Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Instant conversations are changing the face of friendship

As you know, I'm a one man campaign dedicated to challenging the misconceptions of computer-mediated collaboration tools such as Instant Messaging (IM). Well, hidden within the ITAlive section of Tuesday's Australia newspaper you'll find what I consider a fairly well balanced exploration of social IM. Three articles (all by the same journalist, but only one appears to be available online) look at:

  • The pros and cons of socialising by IM;
  • A case study of an IM user; and
  • A look at what IM software can do beyond the "chat"” of its original ICQ incarnation.
The only disappointment - and I suspect this was never the intention - the articles don't really touch on the use of IM within a business or organisational context. The advice for users in this article is quite sensible and applicable in both a business and social context:
  • IM isn't a substitute for real, face-to-face relationship but it can augment it or help where its not possible to be in the same place;
  • Keep your buddy list to manageable number; and
  • Make good use of your status to control when you want to talk.

There is also a nice link here to an academic article I was reading this week, titled Media Richness or Media Naturalness? Originally published in IEEE Transactions on Professionals Communication, Ned Kock revisits the assumption that "the face-to-face medium is the richest and most effective medium for reducing equivocality" and discusses what he calls the "Media Naturalness Hypothesis".

As a possible explanation of the success of text-based tools, such as e-mail and IM, Kock suggests it might be a case of maximum naturalness at the lowest possible cost with "compensatory adaptation"” overcoming the inherent limitations of these mediums (i.e. people need to put more thought and effort into their electronic communication). However, it you want to learn more I sugget you browse around the publications available from his Website.

UPDATE: Have a read of Shawn Callahan's thoughts in reaction to this post on the importance of IM to distributed communities.

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  1. I'm totally with you regarding the importance of IM. It keeps you connected, especially for distributed communities. Have you seen the book, Distributed Work? An excellent read in this space. One paper (see below) points out that the simple presence indicator--the green light which tells you that someone is online--plays an important role in keeping you feeling that you are part of a community--even if you don't chat to them.

    Nardi, Bonnie A., and Steve Whittaker. 2002. The Place of Face-to-Face Communication in Distributed Work. In Distributed Work, edited by P. J. Hinds and S. Kiesler. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

  2. Thanks Shawn. FYI I found a very positive review here of this book and it looks worth a look.

    One of my favourite books in this area is Implementing Collaboration Technologies in Industry by Munkvold, B. E.

  3. Thanks James, I'll check it out.


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