what was being written by both themselves, and the other person on the screen, in real time. Instant Messenger does not have the chaos of multi-chat entries  that most chatrooms have.  Currently, in 2002, there are several other IMs. Microsoft Messenger is available in 26 languages. Yahoo Instant Messenger, begun in March 1998[14], has entered the virtual world chatworlds with the release of Yahoo Messenger 5.0[15]. As such “themed” environments become available, it will be interesting to observe whether the online environment, such as the background images of the chat area, influences the dialogue. Yahoo IM is available on mobile (cell) phones as well as hand-held computers.

As well as Yahoo, ICQ and American Online, which started its service in May 1997[16], there are IMs from Lycos, Odigo, Microsoft, begun in July 1999[17], Netscape and Paltalk, which have video conferencing facilities as well as IM, voice-mail and PC-Phones.

                  American online IM

Odigo, Inc., was founded in 1998, claims to have a worldwide community of over 8 million users (2002). Their IM screen is shown below.


The IM services are thus already diversifying in themselves, a direct result of ISP competition. But some features remain the same – especially those conditions under which a user of any of these variant services experiences the processes of use. In each case, as well as being engaged in a chat with another person in  Instant Messenger, a person may simultaneously be doing other things, such as writing a thesis whilst having the Internet on. A little icon  appears on the screen showing when the person is working online. Unlike text messaging on mobile phones which are currently limited by the use of 26 characters typed in at a time, and the limits of sending, and then waiting for a response, IM users are capable of writing as much as they wish and at speeds close to  real-time synchronous conversation. In addition to this, IM users have the ability to engage in texted chat with another user at any time and any place (using a palm computer or a laptop).

CS2.3 IM Chat Data

The feature I have emphasized in this Case Study is the ability for people to engage in real time conversation with people in different locations far removed from each other. This has always been possible for telephone or telegraphic correspondence but not until the World Wide Web has this been possible with conventional written text. For example in the IM that I use in Case Study Two one person is in California and the other is in Australia, and as the characters are typed on one keyboard they appear on the other person’s computer. 

In this conversation the two speakers had started out discussing spirituality, but the male (speaking in capital letters) quickly turned it into a sexual theme, with the female then ending the conversation:

34. ******: oh my god!...thats what i thought you were going to say.....but i didnt want to go there!


At this stage the female writer (lower case text) could have been revealing a familiarity with social norms (eg male sexual behaviour) or with IRC practices or both. Without other cues: visual, knowledge of the participants and their familiarity with one another, it will be difficult to define the "talk". Yet the female participant suggests that she manages to do just that - because she is familiar with her interlocutor.

For the conversation analyst, not familiar with the co-speakers, the grammar, fonts and abbreviations are all significant. Several of the standard online abbreviations are for instance already used as shorthand for several phrases. How font size is used online is also well illustrated in this chat. The male uses what is conventionally considered ‘shouting’ by writing everything in capitals, as illustrated in example 3. In net-etiquette[18] using the caps key all the time in an online conversation, whether it is e-mail, a user group or in a chatroom, is considered rude and aggressive. However, when a reason is given or understood as to why someone carries on certain behaviour, it may not be considered rude.  The person who types in capitals in this Instant Messenger posting types in capitals all the time whether it is in chatrooms, in usergroups or in e-mails. He believes he is a master teacher of a religious cult[19] and that the only way he can show his ‘authority’ and ‘high attainment’ is by using capitals. It is possible though for an experienced IM user, habituated to the ‘shouting” code from other CMC encounters, to suppress one interpretation and accede to this rather more idiosyncratic “rule”, though in this instance the capitals are used to show his authority, as he has written me to say as much.

In line 10, “LOL” is used as shorthand for “lots of laughs”. In chatroom talk LOL is also used for "lots of love" or “laughing out loud”, but in this context I am able to interpret it as  "lots of laughs", as it follows the word "HE" – itself ambivalent, but here signaled by its repetition as part of the laughter representation,  "he he he".


IM dialogue II

The talk-text is therefore providing cues for the “writerly” or actively interpreting reader/writer. The problems of this “emergent” genre are however constant. Two abbreviations in this IM I am not familiar with. That, and the way that both abbreviations are used within a few lines of one another, suggests that these two speakers have their own rules of engagement for meaning exchange. This talk-text is not immediately “lisible” for the outsider. The two abbreviations I am referring to “OBE” in line 11 and “IBE” in line 14 - though in line 15 the writer clarifies IBE by saying that the “I” is for “in”. To an outsider such as myself who does not know what the abbreviation represents it would not be possible to know what is being said. Language here is used as an antilanguage where the ones who know what is being said are the participants who at some time must have given a shared meaning to the used words or abbreviations (see Halliday on “antilanguage”, 1978).

11. ******: and where does she live....I hope not in Australia.....thats too far even for a good old fashioned OBE


14. ######: WE DO A LOT IBE

15. ######: THE I FOR IN


To some extent the textual "appearance" of these examples of IRC script in IM is accidental. If people are not skilled at typing, they make a lot of errors trying to keep up with IRC conversation. This is especially true in chatrooms where there are several people 'speaking' at the same time. Nevertheless, contributors in Instant Messengers do also use text forms in deliberative ways.

As the chat below shows, sequential dialogue, even in an IM space is difficult to maintain. If there is not a turn-taking process in which one person waits for the other before ‘speaking again’ the dialogue is as difficult to follow as one in a multiuser chatroom is. In the example in Table 4 CS 2:1 below the IM chat on the left, even though between two people, does not show a “listening then responding” regime. Speaker <******:> does not respond to <######:> who has made references `to knowing her in another lifetime’. Unlike in offline person-to-person conversation, topics are rarely pursued. In this instance there is no more discussion after turn number seven on the topic of other life times. In multiuser chatrooms there are similarly few times when topics are continued, but that is often because there are so many people ‘speaking’ at once. In the same number of turns as the Instant Messenger example,   the multiuser chatroom shown below  shows  few instances of continued dialogue,

From Instant Messenger, two person chat.

Afghan Chatroom.


2. ######: MINE

3. ******: of those past life miracles


5. ******: oops....better get a little more humble again


7. ******: WOW! far out man!

1. [MrAnderson] hopefully Zahir Shah will help to bring all AFG tribes - together in peace & establish fair governing body

2. [ZtingRay] Si


4. [fRANKIE] you are so low you have to have an umbrella to keep the ants - from peeing on you

5. [MrAnderson] texasrose: are U in Texas?

6. [afraid] gina, where are youu



IM dialogue VI compared with Afghan talk

Discontinuity however exists even in the IM space. In Chatrooms, notes Werry, “successive, independent speech acts are simply juxtaposed, and different topics interwoven.  The kind of sequencing evident contrasts significantly with that of oral discourse, as well as most forms of written discourse” (Werry, 1996, p. 51). Conversations branch out constantly as participants follow several streams at once and interact with many others at a time.  The demands of this mutli-processing mean that many threads snap and discontinue. However, in the Instant Messenger genre, with only two speakers, there is still overlapping and checking going backward if the conversation is not strictly in the question and answer genre of talk.  In person-to-person conversation the classic CA talk-relation of adjacency pairs is are one method by which people structure conversation.  But due to the overlapping conversation enabled by the ‘first come first served” packet-switching of Internet software, in chatrooms, this is rarely found in chatrooms. Similar software provisions impact on IM dialogue. Both people in an IM situation could be writing at the same time, but because of the longer life span of text printed on the screen (when compared to verbal speech) a speaker is able to scroll back up and read what occurred earlier, while they were distracted by their own act of writing. This “recoverability” of text-entries enables a more considered, second-guessing approach, which can be shown to intensify the focus of IM users, shifting their attention from their own assertions to those of their talk-partner.  Also in IM there are not as many people to contend with as there are in multi-speaker chatrooms therefore the chatroom users do not have to contend with overlapping conversations. But as shown in the example above sometimes they do. In the second example of an Instant Messenger dialogue, between myself and the female in the sequences above, the dialogue is more continuous and there is turn-taking which is based on writing, then reading the other person’s writing before responding. This is difficult in a multiperson chatroom because of the interruptions of other chatters and even of advertisement ads, which some chatservers put in between turn-takings. Here however the conditions of IM allow me to think more carefully about my responses – and there is textual evidence in the contrast between the performance of my talk-partner here and her previous chats with her other talk partner, that IM users act responsively to the texted talk-strategies within given exchanges. By using the tools provided by IM, this woman was able to react differently and enact different talk relations during her two captured IM chats.

As I was one of the participants in the chat below I am of course able to give a different and more informed interpretation than for the previous IM example. With any conversational analysis the interpretation is key to the understanding of the textual interaction. There are limitations to how people speak, even with others they are already familiar with. One of the areas of on-line conversation that would be worth study in future is the differences between conversations of already-known participants and unknown chatters. Most chatrooms conversations are between participants unknown to one another. In IM however, the "speakers" are generally known to one another to some degree, as they need to know each other’s ‘handle’, ‘screen name’ or username before they can access one another’s personal account. Instant messenger is thus similar to face-to-face talk in that participants already are familiar with each other, even if through only a few correspondences.

One person whom I met in a chatroom and got to know quite well over a short time period on IRC is the person in these two Instant Messenger examples. This person has a history of psychiatric illness, confirmed not only by her, but also several others on my buddy list. (IM has category lists such as Buddy, family, Class-mates). Most of our chats were just bantering and at times quite silly. Our IMs were more entertainment than anything and provided me with a break from the stresses of every day life. However, there were times when this person drifted into suicidal talk, wanting 'to return to her home in the cosmos', her cue that she "wanted to die". Mood and directional changes affect the dialogue even without having tonal or gesture signals. This can be read back within the flow of talk by creating a string of text of lines 1, 7, and 9, or as coded above: 1>7>9. It is line 9, when the person says "on this plane", that the message becomes clear. Even though it is using the same text: "on this plane", by line 9 it has taken on new meaning, following line 7 "I am am (sic) not going to be around too much longer". It is now clear the person is thinking of dying.

The following dialogue has the other party's name deleted. Until this scenario begins the respondent was telling jokes and seemed quite happy. As this stage I have only arranged the text into single exchanges, omitting the full transactional coding, which I have used in other case studies as my transcription method. In those I have shown the order of discourse, i.e. [34/\ 33/\ 32/\  31/\  29/\  10] where the numbers show the previous turn-takings which are part of the topic or thread[20] and so build a sense of the inter-weaving of the talk. Instead, here I have added interpretive commentary; to indicate the response processing underway as the exchange proceeded. At a later period I intend to use the more objective "coding" on this transcript as well, to test the efficiency of my own "intuitive" conversational responses.

In the conversation below my comments, which are not part of the original transcript, are written in italics. These comments help to clarify sections  of text as the conversation went forward.


1.      @@@@@@: Terrell......we will probably never meet on this plane

2.      @@@@@@: realize that

3.      T Neuage: really we will never meet [at this point I thought she meant because she lived in California and  I lived in Australia – and due to the distance this would never go beyond a cyberfriendship.]

4.      T Neuage: why not [I second posted here as there was a long pause of several minutes without a response] were you scrolling back to pick up that “on this plane” comment?

5.      @@@@@@: I dont know

6.      T Neuage: but you believe that?

7.      @@@@@@: I am am not going to be around too much longer [here I first realize she is talking about leaving the world]

8.      T Neuage: that is not true

9.      @@@@@@: on this plane

10. T Neuage: why do you say that

11. @@@@@@: it is so

12. T Neuage: that is silly stuff

13. T Neuage: it is not so

14. T Neuage: for what reason would you leave [I triple posted here as there was several minutes with no response and I was feeling impatient at the time]

15. @@@@@@: it ois time soon

16. T Neuage: i am not into control but you can't go

17. T Neuage: it is not time soon

18. @@@@@@: but I will always be with you [a metaphysical translation being that she believes she will die and her spirit will be with me]

19. T Neuage: who told you that that you will leave

20. T Neuage: it is not true

21. @@@@@@: I am not sure.....but I am am being taken soon [here begin the 'I will be taken' beliefs. She claims to be an 'experiencer' - an “alien” abductee. An alien abuductee is one who believes they have been kidnapped by a being from another planet or galaxy or realm of existence. There is a support group for victims of alien abductions on the Internet at: ]

22. T Neuage: you need to be around different people

23. T Neuage: by whom [this refers back to 21]

24. @@@@@@: it is not people [this confirms she is not talking about earthlings]

25. T Neuage: if they take you can they come and get me too

26. @@@@@@: I have had a good life [proclaiming her death sentence here]

27. T Neuage: and you will have a better one Here on this planet

28. @@@@@@: I have to go home soon

29. T Neuage: where is your home

30. @@@@@@ : inside my heart

31. @@@@@@: because.....this is not my life

32. T Neuage: It is not fair for you to have information that yhou won't share with me

33. T Neuage: I thought we were mates

34. T Neuage: mates share

35. T Neuage: tell me

36. @@@@@@: I gave up my what is left is not up to me

37. T Neuage: what

38. T Neuage: come on you can't believe that

39. @@@@@@: I should be dead.....should be....and am not [proclaiming her death sentence again]

40. T Neuage: no you should not be dead

41. @@@@@@: yes

42. T Neuage: you can not trade or sell your soul

43. T Neuage: that is myth

44. @@@@@@: no

45. T Neuage: reality is what you are in right now

46. @@@@@@: my daughter was my dear friend and she died 26 years ago from an overdose of heroin

47. T Neuage: what about your daughter now

48. @@@@@@: I really better not tell you anymore

49. T Neuage: up to you

50. T Neuage: we can change the subject

51. @@@@@@: she is still my friend.....we are not like mother and daughter....not at all

52. T Neuage: what about the daughter you said died

53. T Neuage: mixed me up

54. @@@@@@: never mind

55. T Neuage: ok

56. T Neuage: how is your bird [time to # - change the topic]


The next day this respondent was back on-line, seemingly with little memory of the day before conversation. Apart from the psychological implications of such conversations, systematic analysis shows that such conversation may seem aimless in structure, but it is in fact a structured conversation in a "Casual" format carrying serious social, and maybe psychological, consequences. Yet I had not met this person at the time of this interaction. Nor can I be am I sure of how our interaction operates within this construction of a social self. There is more involved than casual conversation with someone I would never be in touch with again. Probably I would have left the chat and gone on to another person if I were in the mood to have a conversation with someone at the time. This is one of the primary differences between online chatting and face-to-face conversation, where the user cannot simply disappear and never be seen again. But in this case we had each other’s e-mail address and even home phone numbers, and we had shared similar experiences decades earlier, of being in the same religious order in the 1960s. My talk-partner here could anticipate in me a capacity to decode her less obvious comments – even if, as shown above, I attempted to deny her vision. It may be that the comparative reversion to formal lexis and even syntax, in contrast with the abbreviated IRC forms used in her other talk-texts above, relates to this earlier – pre-Net – relationship and its talk exchanges. At the same time, the re-focus work that I carried out here, scrolling to check earlier statements and multi-posting to create dialogic continuity out of silences, was dependent upon the capacities of the software. The exchange displays both elements of face to face dialogic practice, and online technologisation.

CS 2.4 Findings

My question and the reason for choosing Computer-Mediated communications as an analysis tool for Case Study Two was to find whether computers change conversation between people especially when only two people are able to correspond at a time. To some extent I have found that they do. As discussed above and throughout this thesis, computers do not replace but supplement communication - though how that occurs is dependant on both the sender of the message and the receiver. I would suggest at this stage that computers are an effective way of transferring information quickly though not as accurately as if there were other cues such as physical cues involved. With person-to-person conversation we exchange a lot of audio and visual information along with the words. Computers, however, don't hear between the lines as they are socially inept, blind to the meanings of subtle pauses and changes in tone. What is different between the multi-speaker chatrooms, where the CMC influence is extreme and creates heavy pressures on conversational behaviours, and the Instant Messenger services, where dialogue can shift towards or away from its physical equivalent, is that when there are only two speakers at a time in a conversation, the speaker’s lack of ‘voice’ is more noticeable as there are only two. With many ‘speakers’ in a room the absent voice (see lurking at is not as readily missed as when there only are two.

A second question I explored in this case study is whether Instant Messenger, one-to-one dialogue, is closer to offline person-to-person conversation than dialogue in a multivoiced text-based chatroom. Multivoiced text-based chat confuses discourse to the point that not only is dialogue difficult to follow but it is difficult to know who is dialoguing. One-to-one online discourse is more personal, uninterrupted and closer to ‘normal’ offline conversation. Another feature of text-based multi-person chat is the random placement of an utterance. This happens when the enter key is pressed[21] following the typing on a keyboard of what one has to ‘say’. The utterance made can fall entirely in a place not expected due to the rapid movement of text. In a multivoiced text-based chat this can give a very random effect to dialogue and unless a chatter identifies who he or she wishes to communicate with the line can be out of place. IM thus appears as more focused, and so enables more depth, and perhaps, as shown above, confessionalism. As with the movie “You got mail”, key transitions within the talk-texting – moments when the depth of the relation and the topic shift – are signaled in both annexation of prior relations between the talk-partners, and in activities enabled by the software design – such as scrolling to check earlier contributions, or multi-posting to recreate dialogic processing amidst extended silence.

The use of CMC has changed the communication landscape in some societies as is shown below. In a recent study (2000, Nomura Survey - Japan) a survey of Japanese public attitudes toward the Internet and Computers compared with Korea and the US showed the following results:

Q. Do computers and other information technology increase human communication?














One of the major problems with Arabic and Asian languages being used on the Internet is the obstacle of inputting into a word processor using non-Roman scripts. . For example, in Japanese the writing system requires two stages of inputting, which slows typing and makes chatroom participation difficult. Users must press the space bar to bring up the desired combinations of Chinese characters, which are then entered in the text by pressing the enter key. This contrasts with English and Korean, both alphabet languages, in which the typed letters enter the text as they are typed. The Nomura survey shown below reveals that Japan has the lowest level of keyboard literacy of the four nations surveyed:

Typing proficiency – Nomura Survey on keyboard literacy





Fast without looking




Fast but Look




Slow and Look




Barely Use




Typing proficiency January 2001 -

Until faster or better translators become available chatrooms will be populated primarily by English speaking users. While these figures show only the technical aspects of IRC and IM access, they reveal something of the more detailed interactions between technologies and users, which I suggest are operating together to reform and reshape communication practices as we develop online conversational behaviours. Perhaps broadband access, with its break away from texted communication, will resolve these text-entry problems for some language groups. Perhaps “texted” talk of the type analysed here in IM transactions will prove an historical anomaly, and simply a convenient moment for the talk analyst, providing useful access to ready-texted transcription. But at this stage it has certainly revealed a complex interrelationship in users’ negotiations of the new interface space between CMC technologies and the social interactions that we loosely call “talk”.

In the next Case Study I will begin to examine the bits and pieces of online chat such as emoticons to discover whether meaning is found in a chatroom when more than just text is used.














[1]  Nielsen NetRatings is available online at: See also How Many Online?

[2]  In the transcription method used in this Case Study I have not used the usernames of the participants. In the conversation between the male and female chat participants I have identified their turn-takings with ****** in front of the female utterances and ###### in front of the male’s turn-takings. This notation device has no other point to it than to differentiate the two speakers. In the second transcript I ‘captured’ for this study the female turn-takings are identified with @@@@@@ and the second speaker, myself, with T Neuage in front of the turn-takings.

[3] Holy Order of Mans was a cult pseudo-new age religious group that existed from 1968 until 1976. There is a page of links for this sect at

[4] Nunamaker et. al. [1991] say that groups make more extreme decisions than individuals. They express either very risky or extremely risk-averse behaviour. This phenomenon is called group polarisation. The group polarisation effect is illustrated in the following figure. (see Group process gains and losses at

[5] Centre for Arab Studies at Georgetown University is at

[6]  ‘The Media History Project’ Promoting the study of media history from petroglyphs to pixels Monday, 4 August 2003

[7]  What do users do on the Internet?  Standford University  has some statistics on Internet usage at:

[9] File transfer allows text and images to be uploaded to a chat at any time.

[10] Avatars are representatives of the self in a chatroom represented by a figure : character of an animal, structure or any abstraction imaginable that is displayed in a single pictorial space. Avatars  can be a simple smiley faces or a Medieval an animated drawing. Text is still used for conversation. As long as one is connected to the Internet server of the chatroom presence is maintained by one's graphical representation which remains as long as the chatter is in the chat arena. One problem that avatars present is that they can distort or limit conversation by providing the same representative expression that over-rides all communication. Avatars as of early 2001are not as complex as word description is.

[11] ICQ is available in the following languages as of November, 2002: , Português, Italiano, Norsk, , , , , English, Español (Iberian), Français, , Dansk, Svenska, Deutsch, , Nederlands, , Türkçe (see )


[12] A bulletin board Forum: “Intelligence & Machines” with the thread, “Man is obsolete[12], discusses the AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept of a computer with a conscience e-communicative device computers displace prior offline-person-to-person discourse mechanics with new forms of symbolic exchange.

[13]  Several online dating services claim that people who have met online through their services and who have corresponded via IM or other chat facilities have formed real-life relationships. See RSVP -; Friend Finder -; Soul Mates

[14] Yahoo Messenger began in 1998,

[15] Yahoo describes their services as: “IMVironments are interactive, themed backgrounds for Yahoo! Messenger conversations that appear directly in the instant messaging window!”

[16] America Online Announces Limited Beta Release of AOL Instant Messenger(TM)

[18] A comprehensive site on net-etiquette is at

[19] See American Temple at

[20] The turn-takings which these turn-takings refer to are:


31. ******: dont get it...please explain better for us illiterate unpsychic ones 4 what?....ask i thus



34. ******: oh my god!...thats what i thought you were going to say.....but i didnt want to go there!


[21] Whatever one says lays dormant and does not exist in cyberspace until the utterance has been committed. Unlike person-to-person conversation when what is said is heard instantly, in a chat dialogue what is said is not heard until the speaker-writer wishes to reveal the content to the chatroom. Once the enter button is pressed there is no taking back what was said. If the chat can be saved, either by saving the screen shot of the chat or by copying and pasting or reading the chat logs the dialogue can be ‘captured’ for future reference. 

contact Myanmar 2014

NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today working on picture poem links starting around "better" (19 September 2014). Picture poems are the digital format of work I did as a street artist in New Orleans in the 1970s, as well as New York City, Honolulu, San Francisco and Adelaide South Australia. .

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