Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.  THESIS COMPLETE .pdf  / or

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





 5. Discussion. 1

5.0 Findings of Case Studies 1- 7. 2

CS 1. 3

CS 2. 13

CS 3. 86

CS 4. 141

CS 5. 207

CS 6. 220

CS 7. 263

5.1 Unique features of chatrooms. 285

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

Thursday, October 16, 2003

5. Discussion

Overall, work in this new area of study postulates two major features of the online communication milieu:

1.      That new ways of thinking about conversation will emerge with the growing widespread use of computers as a form of communication. (Charles Ess, 1996; Michael Stubbs, 1996),

2.      That chatrooms involve exchange more hastily done than in any other form of electronic talk-texting, and so therefore more likely to respond to and reflect back the particular pressures and influences of on-line communication (Spender, 1995).

I will firstly look at the findings of the seven case studies used to research chatroom conversation; secondly I will discuss the commonality of features peculiar to online chat which make it different from face-to-face chat; thirdly I will propose answers to the five questions I asked at the beginning of this study and finally I will discuss whether the five assumptions I stated in my proposal[1] for this research were supported or unsupported by my research.

By using several linguistic theories as lenses through which I have examined seven case studies I found that online communication in a chatroom has unique features as a communication form.

This study was undertaken during a specific period of Internet history, from 1998 to 2001. The Internet had its start in September 1969 when two computers were hooked up and the first computer-to-computer chat took place at the University of California, Los Angeles. The first Internet Relay Chat (IRC) began in August 1988 and rapid advances followed, with many different forms of Net based communication arising[2]. My research however has focused on text-based chatrooms. With new technologies new forms of chatrooms are becoming available, including graphical conversations[3], 3D Chatrooms (see CS 3.3.2) such as ‘Traveler’ and 2 D animation systems such as those in use at ‘The Place’ and the multimedia chat avatar-based environments discussed in Case Study 2. This study however is limited to a particular moment of web-chat’s brief history: the moment of dominance of Internet Relay Chat, as it spawned a variety of talk-spaces and styles, contained within the simple text-exchange model of typed ‘chat’.

I chose the following linguistic and text analysis theories to examine chatroom talk, seeking a range in investigative tools to capture and describe the systems of conversational exchange arising in IRC:

·        Reading-response Theory (Case Study 1),

·        Computer Mediated Communication (Case Study 2),

·        Semiotic Analysis (Case Study 3),

·        Speech Act Analysis (Case Study 4),

·        Discourse Analysis (Case Study 5),

·        Conversational Analysis (Case Study 6), supplemented by  several linguistic theories relating to discourse theories and

·        Linguistic schools of thought, which explore grammar in conversation and the construction of meaning, such as the Prague School of Linguistics (Case Study 7).

5.0 Findings of Case Studies 1- 7

In the first instance my task within each research frame was to simply examine what each particular methodology could capture and describe within the talk-text as data. Only then could I begin to detect directions within these accumulating sets of features, and so to hypothesise that online chat had recurrent or characteristic behaviours and selective techniques, which, while varying across the types of chat sites examined, tended towards the establishment of recognizable “online chat” linguistic strategies. Firstly then I summarized the most explicit findings in each study and now move to compare the seven studies, adding where appropriate  observations from five supplementary chatroom studies, to show features common to all text-based chat, and generalisable as the ‘core’ discursive modes of Internet chat. Despite their often incommensurable focus, the range of the theoretical methods used for analysis revealed particular communication features common to all chatrooms. Most of these features are not part of person-to-person offline talk, and therefore are unique to text-based   electronic  dialogue- although there is evidence that some of these behaviours occur in related CMC-delivery formats, such as SMS.

The purpose of the case studies and supplementary chatroom data ‘captured’ was to answer the five primary research questions in my methodology section (3.3):

1.      Is turn taking negotiated within chatrooms? If so, do the rules differ from live speech, and if so, how?

2.      With the taking away of many physical identifying cues of participants (gender, nationality, age etc.) are issues of sex, race, gender, class, age, and political correctness as prevalent as in face-to-face talk? (see, Turkle, 1995, 1996; Mantovani, 1996a; Parks & Floyd, 1996; Spears & Lea, 1992). If so, how are these matters signaled, read, and negotiated? If not, what are the consequences of abandonment of social sanctions existing elsewhere?

3.      How is electronic chat reflective of current social discourse?       

4.      Is meaning contractible within chatrooms? If so, how does this occur?

5.      Could chatroom discourse become a universally understood language? If so, what might it add to existing language behaviours?

These five were posed to question my five assumptions, drawn from the CMC literature and from personal experience of IRC, at the beginning of the methodology section (3.2):

1.      That people adopt a ‘textual self’ for the chatroom environment they are in.

2.      That conversation within Chatrooms will change how we come to know others.

3.      That observational study of chatroom conversation can capture some of the adaptations of conversational behaviours.

4.      That this work gives us a better understanding of how, and why, Chatrooms are an important area in which to create new conversational research theory.

5.      That 'chat' does not differ from natural conversation in certain key aspects, but does so in others.

Each case study had three components useful in bringing about conclusions of chatroom analysis. The first component was the theory used to identify how text-based chat ‘worked’. Secondly, each case study identified features of conversation that were unique to text-based chatrooms, and thirdly each case study allowed for the analysis of chatroom behaviours demonstrating elements of communicative activity specific to the theory driving that particular case study. In other words, both general and specialised features were pursued in each case study.

In summary, the primary discoveries in each case study provided a map of IRC, in both general and specific terms, across a broad spectrum of exemplar behaviours, at least during the sample period, and most likely beyond.

CS 1

In Case Study 1 the research tool for analysis was Reader-response theory, a field which enabled the discovery that in online chat, both the person writing and the one (or many) reading are co-language-meaning creators. Chatrooms are an active reading environment where the ‘reader is left with everything to do…’  (Sartre, 1949, p. 176).  In order to engage in conversation the ‘speaker-writer’ first needs to be a ‘listener-reader’.  What is left open in chatrooms but not  in person-to-person conversation is what later commentators called “preferred readings”: techniques whereby texts are arranged to position readers to receive and interpret them in certain ways which optimize selected understandings and suppress others.   Such texts may construct within themselves  'an inscribed reader', or such a figure and its attendant roles may emerge in 'interpretative communities' (Chandler, 2001). But do such positionings occur in the “texted” talk of IRC and its user-groups?

Using Reader-response theory to examine chat in a community of users checking progress of an extreme weather-alert emergency,  I found that there are two  moments of “reading” a chat participant carries out  in understanding meaning within a chatroom, even before beginning to read the actual utterances of the other chatters. In person-to-person conversation early “readings” of someone else before we listen to what he or she says involve viewing the person, their appearance, their posturing, body language and the environment  (see McCroskey and Richmond, 1995; Ong, 1993; Goffman, 1995).  

In chatrooms, firstly, the title of the chatroom is read. In Case Study 1 I found that the chatters carried on conversations that were reflective of the chatroom title, Hurricane Floyd. In other Case Studies – although not in all - with clearly designated topic-related titles I found the same reading techniques used.  In other words speakers tended to converse about the topic established by the chatroom title. I discuss this later in 5.2 where I show the commonality between chatrooms. In chatrooms the reader’s response fits with the chatroom milieu. There can be a new utterance that begins a new thread in a chatroom with the response dependent on the reading. For example in Case Study 1 turn 107, <SWMPTHNG> inquires <YOU AINT TALKING ABOUT MEX ROOFERS ARE YOU?> in assumed response to turn 99 <EMT-Calvin>: <folks need to be careful for con artest after the storm>. This reading is still on the same topic of the storm as a thread alongside, which talks about the storm itself. There are few threads during this conversation that are not directly on the storm Hurricane Floyd. Below shows that 254 of the utterances in this chatroom are directly on the storm, 14 turns are about whether Mexican roofers will become involved with rebuilding after the storm, seven turns are personal, for example, <your last name wouldn't be Graham would it>, and several turns had nothing to do with the topic of the storm, commenting more on personal circumstances extraneous to the discussion, yet at least arguably bearing on the participant’s performance within the chat exchange:  for example, <VIAGRA AND PRUNE JUICE....DON'T KNOW IF I'M COMING OR GOING.....> or  <ankash> stating <I gotta go get some Xanax.>. Such lines are not uncommon during even focused chat, and are most often used to explain intended temporary absences or lapses of concentration – so that, even when coded directly as punning jokes – like the prune-juice line – they operate as meta-textual utterances.



Number of turns in thread

Storm thread



Mexican thread



Personal thread

Turn189 <guest-Beau> Calvin, your last name wouldn't be Graham would it


Chocolate thread

Turn15 <mahmoo> brb.......gotta go get me some chocolate






The illustration below shows the threads branching out from the primary thread. The primary thread is all that relates directly to Hurricane Floyd (Mexican thread, Storm thread) while the secondary threads are the three other threads shown below. Secondary threads can be about the primary topic but do not as obviously continue the primary topic. Secondary threads, if added to at length, can become primary threads. A secondary thread becomes a primary thread when most of the participants in the chatroom contribute only to that thread, such as the ‘talk’ about the storm – its location, strength, destruction,[4] and the thread about Mexican workers who will offer to re-roof damaged properties.

 In assessing how and how far topics of conversation are based on the title of a chatroom, reader-response theory takes us further however than just the recognition that topic controls dominant conversational thread-construction. Here, I found that the “writerly-writer” or actively constructing text-talker who initiates a conversational thread, and the “writerly-reader” who responds, and who might be expected to simply respond in topic-compliant ways to developing conversations, could in fact be shown to demonstrate especially “open” and “active” strategies of initiating text and responding to it, even while based on the title of the chatroom. The talk remains topic centred, yet works to focus and refocus threads around certain aspects or themes of a topic. This is not just information provision, but creative exchange build around information exchange. At times this is built around direct question and answer.  In the example below for instance, <TIFFTIFF18>, in captured-turn 4, enquires whether the hurricane is going to hit New Jersey, and is answered in captured-turn 8 by <ankash>, that New Jersey is currently under a storm watch. However, the conditions of IRC; its technologisation and the de-threaded running-order which results, “open” the text for an unusually creative and reconstructive reception – one which leads to what reader response would term a “writerly” reading. From the outset, a  large enough sample of turn takings needs to be logged from any chatroom, in order to be sure of  what is being said. If for instance an entrant to the Hurricane Floyd chatroom entered after <TIFFTIFF>’s question, they could well read  <RUSSL1>’s response, stating that the storm was overhead, and interpret that   to mean that it was indeed  going to hit New Jersey Yet <RUSSL1> was replying to an earlier posting, asking  where the storm was – and could therefore confidently expect interlocutors to have been ”present” in the chatroom when his or her location was revealed. . All chat interpretation or reception is therefore only as current as it is when the chatroom is entered. What is said before is unknowable, unless a log of the prior utterances is available, and new entrants take the time to read it – which mostly they do not, and indeed, cannot – given both the ongoing nature of most chat sites, and the pace at which talk continues to scroll.  Chat entrants then anticipate certain speech content and behaviours, focused around the chatroom title – but also display tendencies towards adapting rapidly as topic focus shifts and new threads develop, and even a capacity to shift off topic, especially into personalized referential chat explaining chat behaviours influenced by external circumstances. One of the features of 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 community, from other social-cultural contexts (see Gass, Neu, and Joyce, 1995; Blum-Kulka, Kasper, Gabriele, 1989; Rheingold, 1994; Turkle, 1995). The racial tone in Case Study 1, displayed toward Mexican roofers, is an example of this. Increasingly, such socio-cultural contextual experience and therefore capacity for interpretation involves on-line communities themselves. Technological features of the virtual environment combine with self-selected membership to create a community with a strong shared sense of values (Bruckman, 1992). This is especially so with chatrooms in culture and country specific sites, such as Middle East sites (Gudykunst, 2000) in which talk about the US war against Iraq in 2003 is supported by pro-American websites and opposed by pro-Mid East sites. Often pro-American chatters will enter sites on Iranian or Iraqian sites and speak negatively about the country in question. For example see chatrooms at and But even within more benign examples – such as the weather alert site used in Case Study 1 – a community of values emerges, with chat participants responding in aligned and non-aligned ways with one participant’s new thread on Mexican roofers. And within this, chat behaviours in themselves are being defined, maintained and even patrolled, as chatters self-correct and comment on technical or presentational aspects of the entries of others. To this extent then, chat behaviours are both “readerly”, working to detect and accept chat conditions as illustrated in pre-existing strands – yet also “writerly”, playing with chat forms, actively interpreting and re- and even mis-interpreting postings, and re-positioning both topics and techniques. 

Working from a Reader-Response analytical frame, I set out to examine the complex relations between readers and writers of texted talk, posing the multi-directed question:

1. Is the reader the writer who is writing the reader? In other words, is a posting on a chatsite read as its writer may have intended – or it it reconstructed and reformed into the understandings of whoever encounters it?

Online, a writer produces his or her utterance, based on previously having taking on the role of the reader, and therefore the reader’s “response”, immediately activated as a chat reply - is very much  the response the original writer seeks – and works to provoke. If there is no response the written utterance becomes lost in the scrolling text and there is no thread or content to build upon. Both those moments of intensive reciprocal posting, and those irruptions into disagreement, indicate strong tendencies towards consensual exchange – or a markedly “writerly” texting, constantly reviewing its positioning, and working to accommodate postings to act within and upon those of the chatroom.. Does the reader or the writer produce meaning within ‘this’ chatroom, or do they create meaning together?

At the same time however, as shown in Case Study 1, the fact that the “author” of any chat posting is ultimately unknown makes the reading of the text in a chatroom self-creating. The author becomes an imagined author – possibly male or female, young or old, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian or any other identity. Meaning is created in a chatroom only as much as the reader finds it to be meaningful – so that the “author” of any posting must work hard on their text. The multiple text structures of chatrooms can provide for different interpretations of the same utterance (see Reid, 1996; Qvortrup, 2000). As a result of the limited information about authorial identity or context within a chat channel, it is difficult to argue for a single or consensual set of text practices in chatrooms. Previous research on conventional text production and reception has not had to explain issues such turn taking, backchannels, and co-presence in online environments (Cherny, 1995). How a print-text reader assesses meaning cannot accurately or totally be applied to real time written “utterances” 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 – yet this is a more fluid and immediately reciprocal relation than that of the time-and-space distantiated world of print text. The flow of the chat in Case Study 1 is evoked by  the storm – itself a shifting and changing topic, so that  it is the flow that establishes the context of the chatroom. Everything said in this space   clearly concerns  the storm, even, arguably,  two isolated statements: turn 215 where <guest-Capt> states <VIAGRA AND PRUNE JUICE....DON'T KNOW IF I'M COMING OR GOING.....> and <ankash> in turn 24:  <I gotta go get some Xanax>  (an anti-anxiety agent). If these can be seen as reflecting affect: introducing “real world” demands of the storm topic, so too may the three  threads[5]  about chocolate (turns 15, 23, 25, 163, 171 and 177)[6].  Turn 215 could be uttered in frustration over  the chaos of the storm conditions (<VIAGRA AND PRUNE JUICE....DON'T KNOW IF I'M COMING OR GOING.....>).  Needing Xanax – and even the “comfort food” chocolate - could therefore be related to being anxious about the storm. The ostensible shift in topic is still resolvable, in terms of the growing relation of trust and recognition of concern among the group, as individuals feel more able to indicate their emotional response to the situation, rather than simply information seeking. What is being “written” therefore builds on what is being “read” – yet those texts are read back as inviting and allowing the introduction of affect: a notably active “reading”, already halfway to an act of innovation within a subsequent “writing”. In chat, even when quite tightly topic–focused, the reader and the writer create meaning together, to produce threads of conversation. The writer and the reader are co-creators or co-authors in the communicative act.

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

It is the title of the chatroom that I suggest lures a participant  to a particular chatroom. In Case Study 1 it was the topic of Hurricane Floyd. In Case Study 7 it is baseball and in Case Study 3 the title of the chatroom indicates that chat will focus around the pop idol  Britney Spears – although in this case, as the analysis suggests, talk focused more into a Britney Spears style culture than into direct discussion of the ostensible topic. . It appears then that despite the title as indicator, the chatter has to deal with multiple frames of interpretation, assessing the motivations and attitudes of others in the room.  When in turn 105 of Case Study 1  <SWMPTHNG> asks <YOU AINT TALKING ABOUT MEX ROOFERS ARE YOU?> the question indicates a moment of direct consensus checking. <SWMPTHNG> picks up a hint in an earlier posting that there may be an opportunity to redevelop a current thread, and intervenes to “take the floor” in CA terms, in a powerful bid to redirect conversation. Here “context” is both shifting – from hurricane alert information, to discussion of ethnic tension – and not shifting, since <SWMPTHNG> in making this move is assuming that he or she is culturally contextualised: conversing with a group of like-minded non-Hispanic Americans, who will share his or her views on “Mex roofers”. The “aint”, with its appeal to a colloquial repertoire, helps establish that cultural context, and indicates not only a chat entry which has “read” a cultural framing in earlier postings, but which re-inserts its interpretation of that framing, hoping to evoke response in kind.

The chatroom as context appears then to both pre-dispose – in Bourdieu’s terms – its users towards certain expected behaviours, values and topics. But since this appears to be only partially established through the title and topic selections, chatters also display complex techniques for both signaling and reading back rather less directly expressed aspects of the social and cultural framings brought to the chat.

CS 2

Case Study 2 examines online chat as a form of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC), with all the special features and characteristics this implies. Computers do not replace but supplement communication. Despite the many obvious influences of the technologisation of online talk, communication remains dependant on both the sender of the message and the receiver. The many tools available for CMC research conventionally divide the research objects into either asynchronous CMC (emails; mailbases; network groups; annotatable webpages; databases and discussion boards) or synchronous CMC (chatrooms and computer-conferencing) – although future studies might well address this division from the perspectives established in studies such as this. While the “liveness” of synchronous chat enables application of such analytical methods as CA, the use of script in “chat” still places interesting limits around the act of communication, and links even the immediacy of IRC to the more stable and enduring CMC forms. Since Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) is used in business, non-profit organizations, education, and entertainment as well as for personal use, better understandings of how each format works as a communicative act, and of how each suits its wide range of uses, might assist in future selections and development of the various formats, for specialist use. However, as this study has suggested, CMC at this stage still lacks established and specific methodologies to analyze chatroom talk. While this thesis has used several conversational analytical theories, such as Speech act theory and Conversational Analysis, as a lens to examine the data in CMC, it has also uncovered in a preliminary way many limitations for analysis, as techniques developed for real-world talk are transferred into electronic forms of communication. Until CMC research moves beyond its current emphasis on pragmatic and developmental studies of user applications, and begins to examine instead the practices of those users in observational, descriptive and analytical ways, “how to” introductions to CMC formats will remain largely at the level of technical glossaries. The most common use of CMC research currently is surveying students and instructors (see Romiszowski and Mason, 1996; Harasim, Hiltz, Teles, & Turoff, 1995; Mason, 1992; Rice, 1990) and tracking e-business supported work coordination (Bowers and Churcher, 1988). CMC is however beginning to be used as a method, as well as a tool, for researching online conversation (see Cicognani, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000; Parrish, 2000; Rheingold, 1993, 1994, 2000; Vallis, 1999, 2001; Turkle, 1982, 1984, 1995, 1996) – but such studies to date work within broad sociological or social-psychological modes. 

Synchronous CMC has its own particular set of difficulties, as I have shown in  case study 2. Multiple threads of discussion become difficult to follow. Slow Internet connection can mean that the speed of reading and responding cannot be maintained. This results in discussion losing its focus and side discussions (threads) developing. Sometimes participants may simply be slow typists. The result is that what is written is often a response to something written many turns earlier.

Three terms, “gap”, “lapse” and “pause” are used to refer to silences in CA[7]. In chatrooms however, there will never be silences in the proper sense of the word, let alone with the specificity and distinguishability of CA analysis.   If there are silences in real time, the text will simply scroll together to cover these spaces. The CMC technologisation masks what is, in CA terms, significant rupture in talk.  Because of the threaded nature of the arrival of chat postings, chat users learn to bridge and to braid: to cross between postings, to reconstruct postings into reciprocal turns. As yet, there is no means of assessing how extended, or how complex, such bridgings and braidings might become – or of registering or measuring their impact on subsequent “replies”.

In the example below I have looked at the space between a person’s turn, and the next time the same person has a turn. I have called the distance between the two turns a ”lag”. A “lag” in this segment is the distance between speech events of a speaker in a chat situation, a pause between one utterance and another.

For example in Case Study 1 <EMT-Calvin> has the following number of turns in between his or her utterances:



# of turns in between

Turns on a singular down line







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



folks my God is able



With CMC the conversational lags are self-created. There is no one physically urging an answer, as there would be in face-to-face communication. <EMT-Calvin> appears to “answer” his or her own utterances for (1) signing off in turn 35, and stating seven turns later <i need some sleep>. There is a varying conversational lag between utterances throughout <EMT-Calvin>’s contribution to this chat. Looking at all 282 turns in this sequence <EMT-Calvin> has the following lags between utterances 13>21>7>21>6>12>3>12>15>6>3>32>5>5>1>9>6>9>5>7>14>8>9>7>14>7>3>.

In other words, there are 13 turns from  <EMT-Calvin>’s first turn to his next, then 21 turns separate his second turn from his third, and so on. I have shown this graphically in column four.  The upright line represents all 282 turns in the chat segment. The short horizontal lines represent <EMT-Calvin>’s turns, giving a visual image of the spaces between <EMT-Calvin>’s turns – and so, breaking open the CMC technologisation, providing an opportunity to consider whether the time-lags in entry are significant.

The largest frame is the 32 conversational lags between turns 121 and 153 (shown in the fourth column above ‘<<---‘) between the utterance of

<68 tie downs> and

<folks my God is able>

The turns between were utterances concerning the storm, for example:

<I know the anxiety you must be feeling~I was in two typhoons in Taiwan last year>,

<Winds are picking up but not tropical yet>,

<The news says the eye should hit us in the early AM hours.>”.

What these case studies have shown is that there is  a form of “reading” in between the frames (see CS 1.1). In face-to-face conversation a conversational lapse or pause can be equated to a listening phase of conversation (see Sacks, 1992). In chat rooms this is a  reading phase, interpretive, reconstructive, and wholey significant in the chat process. Without consideration of the lag times, as well as of the intervening utterances, it is impossible to see how much interpretive work is occurring. In de-threaded sequence <EMT-Calvin>’s postings seem in fact incommensurable. Several unconnected themes develop – and only by consideration of both the time <EMTCalvin> takes in achieving these changed frames and in shifting focus as new threads intersect and gain attention, can we make sense of the whole contribution. A CA methodology therefore, with its primary focus on relatively immediate conversational responses, even within multilogue circumstances, will need adaptation when dealing with IRC conditions. 

This newly revealed “active presence” within lags also reminds us of the IRC convention of “lurking”, or being present but not posting in a chatroom. In chatrooms that do not indicate when a user is entering or leaving  there is no way of knowing whether the chatter is lurking or has indeed logged off.  In column B below  <Kiera> makes no utterances between entering and leaving. Given a presence of just under one minute in the space, Kiera must be understood as having scanned the conversational threads under discussion, and found none of interest. The speed with which this is achieved is in itself interesting.



(20:34:49 SignOn) suzi enters Sapho's Retreat

8. 14:57:20 ||||||||| Kiera just entered this channel

(20:35:23 SignOff) Roxy leaves Sapho's Retreat

9. 14:57:43 ||||||||| novyk just entered this channel

(20:35:37 SignOn) teenieamber enters Sapho's Retreat

10. 14:57:35 Sascha: no from germany

(20:38:42 SignOn) jb28m enters Sapho's Retreat

11. 14:57:50 oscar: ok hello!

(20:41:16 SignOn) voyeur(mwm) enters Sapho's Retreat

12. 14:57:56 MissMaca: is anyone from NY?

(20:41:26 SignOn) slamman enters Sapho's Retreat

13. 14:58:01 ||||||||| dolly just entered this channel

(20:42:16 SignOn) ellie enters Sapho's Retreat

14. 14:58:04 ||||||||| Will just entered this channel

(20:42:21 SignOn) Marian enters Sapho's Retreat

15. 14:58:05 novyk: hello from Spain

(20:42:43 SignOff) Marian leaves Sapho's Retreat

16. 14:58:09 damaged: im a fread what will happen next

(20:42:49 SignOn) Becci enters Sapho's Retreat

17. 14:58:14 mike: that was an organized terror act. what do you people think.


18. 14:58:14 Sascha: i watch it in tv it is unbelieveble

19. 14:58:15 novyk: what's happened there ???

20. 14:58:17 ||||||||| Kiera just logged off.




Conversely, in chatrooms that auto-record every instance of keyboard usage, including entry, leaving, changing names, and using pre-set text, there can be moments of extreme difficulty in following conversation (see for instance the example in Case Study 6 ‘6.3’ where there were only two actual utterances in thirty-six turns).  And yet this is not to suggest that immediately reciprocal conversational flows are any less complex. Indeed, it may well be that it is the sophistication of our learned capacities to manage the threads of even dialogic conversational posting sequences which enables us to override such problems within the technologisation of chat. In examination of an Instant Messenger chatroom that had two people, this study  found just as many threads happening as there would be with multiple speakers.  Measurement of thread rates alone cannot indicate fully what is happening in terms of communication.

It is important then to locate techniques which will allow analysis of the differences in  communicative responses between various Internet communicational devices. In discussion groups and emails people observably take more time and care with what they write, and are therefore not as immediate in their communication as in Instant Messenger (IM) or chatroom conversations. Users of discussion groups and email may use a spell/grammar check, and plan more consciously before posting their text. There is for instance a more textual format with discussion groups. But while Instant Messenger and chatrooms appear at first sight to be less disciplined and more varied, with the relative spontaneity of casual interchange ignoring many more formal communicative conventions, analysis has shown complex patterns of interpretive and pre-dispositional structuring under way. In the example below the message from the Hurricane Floyd Messages Board appears more developed textually than the chatroom utterance – but is this an absolute, or a relative judgement? While IRC postings are far less grammatically formal, they remain as communicatively active and complex.

Hurricane Floyd Messages board

September 13, 1999 - 08:45 am:

By <wpapas>

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


Floyd chatroom



Tornadoes in Pender Count



With the above examples it is of course possible to postulate that, in the absence of directly reciprocating co-locutors, postings must address an unknown and general audience, in their quest for the specific addressee – and thus the more formalized and “public” mode of expression. In an Instant Messenger chatroom, the contrary is true. Interlocutors – most often established acquaintances, or at least those who are able to establish cultural commonality within the immediate communicative context – form responsive exchanges through their readings of informal, yet nevertheless complex and sophisticated – talk-texting repertoires. The demands for some degree of security within an expressive consensus can be clearly seen in those cases in which utterances accumulate from a single chat participant, before responses appear. In both cases below there are repeated entries by the same IM chatter before the other chatter ‘speaks’. The example below in column “A” shows the male speaker, coded as  <######:>, making another entry in advance of any answer, giving five multi-utterances and seven single utterances.  Between the female’s turn at 11 and her next turn at 16 there are four male utterances. Interestingly, especially for work on male-female “power” relations in talk, this shows in at least these two chat examples that the male utterances  outnumber the utterances of the female (see Tannen, 1990; Morgan, 2000, on conversational maintenance by men and women in both CMC  and face-to-face discussions).  The posting frequency alone suggests an imbalance in the power relations of the speech – but when the thread sequences are assembled, more can be read from the “lag” durations. The degree to which threads either change direction, or alter their intensity, “inside” the lag frame, is in itself of communicative significance, and suggests that serious study is needed into how “silence” works inside various chat forms.

From this example it is evident that the males are initiating threads and the female is maintaining them[8]. In the next example, the male has initiated the thread on past lives and the female has commented on it.


2. ######: MINE

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


In Case Study 4 the speakers who dominate the conversation by contrast are female usernames[9]. <Nicole528> has taken 24 turns and <judythejedi> has taken 22. Below <judythejedi> is marked as  and <Nicole528> is marked as so that they can be easily seen as the dominating influence in this chatroom[10].  By colour coding the speakers I could easily identify who was speaking the most.



 I approached this case study with two questions related to Computer-mediated communication:

Do computers change conversation’ and ‘are Instant Messenger chatrooms closer to offline-person-to-person conversation than dialogue in a multivoiced chatroom’?  It has certainly become obvious that computers do change conversation, and especially in relation to the suppressions of paralinguistic cues, direct address carried by gaze or gesture, tonal emphasis … all of those techniques used in “live” communication to manage the conversational relation. While we have found many emerging CMC techniques being used to replace these physical features, and noted the extraordinary creativity and pace of application in many cases, the informality of the new repertoire: its constitution within practice and its lack of a tailored analytical method, mean that CMC has not yet delivered all of its secrets. Nor can we anticipate that users will cease their creative transformations of the mixed-mode of “texted talk” into these new communicative forms. Already it has become obvious that while CMC has produced and still produces new talk techniques, there is no monolithic regulatory influence being exerted. Practices differ – between chat spaces, between chat participants – even at different moments within a particular chat sequence, as talk-topics shift emphasis, and behaviours adapt. CMC itself has already spun into many different formats, and the talk-texting and speech relations within each have also differentiated. Some patterns appear to cross between CMC technologising practices in different formats. For instance, as with the chat in Case Study 1 where multithreads (five) branch out from the primary topic of the storm, multiple chat-focus threads were also present in this Instant Messenger conversation (in this case, three). The overall topic stems from the fact that the two people in the conversation appear to know one another (confirmed later in my research). The threads in this ‘talk’ are about past lives, current relationships and sexual relations. The new threads were each initiated by the male speaker.


2.      current relationship  <######:> <YES, I GET TO CALL HER IN ABOUT 2 HOURS


The conversations begin with talk about past lives, then branch into a current relationship (the male’s current relationship), and the male initiated topic of sex - and the conversation ends there.

Instant Messenger or two-only chats are more intimate than multi-chats. In a public multi-chat room where it is not known who is present, utterances are viewable by all who are present. In the maze of scrolling texts threads, an individual can be found and lost by both the reader and the writer. In IM there are only the two viewers, who choose to respond or not to respond. Instant Messenger is thus similar to face-to-face conversation in that responses must be made if there is to be a conversation. In a multi-person chatroom by contrast, if there is no response by one person then someone else may respond to carry a thread forward. As I have shown in Case Study 2 and in the other case studies, multi-voiced text-based chat confuses talk-relations 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 personal, uninterrupted, and in this sense closer to ‘normal’ offline conversation.

What is changed – and markedly so within chatroom technologisations - is how we do conversation – the waiting for a direct response, dependent on the person with whom we are communicating and the speed at which they type and the speed of their computer connection. The speed of turn-talking and of understanding what is being said is dependent on the number of people in the chatroom. The more voices there are to sort through to carry on a personal conversation, the more a one-on-one conversation can be prevented from developing. If there are more than 40 people in the same chat, all typing and entering text at the same time, there can be a lapse between what we write and its appearance in the order of chat. For example in the chat below that occurred during the World Trade Centre collapses, there were sixteen entrances with eleven participants in the minute between 3.07 PM and 3.08 PM.  Turn 123 and 124 are both recorded at 15:07:17.



||||||||| sascha just entered this channel



1Bone!!: Ich bin deutsch



Spain_17: Here in Spain everyones talking about what's happening there



novyk: yo alucino, what's happened in London ???



damaged: morons, there weher 2 attacks again, one in pittburg



Hello: news: may be Osmat behind this attack



mike: where are you from, damaged? because you d'like to escape to mars.



Spain_17: Anybody from the N.Y??



oscar: yo de menorca! que pasada no?



1Bone!!: koischer chat hier



Hello: I just heard from news



oscar: que pasada no?



captain_insaneo: in london the stock exchange has been evacuated



Spain_17: Oscar?



MissMaca: what's happened in London?



||||||||| tach just entered this channel



Not only is it difficult to follow conversation at this pace but one has to quickly respond to a very specific utterance in order to be read and responded to. The speed that communication occurs at with computers, and the inability to  access the source of the information and the context that it is in, presents the biggest problem of finding meaning in transcripts in multi-person text-based chatrooms. In Instant Messenger or any two-person-only chatroom there is more opportunity for an organized and familiar turn-taking within communication, and therefore a meaningful exchange, than in a multi-person chatroom.

CS 3

In Case Study 3, using semiotic and pragmatic analysis as my tools of investigation of online chat, I particularly wanted to uncover not just how ‘talk’ is accomplished in a chatroom, but how far chatroom “talk” generally may be said to include a broader than usual repertoire of representation, working to “manage” talk relation problems as outlined above, and to compensate the loss of offline conversational cues. Mihai Nadin (1977) claims that the computer is in itself a semiotic machine, as it is at core a machine that can be programmed to manipulate symbols. Using computers as semiotic generators has an aesthetic appeal to users, because semiotics change over time and provide new meanings to old ideas. This seems interestingly close to the sorts of marked creativity the IRC and IM users in particular display in the case studies for this research – although the continuity of these creative “solutions” to communicational problems online, with strategies and talk/texting techniques evolved in offline conversation and reading-writing practices, reduces the implied suggestions that it is the CMC technologisation, and not human communicative ingenuity, which drives these changes.

In this case study I focused on the most obvious of the CMC elements of creativity, exploring how the use of non-word representation: emoticons and abbreviations, as well as the “identity” sign-tags or the usernames of the chatters, influenced the turn-takings of the chat-talk (see Crystal 2001; Rivera 2002). 

I chose a chatroom named after a celebrity to firstly discover whether usernames, their “identity” sign-tags, would be reflective of the title of the chatroom. In this case study on  ‘Britney Spears Chat’ one chatter did indeed identify as a Britney fan: <baby_britney1>. This identification with the chat-title is consistent with what I have found in the other chatrooms in this thesis, such as in Case Study 1, Hurricane Floyd, where there was the username <IMFLOYD>. In Case Study 4 on astrology participants used the names ‘astrochat’, <AquarianBlue>, <TheGods> and <Night-Goddess_>; in Case Study 6, ‘web 3d animation’ there were  <web3dADM> and < Web3DCEO)> and in Case Study 7, ‘baseball chat’ <MLB-LADY> (major league baseball). Therefore it is evident that usernames can be directly associated with the name-directed topic  of the chatroom. When the dialogue is read from the postings of these specific users  it is clear that each  chatter is indeed interested in the topic of the chatroom:

 <AquarianBlue> in Case Study 4;

10). <AquarianBlue> Nicole 528 is gemini

<web3dADM> in Case Study 6;

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

<MLBLADY> in Case Study 7;

6. <MLBLADY>             no clev fan but like wright

<IMFLOYD> in Case Study 1;

55 <guest-Sundance>  Has it flooded very bad on the island, heard they haad a

tornado in emerald Isle

and <Spain_17>: in the Postscript – 911 Chat;

120. <Spain_17>: Here in Spain everyones talking about what's happening there


But in each of these chatrooms there are also participants, as we saw in each study, identifying against or outside the title-topic convention; contributing postings off-topic; playing with textual form rather than following content threads – even resisting efforts to bring them back on topic. And both within and off topic, we have seen intense moments of creative communicative play, frequently directed more towards the maintenance of communicative relations than to focused engagement with talk topics.

Case Study 2 therefore centers on inquiry into whether the “playfulness” of online chat is a CMC specific impulse. In face-to-face conversation it is clear that people also use an array of semiotic communicative cues: intonation, physical gestures, facial expressions - but with CMC communication semiotic play  is restricted to lines of text on a screen as an expressive marker  (Stone, 1995a, p.93) as well as such “characterising” elements as semantically-layered usernames, expressive emoticons or  colour selections, and added sound. Semiotic analysis thus enables this study to move beyond a purely linguistic base into examination of the graphical and expressive modes used to compensate, and maybe beyond that, to create meaning in new ways, within the new “conversational” spaces of the chatroom - and particularly so in a chatroom of saturating expressiveness within identity work, as is the case with Britney chat.

In Case Study 3 to fully explore this drive to identity performance and exploration, to find out how users extend the actual communicative range of the “language” or coding system used, it was first necessary to examine which communicative functions were actually in use in the Britney Spears chatroom, and to reveal which are dominant and recurrent.

Firstly, it was obvious in this chatroom that chatters employed usernames as signs to give others clues about their identity – or at least about their “preferred identity”, or particular identification with a Britney community. In person-to-person conversation the clues that are given as aspects of identity are personal – indeed, physical. Online, these are replaced by the sorts of identity markers which demark offline social or cultural status:  one’s employment or educational level for instance. 

Here, in keeping with the Britney world, user tags are about image and “claiming”, or the image that one wishes to have represent one’s status within the particular social context of the Britney chat group. Each asserts either a relational claim, or one’s desirability as a relational being:  <Mickey_P_IsMine>, <JeRz-BaByGurL>, <Pretty_Jennifer>, <baby_britney1>, <IM_2_MUCH_4U>, <AnGeL_GlRL>, <Luvable_gurl15>, <buttercup20031> and <guest-hotgirlz>. These usernames suggest that the chatters, if not actually young girls, are at least identified with a popular teen culture of physicality and cuteness. In real-life <Luvable_gurl15> could be a 58 year old male, but if so he is entirely conversant with the codes and values of the Britney culture – even down to the assertiveness of the orthography: the post-feminist/netchick “gurl” replacing the conventional – and less powerful – “girl”.

Secondly, the title of the chatroom identifies the chatters as interested in the celebrity ikon, Britney Spears. The chatroom title alone can provide information on the identity of a participant; for example,  in a chatroom such as ‘Iraq4u’. An adolescent chatroom such as this one is likely to focus discussion on aspects of  personal self, as users construct identity around the image and stylized behaviours represented in their idol. As I show in the comparison table with a computer software discussion chat below, this can be seen to be true in the Britney Spears room. And yet there are distinguishing features beyond the level of topic as well.  Abbreviations were used more extensively; suggesting that adolescent play over identity is also enacted within talk-texting strategies. 

Emoticons too serve a purpose beyond just the saving of time. They are also a marker of informality, and so an “antilanguage”, in Halliday’s sense, indicating a special subcultural group identity, and used to show who is familiar or ‘up-to-date’ with the latest language being used. Of the seven case studies, I have found the highest incidence of abbreviations (30%) and emoticons (6%) in the Britney Spears chatroom (see for a statistical comparison of the seven chatrooms). In fact the abbreviation for laughing-out-loud ”lol” was used fifteen times. In this chatroom frequency counts of specific language forms are indeed revelatory. There were 294 words used within the collected data corpus, with the personal pronoun ”I” used the most frequently, (18 times) and ”lol” used the next most frequently (15 times). In the sequence shown below ”lol” is used nine times in 20 turns, which is more frequent than in any other chatroom examined in this study.  Another form of laughing-out-loud ”LMAO” (Laughing my ass off) was used five times.

Firstly then, chatroom semiotics shows the specialist communicative skill-level of the participator and whether he or she is in the right communicative arena to continue to be an accepted part of the chat community. Yet identity work of this kind in the Britney Spears chatroom is limited to the user name and the textual input of the chatter. By contrast, in face-to-face conversation, forms of identification are much more extensive and include cues which can reveal  personal identity, national identity, occupational identity, corporate identity, gender identity and even religious identity. (see Berger, 1998). So the talk-texting and linguistic creativity of these young chatters must achieve high levels of sophistication in order to convey all of the information needed to assert a “Britney” self, and yet remain a distinctive and desirable co-locutor in the “flattened” yet still competitive space of the chatroom. One dimension of chat, which seems to become suppressed in these conditions is that of extended reciprocal conversation – those longer threads of debate, information exchange or narrative, which appear in some other chat spaces and cultures. Here, while such narratives of experience for example do exist, they are constantly interrupted by the “social recognition” postings of greetings and farewells, and reactive-expressive turns, working less to cement sociality than to maintain affective role within the chat relation.

The only thread of a conversation ‘captured’ in the Britney Spears chat sequence shown below is about the wish to see a particular person online. This somewhat casual and intermittent chat contrasts with that in  the 3D Chatroom, where there was a more developed discussion of computer software.

Britney Spears Chat Room

3D Chat

1. well heather he going to end it i just know it


2. No Syd damn it meee


3. No hes not ter


4. Lol


5. hmmm mickey


6. But i think hes got a gf so i dont miss him that muc but well see what tomrrow bringslol


7. Ok Jenn lol


8. Yayay lol!


9. Lol justin


10. lol


11. iz lost


12. will find ya lol


13. do any guys wanna chat?


14. afk


15. Jenn Am i talking to a brick wall???


16. Sis i want Justin to get here!


17. need to fix my hair..


18. hello


19. wel I duno Mickey lol I juss think hes hottie so i cant really miss                                                                                                                                                        him


20. lol


s dead=(


i am going to cry if i dont see my baby soon



What VRML options work within AOL?




ahhh an ausse...a bunch of good vrml folks there


I don't believe AOL supports VRML at all


Will X3D work better there because it's Java-based?


which really sucks...but i'm not completely sure                                                             


X3D is not necessarity Java based that is just 1 implementation option


I'm sure there will be stand alone and plugin versions of X3D viewers                              


so did len say x3d not finalised yet?


x3d is not finalized yet...yes true  i think the final spec is due by siggraph time this summer but a lot should happen at the web3d conference too

is a lot of business done there?


yeah quite a bit i suppose....most of

the working groups meet






Here for instance we can see in posting 2 an interesting expressive embellishment, as a chatter who is entirely capable of entering the term “damn” with its correct spelling, renders an extended “meee” to assert both presence and the sort of “self” focus typical of the chat group. Alongside this focus on various forms of “I”, the recurrent laugh-cue “lol” creates a terrain of good humour and reciprocal sympathy, even in the midst of small narratives of loss: “I am going to cry…”; “he going to end it…”; “s dead =(…” The heavy layers of expressive play suggest a dramatized rather than an experienced reality: an enactment of how one should appear in a Britney world (relationship obsessed) concerned over the appearance or not of one’s “justin” or one’s “hottie”, rather than how one is: hanging out in cyberspace with one’s “gf”s who care, and who respond in kind.

Having established such high degrees of symbolic or creative-linguistic play, it becomes important with this chat culture to examine more carefully how this specific talk-texting repertoire works.  Pragmatics as a lens of conversational analysis in chatrooms (Ayer, 1968; Peirce, 1980) can reveal a socially embedded reading of chat ‘talk’. Pragmatics helps to focus on how the various communicative items in chatrooms; emoticons, abbreviations and misspelled words as well as chat utterance sentence structures (CUSS) are used within an online linguistic society. Pragmatics in chatrooms starts from the observation that people use online language to accomplish certain kinds of acts, broadly known as speech acts (Speech act theory is discussed in Case Study 4 below). Studies by Simeon J. Yates (1996) have shown that the language used in interactive speech in chatrooms more closely resembles spoken than written language, especially in the interpersonal respect (including use of personal pronouns). As we have seen above, in Britney Spears chat, Table 8 -  ‘I’ has been used 18 times in the chat, the most used word in the whole chat. 

Writing (or text-talking) back to a previous utterance in a synchronous conversational situation in chatrooms leads to a pragmatic re-contextualization of the use of the sorts of double-loaded semiotic expression discussed above. It is how the signs are read which provides meaning, and entices, or provokes, other participants to either continue building an utterance into a thread, or begin a new thread.  In Case Study three there are several utterances that do not become threads, as they evoke no comment on them. For example neither of the following utterances have a response.

23. <baby_britney1> do any guys wanna chat?


27.<SluGGiE> need to fix my hair..


Despite the direct question/invitation in posting 23, and the focus on a Britney-culture preoccupation with physical appearance in posting 27, neither turn is answered. The sorts of creative play with chat-semiotic loadings which we have seen above appear to evoke reciprocal posting, when otherwise powerful conversational and communicative strategies such as direct invitation or topic and contextual focus do not. Even those postings which access and reproduce the contextual “antilanguage” or specialist codes, with the conventional attitudinal and behavioural signifiers in place, do not always succeed in chat. In these next two turns <Mickey_P_IsMine> similarly receives no response - but responds to him or her self in turn 64.

56.     <Mickey_P_IsMine> Ahh i got a retest tomrrow mi failin math lol..and i think science

64.  <Mickey_P_IsMine> which i duno how im failin science


The casual texting, including colloquialism (“dunno”), spelling lapses “tomrrow “, and “mi” for “im” = “I’M”) – even the “lol” abbreviation – code into the established styles of group talk – yet seemingly without sufficient creativity to gain notice. While responding to abbreviations and emoticons and colloquial forms and specialized lexical terms shows a commonality of understanding amongst those who are chatting, this appears not enough in itself to command a reply.   Commonality is clearly indicated when  <Paul665> in turn 44 asks <Jen> to give details on his or her self, and it is evident that to evoke a response  <Paul665> must assume that Jen knows the abbreviation ‘asl’.

44. <Paul665> Ok Jenn asl

  <Pretty_Jennifer> responds:

51. <Pretty_Jennifer> 15/f/fl u?


But while we can clearly see that here the codes are exchanged in perfect reciprocity, what we cannot do is calculate with certainty why this exchange succeeds, while others fail. The gambit is not as directive as in <baby_britney1>’s direct question in posting 23, so that we are left with an interesting possibility that the direct question works less effectively in this chat context than the coded-abbreviated “asl” convention: perhaps a signal of <Paul665>’s chat-credentials and comparative “cool” – while <baby-britney1> may be showing too much real-world social desperation and push. But it is impossible to be certain. Maybe chatters were attending to other surrounding threads as posting 23 arrived. It is at such points that textual analysis, no matter how multi-layered, begins to fail, and only ethnographic or observational work can succeed.

How then can we assume that w/readers respond in certain ways to certain language selections within chat postings – and especially to the sorts of chat-codes and conventions which seem most often to evoke interested responses? I use semantics, (Korzybski, 1954; Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet, 1990, 1995) to investigate the ‘meaning’ of a linguistic item, considered as part of a specific syntactic system, in terms of how the item, (in this case, an online abbreviation) carries meaning out of and back into its culturally specific context. Yet even the most recurrent items can fail to connect with certainty, even to established referents. For example, the online abbreviation ‘lol’ can have different interpretations, such as ‘laughing-out-loud’ (the meaning I would ascribe in  this case study); ‘lots-of-love’,[11]  ‘learning-on-line’[12]; Liechtenstein on-line[13]; Lots-Of-Luck[14] or even Little Old Lady[15].

16.<Mickey_P_IsMine> But i think hes got a gf so i dont miss him that muc but well see what tomrrow bringslol

17. <Mickey_P_IsMine> Ok Jenn lol

18. <Pretty_Jennifer> Yayay lol!

19. <Mickey_P_IsMine> Lol justin

20. <SluGGiE-> lol


22. <Pretty_Jennifer> will find ya lol


While “laughing out loud” is the most likely coding here, at least in postings 17, 18 and 19 “lots of luck” and “lots of love” are also possible. Only when the threads are carefully teased apart can more certainty be added – and the process remains, even then, teasingly open. To establish an analysis of online dialogue thus requires  both semantic representation (content of what the different ‘speakers’ in a chatroom are saying) and pragmatic information, to evaluate the kinds of speech acts chatters are performing, such as asking a question, answering a question that has  been asked, or just announcing their presence.  Case Study 3 found in this particular chatroom conversation continued in a seemingly casual and colloquial manner, with abbreviations such as ‘lol’ fulfilling a user’s turn, acting as a “continuer”, even in the absence of certain application to a given referent. It appears than that semantic loading can weaken, as long as pragmatic potential remains intact – but that this “openess” or undecideability in the speech relation requires a compensatory layer of cultural-contextual work – and that it is the online chat techniques themselves: the abbreviations, the emoticons – which provide this, and not the direct relational work of fully formed questions, or the “style-culture” topics of behaviours of the “world of Britney” which we might otherwise anticipate as the goal for the entire communicative project.

The first question I posed in this chatroom was whether a popular person’s name as title of a chatroom creates a difference in dialogue in a chatroom.  In this chatroom, surprisingly, there was only one mention of Britney Spears, even though the chatroom bears her name.  There would need to be study of many celebrity chatrooms before an answer could be definitively given as to whether celebrity establishes not a fan-celebratory space, but a looser social-relational peer group or “style tribe”, in Maffesoli’s terms. There are chat-events when a celebrity is present, and questions are addressed to them, in an online talk-genre closer to the practices of a web-forum.  In this case however, while the chatroom was named after a celebrity there was no indication that it was an ‘official’ site for Britney Spears[16] and I did not find more than a few users at any one time during the research sampling, suggesting that the myriad of Britney fans do not see such sites as this as part of fan activity.[17] It is then entirely feasible that an entirely otherwise-directed communicative purpose is evolving within such spaces.

The second question asked in this chatroom was whether emoticons and abbreviations are used more frequently in youth orientated chatrooms than elsewhere.[18]  Findings from this chatroom suggest that this is so, and I show this in 5.1.1 Table 1. This chatroom had 30 percent of turns with an emoticon or abbreviation used, compared to the next highest room, Case Study 6, which had .06 of turns with emoticon usage.  With Case Study 3  based on a teen pop star and Case Study 6  on computer 3D animation  participants are likely to be older – and certainly appeared so  (many made some mention of family during the conversation).  A Pew Internet Project report (see in August 2002 found that 17 million young people  aged from  12 to  17 use the Internet. That represents 73% of those in this age bracket. Fifty-five percent said they used chatrooms and close to 13 million teenagers, representing 74% of online teens, use instant messaging. In comparison, 44% of online adults have used IM. A further finding by the Pew Internet Project found that 24% of teens who have used IMs and email or have been to chat rooms have pretended to be a different person when they were communicating online. I have therefore felt it statistically safe to assume  that the majority of those in this case study were indeed teenagers, and  suggest that the high ratios of expressive talk, social-relational and affliative talk, and online coding use, are typical among such groups.

CS 4

Since Case Study 3 therefore raises the question of whether the conversation in each chatroom varies in its focus in relation to talk techniques, and not just in topic focus, this study moves to consider which talk forms are evident in chat, and whether variability in given chat spaces can be detected – and perhaps even predicted, from the “chat community” present. Case Study 4 used speech act theory to identify dominant types of speech activity in a single chat space.  While IRC chat makes application of speech act theory difficult, because of the indeterminacy of the “response”, it is still possible to categorise postings within the speech act repertoire, and, where threaded exchanges are evident, to evaluate the success or “felicity conditions” of an utterance. It remains difficult  to assess  how much of the intentional load of a chat utterance is carried by para-linguistic elements such as emoticons or abbreviations, codings shown as of immense communicative significance in previous case studies. Given the frequency of use and rapid assimilation of these elements into online communication in various media, it is important to attempt at least a preliminary investigation of their “speech act” role.

Direct Speech Acts

In chat there are clear examples of direct speech acts being deployed, and in quite conventional ways:

Speech Act






conveys information; is true or false

(Case Study 4) 11) <Nicole528> im a Gemini

(Case Study 1) 10) <guest-MoreheadCityNC> NO she's near 10th & Gville Blvd




elicits information

(Case Study 4) 2) dingo42 nicole wahts your sign ??

(Case Study 4) 17) <AquarianBlue> your meeting her judy? when?

(Case Study 4) 32) <Night-Goddess_> anyone cool in here?

(Case Study - 911) 182) Brazilian report: some one know any new about the manhattan situation ???

Orders and Requests


causes others to behave in certain ways

(Case Study 5) 47) <scud4> bwitched stop scrollin in here

(Case Study 1) 123) <Zardiw> smptthing................go back to your SWAMP


Direct speech acts that use performative verbs to accomplish their ends expand the three basic types shown:statements, requests and commands. (as shown below)


(Case Study 1 turn 37) <EMT-Calvin>  well folks im signing off here



(Case Study 6 turn 49) <Brian> r u talking about blaxxun and shout3d implimentations or something else

Orders and Requests

(Case Study - 911 turn 296) <MissMaca> Brazillian Report: Iknow it was a building %&#%head. Give up on the %&#%ing nuke's ok!!!

Indirect Speech Acts

Indirect forms in chat are dominated by a generalized activation formation, which masquerades as a question addressed to the entire chat community:

(Case Study 1 turn 74) <guest-Tom> does anyone know where floyd isnow

(Case Study 1 turn 125) <guest-kodiak> does anyone know why UNCC has not closed

(Case Study 1 turn 162) <guest-EZGuest367> Anyone know if I should worry about daughter in west NC?

The form has even evolved its own abbreviation:


(Case Study 911 turn 370) <England> n e one know of other active new york chat rooms?

The first four postings are clearly  in the form of questions, but equally clearly  are not inquiries about issues  the chatter  can anticipate will be answered by an expert “knower”. Thus the speech act is in itself indirect, as we can see by examining possible answers. Most of the time, the answer "yes, I do" to any of these four questions would be an uncooperative response. The normal answers we would expect in real life talk would be "Yes, the Weather Channel tells us that Hurricane Floyd is passing over North Carolina now", <UNCC is closed because of the storm>, <if your daughter is in the eye of the storm you should be worried>, <another active New York chatroom is at>. Because of the anonymity of the chat situation, each response depends upon what could be called a “validation” format: the use of an indirect statement or reported speech from another context: “The weather channel tells us that…” A simple "yes" answer that responded to the literal meaning would usually be taken for an uncooperative answer in actual social life.  For example "Yes, I do", would be heard as "Yes, I do, but I'm not necessarily going to tell you where the storm is, why UNCC is closed or the location of other active chatrooms in NY". So the five examples above function as indirect questions, more accurately coded as “I want you to tell me where the storm is now”, “I would like to know whether UCC is closed yet”, or “Please tell me of some other New York chatrooms so that I can move to them” and the chatroom participants are clearly able to interpret this function, and respond appropriately. In other words, despite the added indirection of chat speech act formation, chat continues.

 The key question for this Case Study and this chatroom:

“What is a successful speech act in a chatroom?” thus appears to require consideration of the more than usual loadings of indirect speech acts inside a non-physical and multilogue talk community.

Austin and Searle claim that the speech act is the basic unit of meaning and force, or the most basic linguistic entity, with both a constative and a performative dimension. They both accept that there are illocutionary acts and perlocutionary acts, using speech act theory as their theoretical foundation and analysing the data by message length, distribution, message links, and interaction. Speech act theory is  based on the notion that what people say is consistent with what they do (Howell-Richardson; Mellar, 1996). Such a definition indicates the zones in which chat “unravels” some of the regulatory functions hypothesized in speech act theory. Distribution roles, or those aspects of speech working to direct talk relations and to control its performative dimensions, are problematic within the generalized speech relations of chat: one explanation of the sorts of indirect strategies outlined above – and maybe of the retreat into saturating expressives and relational work.

In part this indeterminacy which bedevils speech act analysis in chat rests in the technologisation and “de-threading” of the format. It is not determinable for instance whether <hmmmmmmm> in the utterance below is a truth statement (agreeing with a previous utterance) or an answer to the previous utterance from  <Night-Goddess_> (anyone cool in here?) – or even <AquarianBlue> expressing a response to some offline pleasure.  For these reasons alone  Speech Act Theory cannot categorise  all utterances in a chatroom, with certainty – and it may be that the confusion and chaos that new users so frequently report of the chat experience relates to this indeterminacy, in relation to off-line talk. Yet at the same time regular chat users do manage their talk successfully.

34) <AquarianBlue> hmmmmmmm


In this chatroom Speech Act Theory can then be used to examine features common to all chatrooms.  In particular it can help establish interconnections within the threads of conversation. Unlike face-to-face conversation, where a person appears to respond to the most recent statement in a conversation in a chatroom, the utterance can be a continuation of someone else’s utterance - or it can be on a new topic, with the hope that someone else may join in. The example below shows three unrelated utterances, but all are either continuations of a thread or the initiation of a new thread:

30)  <judythejedi> i don't think so..she's bringing amtrack down maybe                  

31) <Nicole528> whats your sign dingo?

32) <Night-Goddess_> anyone cool in here?


Because of the technologisation of chat there are no markers to segregate or ‘direct” this conversational traffic. Chat participants must then de-code the speech acts, and re-connect threads into logically sequential strands. Since posting 30 is a relates to an earlier posting, only those participants already threaded into that particular chat will respond – unless of course a new chatter asks directly “You don’t think what? She who? Amtrak down to where? Why only “maybe”?  Since such a response would be an interruption of an implied co-locutor relation, it is unlikely to occur. Posting 31 creates a similar “directedness”, signing it with the user name “dingo” – the sole participant invited to reply. So it is no surprise that of these three consecutive postings, it is 32, the generalized and indirect question/invitation form, which succeeds. Following <Night-Goddess_>’s utterance <anyone cool in here?> a thread develops that plays across the issue of  whether anyone is ‘cool’ in this room – and incidentally provides a possible answer to the role of posting 34 from <AquarianBlue>..

32)     <Night-Goddess_> anyone cool in here?

33)<judythejedi> hi night

34)/\32 <AquarianBlue> hmmmmmmm

35)/\32 <judythejedi>everyone is cool here

36)/\32 <Nicole528> is cool lol

37)<poopaloo> 10ty judy

38)/\32 <Nicole528> is cold too

39)<sara4u> I LOVE YOU TO MUCH.......ACARD

40)<jijirika>is back

41) <tazdevil144> cool


For this speech act to be completed there needs to be an understanding of what <Night-Goddess_> means by ‘being cool’. The speech community within the room choose in interesting ways to respond by playing across the semantics of the term “cool” – yet in doing so, indicate their understanding of the indirectness of her speech act strategy. As <Nicole528> and <poopaloo> evaluate and reward the claim from <judythejedi> that all the chatters in this space are cool, and <tazdevil> extends the game by using the term to express pleasure that <jijirika> has rejoined the chat, each understands not only the “surface” codes, or display techniques which sign “cool” chat expertise: “lol”, and “10 ty”, but also the indirection of <Night-Goddess>’s speech act. This is not a directed question. As its “anyone” address formula shows, it is an invitation to talk. But specifically, in its address to not only a chat community, but to a known and familiar group (note <judythejedi>’s diminutive tag-name response: “night”) it creates a speech act which is less a general question than an assertion of communality. In effect, it says something like: “Hello to all my old friends: I’m ready to be as active in chat as usual” – and those chat friends react entirely appropriately.  Responses demonstrate “cool”, in chat terms, with a mix of community affirmation:

·        <judythejedi> everyone is cool here;

appreciation of the communality:

·        <Nicole528> is cool lol,

and the sort of metatextual play across chat conventions which establishes the cachet of cool online:

·        <Nicole528> is cold too;

No surprise then that the thread is continued for several more turns before a new thread is begun. The original utterance serves not to ellicit specific answers, but to evoke the sorts of talk which online chat promotes, and which is distinctive to its form: reflexive, linguistically aware, communally directed, generalized and inclusive/exclusive, fast-paced, and multi-threaded: 


49) \32 10c. <Night-Goddess_> I is not cool

50) \49 5l. <judythejedi> yup

51) \49 6j. <Nicole528> really

52) \4910d. <Night-Goddess_> I is awsome

53) \496k. <Nicole528> yes your cool

54) \465m. <judythejedi> lol..i know prncess

55) \476l. <Nicole528> cool dingo

56) \521c. <gina2b> coolfool


CS 5

 If there is a preponderance of relational talk-texting in chat rooms, by examining a chatroom with a predominance of markedly short turn-taking sequences, it may be possible to discover if even in the rapidly scrolling conversation of online chat, there is enough time and enough “speech act” work to establish a communication community amongst the chatters present.

Talk in text-based chat is as fleeting as its off-line equivalent. Text disappears as it scrolls by. The participant gets one opportunity to read the text, after which time it cannot be retrieved – at least not without time out for scrolling – during which period postings continue to amass.  This capacity I have called ‘fleeting text’.  Online fleeting text affects discursive connectiveness. There is a counter-intuitive distinction here between talk and text. Conventional spoken language is also dynamic, fleeting, and irreversible communication, but printed language breaks the strictures of time and leads to permanence. The two together in an online environment contain elements of both – what has been said can be ‘revisited’, as long as the chatroom is showing previous turn takings. My data does not show evidence that users do check back to re-establish threads.

Thread-framing is a major phenomenon in chatrooms.  A posting appears to “begin” and “end” because it arrives on the receivers’ screen inside an individual text-box.  These framed pieces of conversation are of course not necessarily sequential. Threads twist around, stop and start, and several may arrive at one time, in a seemingly chaotic fashion. What then is the relationship between the seeming coherence of a single chat utterance, and its equally contained surrounding utterances?

We have already seen that the apparent commensurability of utterances, each framed in the same spatial convention, is an illusion. Immediately consecutive utterances are often unrelated, or at least out of sequence – and many remain so. Further, because this form of visual framing is the only contribution to the communicative regulation of texted talk by its technologisation, users themselves must work instead at the level of language alone – including of course both verbal and visual elements – to construct meaningful communication. 

At the linguistic level the “threading” which constructs meaningful conversational exchanges across and between these individual and flattening visual frames also must read back possibilities for response. It is this form of  “framing” which gives a starting and finishing point to a thread, and turns it from an artificial sequence of random utterances to a meaningful conversation. Since there are no visual codings contributed by the CMC technologisation to mark a new or ending thread, that decision too must be made by the chat participants; read back from the speech act possibilities. Curiously,  in many cases the originator of a  thread is also the last ‘voice’ seen in that  particular thread. In the example below, <Night-Goddess_> begins a new thread by asking  whether there is <anyone cool in here?>.  The topicis also ended by <Night-Goddess_> 20 turns later, with the comment: <I is awesome>.

32) <Night-Goddess_> anyone cool in here?

49) <Night-Goddess_> I is not cool

52) <Night-Goddess_> I is awsome


Because this topic had centred so clearly upon the word ‘cool”, this transformation – “cool” – becomes “awesome” – ends the potential for wordplay, and so terminates the frame. But to sense this termination chat participants must be able to “read” and respond beyond the level of conversational turn-taking exchange – the CA level. By reading speech act intent in utterances, and seeing <Night-Goddess> “switch off” the topic cue at this point, collocutors can indeed note a frame termination – and they move on accordingly.

The initial framing of a thread can thus determine – or at least work towards determining – its success and duration.  But in the case above, as already noted, there is a particularly consensual group in communication. This community of astrology followers appears to be regular collocutors online, and know one another’s behaviours. How far then is this the cooperative communication of a friendship group, as opposed to a specific communicative behaviour of online communities generally: a feature of ‘chat”, rather than of this example of “astrochat”?

If there is hostility shown in a chatroom, or as shown in Case Study 1, an attitude such as racism, (in this case towards Mexican roofers) will other speakers  contribute to the thread in like manner, supportively, as in the astrochat sequence? Here there is clear evidence that threads can be very deliberately de-railed, and threads such as <SWMPTHNG>’s stopped by others.  A different speaker can end the thread, indicating   a multi-chatter frame (see Tannen, 1998; Bays 2000). Since to do so they must however also “read” the frame – understand the intent of the utterance – the termination/transformation intervention still acts as evidence for the power of talk-text framing. So clear is the framing intent to some collocutors, that they move to end it – or at least, to re-direct it. And indeed, without such framing a thread could continue indefinitely. Framing is what manages                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

CS 6

Using conversation analysis (CA) in chatrooms helped discover how communication online regulates its exchanges. While the ‘capturing’ of data is different in chatrooms from that used to research   face-to-face conversation there are similarities in the analysis process. Traditionally, CA researchers audio record a session and discuss from a printed readout “what happened” in the conversational exchanges. In the example below from such a taped session[19] the time between turns and the pauses in the conversation are noted – not an element that can be considered in online chat, or at least not in those chatrooms which do not mark the time of arrival of each utterance – and even then, given the packet-switching technology, this does not reflect the times of entry for a given posting. Some aspects conventionally of communicative import in CA are therefore not available for analysis in chat. In CA for instance most work is done with two or three people speaking. In the example below two people are having a phone conversation. This one-on-one speech relation, or its close approximation within a small group, has contributed many of the techniques and features of CA method. To an extent, the features identified by CA in small-group or dyadic talk relations can also describe chatroom interactions. Conversational analysis of chatroom talk shows for instance examples of adjacency pairs and turn-taking conventions common in CA-analyses of natural talk.  But both the capacity for multilog and the technologisation of the talk, through text and through CMC, create new complexities inside the talk relations.  One primary difference as this case study and others have shown is the interjection of conversation before a thought is complete, due to the tendency to use the enter button “mid utterance”, combined with the often lengthy periods between utterances that are filled with other streams of talk. In examples A and B below we see clear indications of turn-taking, and the development of a conversation. In A however there are interruptions (for example in turn 45), impossible in chatroom turn-taking. Utterances are mostly complete turns in chatrooms, with the only breakage in a particular utterance being made by the user at the time of the utterance – for only if they press the enter button does  the utterance become broken. In turns 21-24 below (column B) <Leonard> makes two utterances that are different thoughts, but because they are entered sequentially without anyone making an utterance between the two thoughts  <web3dADM> is left to answer them both, as different thoughts, sequentially after  <Leonard>’s entrances.

21) <Leonard> Anyone used Xeena?

22)  <Leonard> 3D just arrived NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today

23) <web3dADM>   no it's on my list

24) <web3dADM>   ahhh great Len

In a face-to-face conversation one would assume that <web3dADM> would  respond to <Leonard> saying  <Anyone used Xeena?> with the utterance <no it's on my list> and to <Leonard>’s <3D just arrived NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today> with <ahhh great Len>, ordering  the conversation differently:

21) <Leonard> Anyone used Xeena?

23) <web3dADM> no it's on my list

22)  <Leonard> 3D just arrived NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today

24) <web3dADM>   ahhh great Len

If in fact utterances 21 and 22 had been offered in sequence in a natural conversation, it is also likely that <web3dADM> would reverse the response sequence, offering his expressive and evaluative response before his explanation  – in effect replying to 22 before 21:


21) <Leonard> Anyone used Xeena?

22) <Leonard> 3D just arrived NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today

24) <web3dADM>   ahhh great Len

23) <web3dADM>   [no] it's on my list [too]

In fact <web3dADM> could have been typing in <no it's on my list> at the same time as <Leonard> was typing in <3D just arrived NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today> - or even before, since we do not know the relative distances traveled through the system, or the traffic-flow conditions encountered by the packet-switching .[20]


A CA transcription from tape recording

B Web 3D Chat


According to conversation analysis, turn-taking is integral to the formation of any interpersonal exchange. Unless lurking, the participants in chatrooms demonstrate their knowledge of the particular chat conventions of the chat-site they are visiting in order to be accepted or rejected by others in the chatroom. The signaling of one’s status as an insider is especially important in establishing dominance. In the chatroom I used for this case study the topic was computer animation, and it is clear that <web3dADM> is the leader or moderator in this case study, not only because of the abbreviation for administrator (ADM) behind the <web3d> part of the username, but because <web3dADM> provides answers to questions people ask in the chatroom regarding the chatroom itself. The status of this participant is thus marked in various ways, but key among them is this specificity of interrelational role – a feature of turn-taking as identified in CA.

The underpinnings of CA, sequential organization, turn-taking and repair, and how they can depict interactional competence are therefore useful in reading chatroom talk. However, the circumstances of chatroom technologisation demand adaptations to CA protocols, to enable analysis of conversational relations occurring in de-threaded sequences. Unlike face-to-face conversation the sequential organization of a given chat exchange needs to be separated from what else is being enacted in the chatroom. The isolating of pairs in the chat is difficult if there are many people chatting and the text is scrolling at a rapid rate.  In finding adjacent pairs in Case Study 1 the conversation had to be re-threaded. . What is revealed below for instance is that there is a turn-taking strategy present between <lookout4110> and <Werblessed>, but each utterance has  several turns in between.













Who is in Wilm. right now?





Im 50 Miles west of Wilm.




73.<SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 7pt"> </SPAN><SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"</SPAN>



How ya holding up Werblessed?





So far just strong wind gusts and lots of rain.. Over 8 inches so far..







Have the winds been strong?





Gusts up to 60-65 so far its starting to pick up a bit.. Only gonna get stronger Between now and midnite


The first number in the ‘between utterances’ column is the number of turns since the previous utterance was addressed and the second number is the number of turns since the last utterance by the same speaker.  After these three sets of turn-takings <lookout4110> and <Werblessed> no longer  interact directly.  <lookout4110>  contributes  more utterances, concluding at  turn 164 and <Werblessed>’s final utterance in this segment is  at turn 180. In other words, given the multiple threads available for response in online chat, threads form and reform, as participants shift focus. But the degree to which such shifts are driven by the complexities of the multilog are hard to evaluate – another feature which CA is unable to address, and which may require a more ethnographic inquiry to assess.

CA is however able to consider some aspects of conversational breakdown – for instance, repair, a standard part of normal conversation. Natural conversation is rich in examples of breakdown – a feature which CA analysts often find disruptive to other programs of their analysis:

When we consider spontaneous speech (particularly conversation) any clear and obvious division into intonational-groups is not so apparent because of the broken nature of much spontaneous speech, including as it does hesitation, repetitions, false starts, incomplete sentences, and sentences involving a grammatical caesura in their middle [Cruttenden, 1986, pg. 36].

In chatrooms, where utterances are mostly posted complete, this experience of breakdown at first sight seems less of a problem. But chat-repairs do come about, due to two primary causes. The first is shown in column A below and the second in column B. The first is introduced when a word is  typed incorrectly - <IroquoisPrncess> says <hey Judy did a get my car inthe link thingy>. While  ‘car’ is a proper word, it is wrongly entered, and confuses the meaning, since interlocutor   <judythejedi> does not associate the word with the utterance-topic, leaving <IroquoisPrncess> to correct the error. Here the error is text related: clearly a typing error, and a feature which in natural conversation would be corrected in much the same way, although enacted as a mispronunciation, or a mishearing – probably cued by a quizzical glance or facial frown.  Here the interlocutor, <judythe jedi>, directly addresses the need for repair. The second repair error however is less techno-conversational than CMC technological. Owing to pressing the enter key early, dividing his utterance, <Leonard> leaves a curious suspension in his exchange with <brian>. Has <brian> pre-empted a reply in advance of all the information, because the utterance object introduced by “this” must be “spring”? Does <Leonard> enter “spring” while <brian> is entering his own utterance, or because he thinks if <brian> has all the information he may change his response? Because we have no information available on the timing of the utterances we are unable to analyse the interaction further – an interesting example of chat’s technologisation defying CA principles on repair.

From Case Study 4

From Case Study 6

57) <IroquoisPrncess> hey Judy did a get my car inthe link thingy

63) <judythejedi> car in the link?

66) <IroquoisPrncess> card

40) <Leonard> I will be offereing it on-line through Digital University sometime this

41) <brian> can't make it

42) <Leonard>  spring


 Are there then instances of chat which require more than the sorts of extended CA repertoires discussed here, for examination of the full range of utterance behaviours and conversational techniques? Are the chat participants examined above displaying both interesting instances of the language-use pressures of chat, and conscious attempts to redress these? Are there other techniques of talk or text analysis which can help both identify and explain some of these communicative behaviours? One issue raised in CA work on chat is the need for a more finely-focused examination of word-selection and word-ordering in utterances – and especially in such self-conscious moments as those occurring around instances of repair. In a final pass over the chat-room communicative experience, this study used current approaches to grammatical analysis, to assess how far chat uses and/or departs from standard text or talk grammar conventions.

CS 7

 This case study examined baseball chat, to assess whether  the functioning of grammar in chatroom communication could be shown to be the same as, or different to, that evident in text or talk. Do common grammatical conventions – such as word order, sentence structure, question formation, hold up in online chat? Are there any new constructions evident? Language in a chatroom certainly proved to be  altered by its users, both deliberately and by mistake. Formal sentence structure conventions become less evident, as abbreviation and graphic elements arise to meet the speed-entry demands of the chat technology and its new communicative ethos.  Compound forms arise, with the informality of spoken language, but enacted in the sorts of textual play and creativity otherwise seen in communicative genres such as poetry, or advertising.   The grammar of chatrooms, if it is done intentionally, is developing a highly sophisticated form of prose that is semantically and semiotically  innovative and daring.

Below, <CathyTrix-guest> in turn 108 creates the utterance  <2blech>. Such combinations of numerals and letters have no place or “utterability” in spoken conversation – yet in this chatroom, at this moment, inside this thread, the utterance communicates.  The ‘2’ refers to an earlier request for chatters to press the ‘3’ key if they like the New York Yankees baseball team. <CathyTrix-guest> emphases his or her dislike of the Yankees by pressing a different key from the  ‘3’ suggested, confirming it with the comment: ‘blech’  - not conventionally a meaningful word, but one used colloquially as an onomatapoeic representation of the act of vomiting.  The turn thus communicates something like “I don’t like the Yankees, they make me sick: I would only score them at a rate of 2”. The economy, the creativity and the expressiveness of the utterance overturn the conventions of a more formal sentence construction, without losing communicative power.




if you like the yanks press 3








got it




















2I hate the Yankees




don't have a 3
















yankees s-ck




im removing that # now




you wish


Similar concision in chat utterances operates as both an efficiency forced by the required typing speeds, and a stylistic marker of online competency. In turn 77 <MLB-LADY> enters a question: ”dd any see the atanta score”. A formally grammatical rendering would produce the form:   ”did anyone see the Atlanta score?”.  While the third spelling error: atanta for Atlanta, is likely to be a simple typing error, the suppression of the vowel from ”did” and the lack of capitalisation for the proper noun “Atlanta” are both conventions of online use.

Similar effects are achieved by the use of single letters or numerals in place of whole words: u – you, 4 – for, r –are, c – see, 2 – to.   In posting 128 of Case Study 7 <BLUERHINO11> refers to <dhch96>by using the letter “d” – an abbreviation of a user-tag which works as both familiarity (“may I call you “d”, <dhch96>?”) and as online efficiency..

In chatrooms, grammar is thus a developing protocol, reacting to both the demands of the rapid scrolling of the conversational threads, and to the creative demands of establishing online communicative competence. Common grammatical principles and practices are applied differently in chatrooms. In society generally, we use grammar to judge people in terms of social status, regional origins, and educational level. In chatrooms the rules have to some extent already changed. A person may be judged by how efficiently he or she types, and by the familiarity they are able to display with online chat conventions, such as abbreviations, graphics integration, and the capacity to respond to creative utterances in kind – to continue the stylistic directions of a thread, as well as its content or semantic load – and that may well mean “reading” and writing back the sorts of grammatical adjustments outlined in Case Study 7.

5.1 Unique features of chatrooms

Overall, the case study sites have been able to display not only communicative complexity inside the chat utterances, but complexity resolving into specific online chat techniques. Electronic chat is no longer only one small communication exercise among many, sharing most of the communicative styles of natural conversation or equivalent text forms (such as for instance the memo) but an important and distinctive form of communication, establishing its own regulatory systems and practices. Internet text-based chat is already changing as a technology, with the increasing use of webcams, multimedia and 3D Graphics-based chat communities[21] and the ability to use voice instead of only text. New applications of text-based chat are appearing with the availability of wearable computers[22], including miniature PCs, personal digital assistants (PDA), cellular phone watches, cognitive-radios[23], and electronic performance support systems (EPSS)[24]. Such devices will enable people to access information via networks anytime, even while out walking. But as this occurs, it will in turn force adaptations to the sorts of online communicative practices revealed in this study, and others. From the discussion of the seven primary chatrooms in the case studies and several secondary chatrooms I have found that there are common, “core” elements, present on all web-based chat sites, as well as specialist elements on specialist sites – and further, that these elements are not limited to a special lexis, as might be expected in such relatively new communication contexts, but extend to the full range of communicative behaviours.

This study has shown too that chatrooms place particular limitations on communication, producing unique communicative strategies which not only mark them as communicative locations and cultures, but are consciously deployed by users to demonstrate competence and status within online community.  In summary, moving from Case Study to Case Study, the following communicative features mark online chat:

·        Author as reader, reader as author (Case Study 1)

Online, as talk text generates, the “reader” and the “author” can be the same person at the same time.  The listening and response phases of face-to-face conversation are less separable online, where the formulation of a reply is dependent upon a high-demand interpretation or “reading” of prior postings – including their formatting, recognition of which is required for reciprocal expression, which lifts a participant’s status within the chatroom. Without this capacity to process postings at speed, and to reply creatively and in like mode, chat participants become less successful in online communication.  To be a powerful online “author” is also to be a competent online “reader”.

·        Misleading chatroom titles: the power of chat communities to re-direct the role of online communication (Case Study 1)

 The title of a given chatroom often fails to indicate what is actually discussed. Online communities, like casual conversationalists in the offline world, very often redirect their communicative focus – and sometimes permanently, with consensual groups setting up regular meetings in spaces no longer very relevant to their topics.  This “drift” in topic direction demonstrates once again the focus produced within online chat on communicative technique, with chat very often more directed towards features of its own communicative repertoires than to pre-determined topics.

·        Multiple-Authorship in different chatrooms (Case Study 2)

It is difficult in face-to-face conversation to carry on two or more conversations at the same time, but in chat communication it is possible to open two or more screens on one’s monitor, in order to  chat  in several chatrooms at the same time. This can be expanded to having conversations in different locations at the same time, for example speaking with someone in Australia at midnight there and someone in New York in the early afternoon, New York time. And within a given chatroom, it is also possible to maintain multiple conversational threads, responding to different topic-focused chat relations as the relevant postings appear.  Online, communicative “authorship” thus distantiates from the actual “author”, in quite formal communicative ways – well in advance of any conjecture as to identity experimentation or concealment. Chat is markedly “presentified”, in Lefebvre’s terms: that is, attending always to the response happening NOW, as well as displaying a strong interest in and skill with presentational aspects of communication – but without arriving at Derrida’s postulation of “presence” in speech: that authorizing validation of communication which is conventionally thought of as originating in the physical being of a speaker. This suggests that the curious and much-remarked physical absence on chatters from the relations they establish is over-compensated through such practices as multiple simultaneous engagement in chatrooms and chat strands, and in the excessively conscious attention to chat utterance forms.

·        Avatars (See, Case Study 3)

Avatars are graphic or textual representatives of the speaker, based on how the chatter identifies him or herself. The avatar could be an animal, cartoon, celebrity or any object. An avatar is the chatter at the time of textual engagement. Again, its created character both distantiates and characterizes a chat participant, acting to position them in the larger chat community in a preferred way. The persona thus also becomes a part of the communicative intent, adding to the complexity of chat techniques.

·        Emoticons (Case Study 3)

Using a series of keyed characters to indicate an emotion, such as pleasure [:-) J] or sadness [:-( L] chatters are able to communicate beyond the ‘word’, giving faster communication. Some emoticons are becoming universal – even carrying the same meaning in different languages.  The first and most used emoticon is the smiley[25]. Emoticons re-deploy the keyboard repertoire, adding expression to a communicative form denied the expressive techniques of gesture, facial expression or vocalization. Once again however they have already established themselves as a layer of communicative competence, used not only to add nuance (acting for instance as mitigators or intensifiers) but to demonstrate creativity and “wit” in interchanges.

·        Threads and Discontinuity (Case Study 4)

Because conversational threads disconnect in online chat, as the posting sequences react to the technologisation of the IRC software and not to interpersonal turn-relations, all chat participants must both accept and learn to negotiate discontinuities in their postings and those of others. The ability to focus on topic and to build even multilog discussion under these circumstances has already established itself across many types of chatroom – so much so that common elements of practice are already evident from chatroom to chatroom. Often even very extended sequences of intervening text do not appear to deter thread focus, while chatters are also able to respond to sequences which “de-thread” as postings arrive in inappropriate order; ie sequences dictated more by typing speeds or transport efficiency than by the logic of the topic development. This particular form of “repair” work appears to pose few problems for chatters. Discontinuity, i.e. popup ads or ads amongst the turn-takings (See, Case Study 4)

One form of stop in the flow of conversation in chatrooms is caused by advertisements s that are auto-inserted at regular places amongst turn-takings. Different chatrooms will have varying spaces for their ads, some having an ad appear every five turns, others displaying   ads that appear to randomly pop-up in the midst of the chat. These interruptions also appear to be no problem to chat participants, who remain focused on their threads. It appears that intervening postings of this kind are dealt with not as chat, but as otherwise-framed text, which does not “interrupt” the texts of talk.

·        Chatroom graffiti (See, Case Study 5)

The messages conveyed through the work of graffiti artists are often highly political and deliberately aggressive, positioned in public spaces most likely to attract notice and force response. Some online participants  go from chatroom to chatroom, leaving messages but not participating in  chatroom converation: I refer to this as chatroom graffiti. Perhaps because their postings appear to chatters as utterance rather than as “otherwise-framed” text, these postings are more likely to evoke negative response – especially if repeated.

·        Fleeting text (See, Case Study 5)

Chat, being a synchronous communication form, lacks the permanency of an asynchronous form. Thus, despite its texted format, it shares more features with talk than with prose – among them the tendency to “patrol” or work positively and negatively to maintain the specific features of the communicative forms and relations  present in a given chatroom. This drive to include and exclude utterance forms, utterances and utterers is evident in different degrees and different ways in different spaces and chat modes, but does mark a communal sense of control over chat, and a regulation of what is and is not acceptable or preferred behaviour.

·        Lurking (See, Case Study 6)

 Lurking is one behaviour which may not be welcomed in chatrooms. Some chatrooms do not show the chatters in the room and therefore the lurker is even more hidden from view. A lurker is able to read and observe behaviour in a chatroom without making any contribution – but since chat is by definition a participatory activity, lurking defies all aspects of the communicative act, with even the “reading” which we might anticipate as being carried out by a lurker being inactive by virtue of its failure to connect with the “w/reading” of texted chat which is signaled in properly configured response postings. Since chat status is judged by the relevance and creativity and format-matching of one’s postings, lurking is so low status as to attract derision and censure – or at the very least, nervousness. 

·        Collaborated-Selves (See, Case Study 6)

MUDs and MOOs are collaborative, networked environments where the MOO and MUD consists of a number of connected rooms. Chatters create a “combined self”, partly fictionalized but partly built on his or her own chat capacities and skills, in order to create a space or story or thread in the chatroom. It is the MUD and MOO experience which signals most clearly the continuity-separation aspect of chat identity online, where the skills required to chat with authority and efficacy – elements continuous with our offline expectations of a “present” or authorizing self from which “expression” can flow – can be shown to be fictionally deployed, in the service of an online character role. This insight drives a further wedge between identity and chat-skills: that is, it establishes the distance that exists online between whatever roles and statuses a chat participant may be accorded in real life, and those established through their skills at online chat. It is here that the special chat codings enter the scene, providing a repertoire of possibility across which chat experts can play, to establish their online credibility.

Spelling, Abbreviations and Grammatical errors  as online ‘normsl’ (Case Study 7).

Abbreviations and grammatical errors are not only accepted but also dominant in online chat, for two primary reasons. Firstly the speed of “speech” in a chatroom does not provide time for writing out what can be abbreviated, leading to forms such as “btw” for “by the way”. Once this is established as commonplace however, it becomes a marker of expertise. High-statused chatters – those whose postings gain attention – display creative innovation and application of such compounds, abbreviations and grammatico-orthographical reformations.  Moments of reciprocation between chatters all displaying command of these new conventions become peak moments of online chat, showing the degree to which chat conventions themselves are a major element of online community identity, and have become central to chat as a communicative form. 

·        Long gaps between asking and answering in turn takings, with other turn-takings in between – equivalent to the listening phase in a conversation (Case Study 2).

If chat-community is established in the formal conventions of chat “style”, “w/readers” or entrants to a chat space who seek to participate must work to establish the repertoires in play; the level of skills required to intervene, and the likely acceptability of their own postings, in terms not just of ideas and opinions – semantic issues – but of their capacity to reciprocate in kind at the formal level. But other elements of chat skill are also demanded. The length of gap between turns, and the ability to locate and follow discontinuous threads, also place a premium on chatroom experience. For many new chat users this threading complexity is baffling. Its difficulty is often dependent on, firstly, how many people there are in the chatroom, and secondly the number of turn-takings offered and taken up – by one or by many participants. For example, in the “911” chat I have referred to in this study, there were as many as 45 turns in a minute – sometimes two entries for the same second – which leaves little time to construct those turns. Below there are seventeen turns in one minute.



Pete: Let kill all Palestian terrorist´s greetings from Finland ps:morjens Will kuis panee






oscar: that's not shute will!!!!



MissMaca: hikacked planes, and flew 3 planes into the pentagon.



mike: I think so, miss maca.



sascha: hallo from germany



Hello: How many building are still up in NY



1Bone!!: Whats up in NY???????????



damaged: no then we get a world wore 2



dolly: our news says five planes now



1Bone!!: I'm from germany too!



novyk: who's the author of this ... ??? Anyone know there ???



sascha: 3



Will: Pete: Siinähän se



sascha: the 3rd world wore



1Bone!!: %&#% 3. Worldwar?!?!



oscar: hello 1 bone, where are you from?


Of these eleven chatters who “spoke”, only three had more than one turn in that minute. <1Bone!!:> had four utterances in this minute:






1Bone!!: Whats up in NY???????????



1Bone!!: I'm from germany too!



1Bone!!: %&#% 3. Worldwar?!?!






The degree to which this chatter also manages to engage other postings, all within this very tight time frame, suggests online experience – as does the heavy use of keyboard expressives and “stuttered” repetitions as intensifiers. <1Bone!!> is able to drive multiple conversations right across the crowded chatroom, to follow up on postings, but also to present a coherent and even passionate political engagement – even permitting in a distraction: “I’m from Germany too!” as he/she notes Sascha’s posting. This occupancy of close to 25% of this set of postings renders this chatter a dominant force at this moment.

·        Chat technologisation and turn-taking disruption: anticipating discourse

As in face-to-face chat there are sometimes instances when an expected utterance occurs. With the de-ordering that can occur within the delayed response of entry and posting, curious effects can arise. In the thread above, <!Bone!!> has an utterance arrive on the site only one second after <sascha>, at line 44 introduces the phrase and so the concept: “world war”. Without the time=entry evidence, <1Bone!!>’s posting looks like a response-turn: reaction either to the suggestion of war, or perhaps to the misspelling : “world wore”.  But the single second of elapsed time makes this impossible. <1Bone!!>’s other turns arrive at about 10-15 second intervals – about the time it takes to read, respond, enter and have a posting arrive. What we have is not a response turn – a dialogue – but two independent chatters arriving at the same conclusion at the same moment.



sascha: the 3rd world wore



1Bone!!: %&#% 3. Worldwar?!?!





Repeated utterances with little or no content i.e ‘hello’, ‘anyone want to chat’ (See, Case Study 1)

In chat terms these are phatic communicative entries: ritual exchanges, signaling presence in an otherwise unindicatable context. Greetings have become very quickly established as a formal necessity in chatrooms, and a round of greetings is considered a requirement for entry into existing chat threads, or the launching of new ones – anything less is interruption. Unacknowledged greetings this become signs that a chat group is unwilling to admit more members: a hint to either await a suitable thread to enter, or to go away. Repeated greetings from the same individual thus read as intrusive – or perhaps as desperate. Unless such a potential chat participant can move to establish the requisite codes of credibility through the “display” features of their postings, they are less and less likely to receive response and be admitted to chat exchange.

·        Short conversational utterances

In almost all cases, talk in chatrooms is limited to short phrases. Rarely will there be more than several words written at a time by a 'speaker'. Counting the words of hundreds of entrances in my seven chatrooms (see table below) and in the postscript which follows, I found an average of 5.82 units per turn; including  words, abbreviations, and emoticons. Within that sampling 25 percent of words consisted of only two letters, and 20 percent consisted of three letter words. Using CMC or the computer as the tool for an electronic discourse analysis, introduced in Case Study 2, I found that eighty-three percent of words used in chatroom conversations consisted of five letters or less.

The chart below collects the major features displayed in each of the seven chatrooms examined above, adding in the statistics of turn-length in each case, to allow comparison of turn-length across chat-topic and chatroom type.

Case Study and Data location online


Methodological focus

Chatroom Features

Number  of users

Turns recorded

Number of  words


1. Case Study 1


Data Location


topic focus 

chatroom (Hurricane Floyd)




Web of authorship, readership & subjectivity

2-readings: title of chatroom & text.                 Reading as fact. ??

Author-Reader same




Avg. 7.17/per turn

2. Case Study 2

Data Location


Instant Messenger (two-person conversation)


Introduces the technology into the communicative act, and reveals the multi-layeredness of the chat

Real time conversation to many people in different locales.

Talk in more than one chatsite at one time.




Avg. 11.32/per turn

3. Case Study 3


Data Location


Celebrity chat (adolescent chat)

Semiotic Analysis

Introduces a socially-embedded reading of communication  regarded as symbolic activity.

Emoticons, virtual chats[26][1], avatars (author as sign/symbol)

Celebrities as titles of chatrooms




Avg. 4.2per turn

4. Case Study 4


Data Location


Astrology – purpose chat

Speech Act

What a 'speech act' is when it is conducted in written form: an altogether different coding.

Disruption: Timed interruption from server’s ads.

Threads and discontinuity

Chatrooms as created places





Avg. 3.5//per turn

5. Case Study 5


Data Location


No set topic chat

Discourse Analysis

Symbolic (language) and the (embodied) social/cultural, as linked within practice.

Fleeting text

Chatroom graffiti




Avg. 3.2/per turn

6. Case Study 6

Data Location


Topic (3D animation) chat




Collaborated-Selves as The Author




Avg. 4.4/per turn

7. Case Study 7

Data Location


Topic – baseball chat

(linguistic schools)


Abbreviation, spelling and grammar errors.




Avg. 6.7  /per turn


The above table shows that users of multi-voiced chatrooms, whether they are working with a stated topic, produce fewer utterances than users in a chatroom with only  two people speaking, as  in an Instant Messenger environment. The Instant Messenger chat that I ‘captured’ had 11.32 words per turn compared to other chatrooms that averaged 3.2; 3.5; 4.2; 4.4; 6.7 and 7.17 words per turn.

1)     Purpose chatroom (Hurricane Floyd) Avg. 7.17/per turn

2)     Instant Messenger (two-person conversation)  11.32/per turn

3)     Celebrity chat  Avg. 4.2per turn

4)     Astrology – purpose chat Avg. 3.5//per turn

5)     No topic chat - Avg. 3.2/per turn

6)     Topic (3D animation) chat  Avg. 4.4/per turn

7)     Topic – baseball chat - Avg. 6.7  /per turn


This implies that more is said when only two people are in a chatroom.  With several voices seemingly all speaking, it is difficult, unless one is a very fast typist, to respond before someone else does. The “reading” time on a busy board, allied to the waiting time to have your own turns attended to with a directed response, cut back on the ratio of postings from each participant. Online chat and intimacy: public conversation and personal expressiveness.

Many of the findings of the uniqueness of chatrooms can be seen in the table below which highlights  differences between asynchronous online communication (chatrooms) and synchronous electronic formats (e-mail, Discussion groups).



time-bound conversation – or real-time communication

on-going conversation – not necessarily the same day

must arrange a specified time to participate to meet

can communicate any time

can interact only with those presently online

can interact with people not presently online

fast and free-flowing conversation may be hard to follow (much chat is very informal and relaxed)

slow paced conversation allows more time for understanding and formulating thoughts (more opportunity for formal, thoughtful discussion)

multiple conversations occurring simultaneously may be difficult to follow

conversations are usually arranged by topics

one-to-one (IM) allows for individual conversation; IRC is “public” chat

private conversation on a one-to-one basis in email, but not on Noticeboards

messages are fleeting; can't be referred to later except if saved; scrolling back to capture past comments means missing ongoing talk

messages are permanent for later reference


Chatrooms display many of the features of offline “friendship” gatherings and their talk-formats, including the necessity to display “notable” qualities in the talk performance, to be noticed within the group; to meet the norms of the particular group in order to be an acceptable group member; to know the codes, preferred topics, and specialized locations of chat types, and to be prepared to “meet” and talk regularly, to keep these skills honed and updated. Online chat appears to demand much the same commitment to sociality as its offline equivalent.

Chat-types have however already differentiated within the IRC community generally, and can be further defined by the following chat-behavioural categories:[27];

1. Initiating messages which successfully stimulate a new discussion.

 Chatters begin discussional threads with the anticipation that others will continue. Continuity stops  if no one responds.

2. Initiating messages which fail to stimulate further discussion,

If no one responds, a chatter may attempt to re-introduce the thread, but if no one responds  then the thread dies, unless someone else reintroduces it.

3. Continuing messages which cause further discussion.

Responding successfully requires the sorts of w/readerly sensitivity to issues and form which enables chatters to create utterances suited to the group norms – or if possible, extending them further, in the right ways. Responses which simply approve or confirm are acceptable, if for instance indicating approval in chat-abbreviation form: “lol” or “J” – but the most responded to are those postings which move a thread forward, whilst also displaying chat-form expertise and creativity.

4.      Continuing messages which create branching branches.

A thread can have several thread nodes branching from the root branch, which will then have an overall topic but with sub-discussions. For example in Case Study 1 there is the main thread of Hurricane Floyd with several branching threads that are still about the storm but a different aspect of it – such as the discussion about Mexican roofers or the thread about sizes of buildings.

As my research dealt with the formal aspects of online chat, it did not attempt to explore how the users felt about their time online. Studies have been done that show that a majority of chatters; ‘felt like they could jump right in and chat’, or that ‘chat discussions are too superficial’, or that  ‘chat went too fast because he or she could not keep up with the conversation’, or that ‘14 out of 15 felt a moderator was needed’.[28] My own research has not identified what people think, but is still able to show that users can indeed “jump right in and chat” – but that most in fact consider the prior postings before doing so. To “write” is to “read” first.

Are these then the major features of online chat across all domains, all languages, and into the future? Certainly the technologisation of this form of talk appears to have spread across language groups and cultural behaviours.

Chatrooms currently provide one of the most universal forms of communicating. By late 2002 there were 4206 Internet cafes in 140 countries[29] and wherever there is an internet café there is the opportunity to chat online. In the Middle East there are many chatrooms available and most have  translating software for the language of the chatters to be translated into the user’s native language. On the chat-server,  the following chatrooms are currently available (as of December 2002);

Afghanistan (5)

Armenia (5)

Azerbaijan (5)

Bahrain (4)

Iran (9)

Iraq (5)

Israel (9)

Jordan (4)

Lebanon (7)

Pakistan (15)

Syria (7)

Turkey (9)


 The universality of chat-styles can be demonstrated by examining a chatroom on the Iraq-Net domain, which has  similarities to the chatrooms  in all of my case studies. Since this is a JavaScript chatroom  the log could not be captured as text.

(Iraq-Net chatroom on the day the US invaded Iraq – March 2003

This type of chatroom shows all the users who are logged on, whereas in the chatrooms I used in this study only when someone made an utterance did their username appear. In the chatrooms in my case studies it is easier to lurk without anyone knowing you are there. In this chatroom there is no time posted for when the users enter therefore it is impossible to note whether there are pauses between speakers as I showed above with CA transcripts of oral utterances. In the twenty-minutes I was in this chatroom[30] there were three chat participants who spoke English and in the ‘captured’ screenshot above <Soso> is responding to <moz>.  As I have discussed throughout this study, the title of the chatroom often influences the content of the chat – in the chatroom on “Iraq-Net” above the talk is about war (this chat was ‘captured’ the day the United States attacked Iraq, March 2003).

Comparing this mixed language chat to another non-western site, a Lebanon-based chatroom, which has an instant translator, the speaker in this chat is not demonstrating good command of English. But it is still clear that <semsem> wants to speak with someone.. It is possible that this chat was translated into English as the user wrote. Common abbreviations are used that would be found in any English-speaking  chatroom such as <how r u>, and the emoticon < :) > is used.

One of my findings of this study into chatrooms is that titles sometimes had a bearing on the username, such as in Case Study 1, Hurricane Floyd,<IMFLOYD>; Case Study 3, ”Britney Spears Cha” <baby_britney1>; Case Study 4, ”astrochat”, <AquarianBlue>, < TheGods>, <Night-Goddess_>; Case Study 6 <web3dADM>, <gordon (Web3DCEO)> and Case Study 7, ”baseball chat” <MLB-LADY> (major league baseball).  Usernames both identify how the user views himself  or herself and also his or her place within the particular chat milieu.

Another finding that this study has shown is that online chat communities do take on social agendas as much as they would in person-to-person meetings. Communities of practice can be communities marked by acceptable and non-acceptable behaviours registered at the level of the doubled speech of chat, with its semiotic loadings of meaning and familiarity. In Case Study 1 it was apparent that there was an ease among the speakers in discussing Mexican roofers in the midst of a discussion of a national emergency. In Case Study 7 the baseball chatroom has a community of practice where the participants are comfortable with their specialised sports talk. In this case study the participants have not developed an in-depth discussion but there are the same practices of greetings as shown in face-to-face meetings.

5.2  Research Questions and answers 

My approach to examining online chatrooms began with the posing of the following five questions[31] as a starting point toward analyzing a culture of electronic-talk:

Question 1. How is  turn taking negotiated within chatrooms?

There is no set protocol or netiquette regime outlining turn-taking negotiations online.  ‘Rules’ of engagement common to interaction in offline conversation are deployed in chat sessions – but there are both obstacles and creative variations to this. The list[32] below appears on many chatroom sites, with suggestions on how to use chatroomseffectively.

Latecomers to the session should scan the previous 10 -20 posts to get oriented before submitting a post.

Upon entering the chat session, greet everyone and announce yourself.

If you do not wish to contribute to the discussion, you should still make your presence known by announcing that you are lurking. This is considered polite, especially if you join in the discussion later.

Wait for others to respond to your initial post before joining the discussion.

Address individual people you are responding to by name so they know you are talking to them.

Do not post more than three sentences at a time.

Allow a few moments for others to read and respond to your message before posting again. This turn taking strategy will allow the dialog to flow between you and the others and avoid crossed messages.

Break lengthy messages into short segments, each ending with "More…" then continue the message in the next post.

Be as clear and concise as possible - if you think you have been misinterpreted, reword your message and post it again.

Ask for clarification if you do not understand something posted by someone else.

Capitalize words only to highlight an important point, otherwise it is considered SHOUTING and is rude.

When you are ready to leave the chat session, announce that you are leaving but stay long enough to respond to final messages directed to you.

Say good bye when you are ready to log off. Your last message should end with an indicator such as "LP" (last post).

 In seven case studies looking at hundreds of turn taking events I have found that turn taking is negotiated in only one standard way:  that is, the response is entered  into the chatroom  by pressing the enter button. This is true in all unmoderated chatrooms, where there is no control over the  text one puts in.  Content, format and style are all “controlled” only to the extent of exerting the power of conventional practice over individual chat participants. Although such conventions have proven capable of exerting considerable power, in a range of ways, the relative indeterminancies in the conversational flows, which arise from the technologisation of online talk, leave many problems within chat. For example in the chunk of chat below (from the 911 chat), within four seconds four turns were taken.  Although they were all on the same topic none were answered.   Given that they arrived in a timeframe of under five seconds, and the normal response-reply-posting time appears to be closer to twice that, these entries only appear as consecutive because of the software. There is no conversational control operating: no turn-taking relation, in CA terms – and no clear emergence yet of a discursive ordering under way.



<England>: ne one here in nyc or washington?



<1Bone!!>: please, say ricght



<MissMaca>: nuke bomb, i don't thinks so!



<oscar>: Camp david? estas seguro?


My case studies have shown that as chat continues, given time there is both topic-sensitivity and turn negotiation – for instance, in the case of the group excluding some players  in Case Study 5, when participants in the astrology-chat group did not respond to <B_witched_2002-guest>, or in Case Study 1 when some in the chatroom did not want to continue the discussion on Mexican Roofers because of the racist flavour of the utterances. But only those chat participants able to “perform” chat almost immediately within the discursive frames and chat relational forms of the given chatroom – or at least within commonly established regulatory codes established for IRC as a whole – can expect to command response and maintain threads.                                                                                                                      

Question 2. With the taking away of many  cues to  participant identity  (gender, nationality, age etc.) are issues of cultural sensitivity, such as racism, sexism  and political correctness generally, as relevant  as in face-to-face talk?

In unmoderated chatrooms (e.g. case study 1, 3, 4,5, 7 and two from the 911 events) there seems to be a “free for all” stream of conversation, where anything anyone wants to say is said with little restraint. However as has been shown in these case studies, others in the group will respond to someone who is being “difficult”:  not continuing with the immediate topic or flow of discussion, or displaying attitudes or behaviours unacceptable to the majority.

Other chatters can and will both criticize and seek to correct and control a person who is annoying them -  but they are not able to make them leave a chatroom  unless they are the systems operator for the server. People will, however, leave voluntarily because of how others are reacting.   An example of this occurs in Case Study 5 when [OHI] is repeated 37 times in 89 turns by <B_witched_2002-guest>, and other chatters comment directly on the unacceptability of this behaviour. The response can also escalate into the online equivalence of physical violence. Borrowing from the action-direction techniques of MUDs and MOOs online chat participants may use verbal formulae to indicate how they would like errant fellow-chatters to be “punished”.

*** proplem_IN_RAK (213.42.1) has been kicked by BoOoOosS! ( bad )

Table Discussion:1 ArabChat

In the example below in the unmoderated chat on 911 [fRANKIE]  comments directly on another chat participant: ,

<fRANKIE> gina i s a stupid butch (turn 18)

Table Discussion:2 gina i s a stupid butch

This is a response to <gina>’s posting – maybe a reaction to the politics, or perhaps to the “shouted” formatting:



 Like the Mexican roofers chat thread in Case Study 1,  such exchanges appear more common in chat operating during offline crises. Ethnographic inquiry could work to establish whether chat participants enter chat topic  spaces deliberately at such moments, seeking to organize their thinking on events, and so are pre-disposed to argument and even to online “violence”. But at the level of language and text selected for this study, such moments tell us only that even in unmoderated chat disciplinary action does occur.


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

Table Discussion:3

In a moderated chatroom a person’s statements are vetted before full-display entry. The moderator acts as a filter, and the moderator’s ‘rules’ are applied, on behalf of a consensual community standard. For example, sexual or racial content may be ‘moderated’ out. Moderation also occurs in these chatrooms as ‘self’ moderation.  Words are entered more carefully in a moderated chatroom, where the community standard is more carefully crafted into the language, with less variation demonstrated. There are therefore two types of control operating in these chatrooms, self-control and control by the moderator. Chatroom control by community standard is evident in Case Study 1. When <SWMPTHNG> says,

Turn 77. < THERE'LL BE PLENTY OF MEXICAN ROOFERS IN N CAROLINA NEXT WEEK> and begins a thread, this new topic focus is  challenged  by <guest-MisterD1> 16 turns later - but it is <Zardiw> in turn 125 who achieves a powerful censure:  <smptthing................go back to your SWAMP>. It is this posting which brings this line of talk to an end with <SWMPTHNG> making only one last remark in turn 130. While it is difficult to calculate the relation of cause and effect here:  turn 130 could have been typed before <Zardiw> had entered his or her turn and <SWMPTHNG> could have pressed the enter key without reading <Zardiw>’s comment – but whatever the case there is no more mention of Mexican Roofers in this segment.


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

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

88. <playball14> they work hard here


      91. <guest-MisterD1> sigh...

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

101. <KBabe1974> i agree with emt-calvin

102. <guest-MoreheadCityNC> Fortunately our best friend is a roofer!

103. <playball14> everybody out for a buck unfortuneately


106. <KikoV> you mean carpet baggers


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



Question 3. Will chatroom discourse become a universally understood language?      

The Word Wide Web provides text-based chat facilities which permit Internet users to communicate with others in Iceland, Azerbaijan, Senegal, East Timor, Madagascar or any one of hundreds of countries[33] with live broadcast feeds from every country in the world and text-based chatrooms to ‘speak’ with others. Many text-based sites offer instant translation, meaning that everyone writes in their native language and it is translated into the language of the chatroom. On 17 January 1996 Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, PLO Leader Yasser Arafat, and Philippines President Fidel Ramos met for ten minutes in an online interactive chat session[34].

Other than the technologisation, which aspects of chat are observable as common across language groups and cultures? As I have shown in my research, some emoticons are already common to a number of languages. Here are examples of a Dutch and a German list.  In Case Study 3 I have shown how emoticons represent feelings.  Examples from Dutch, Spanish and Japanese chatrooms show that emoticons have become a universally understood language.

Figure Discussion:1 Dutch emoticons

Die Standard-Emoticons:


lachendes Gesicht, "nicht-alles-so-ernst-nehmen"


trauriges Gesicht, "find' ich schade!", unglücklich, ...


Augenzwinkern, "War nicht so ernst gemeint", ...


"Oh!", Erstaunen, Erschrecken,"Aaa" beim Zahnarzt...



Table Discussion: 4 German emoticons[35]


En attendant je fais du gros boudin pour pas dire d'autres choses moins polies

Table Discussion: 5 French chat

<ÇÞæáå> ããßä ÈäÊ ãä ÇáÞØíÝ Êßáãäí ÇÐÇ ããßä ¿¿ (^_^)

Table Discussion:6 Arab chat see

Question 4. How is electronic chat reflective of current social discourse?       

This was one of five questions I asked at the start of this project in early 1998. After five years of research into text-based Internet chat I suggest that the question should be closer to how electronic communication itself is changing all forms of social discourse.  How far and in which ways is all current social discourse now influenced by electronic chat? One answer is that electronic chat has in itself become a dominant form within current social discourse.  As people, at least in Western societies, who have access to communicative devices from cell phones (mobile phones) to computers in all sizes and modes of portability discourse modes are taking on many of the features that have been discussed in this section. As devices become smaller, texted-messages will need to be shorter and the use of abbreviations and emoticons will need to take less space. The more people go online the more such texted conversation will need to be understood in the electronic environment – at least until, or maybe unless, the voice-activation mode is perfected.

One of the problems with online conversation is with understanding what is being said when the traditional physical cues are deleted. Can conversation even exist without knowing anything about the participants or who the audience is? My research says yes!  People are fully able to communicate, as long as there are structures to communicate within. These online structures have an increasingly well defined specialist  linguistic base, which “stands in” for our categorisation of speakers, as demonstrated  in the case studies.  It is the shared language and the rules of e-chat that  make online communication  meaningful.

People are communicating with online social groups as never before, as  shown by the number of people online worldwide (see Case Study 1.4 Online usage) - close to one in six people being connected.

The growing universality of online chat practice is clear in a  comparison  made below with chat from Case Study 7, a US based baseball chatroom and a Chinese language chat session. The chat in the left column is enacted as play with numbers, while the chat on the right uses letters, and except for chatter <wu~yuan~you> in the last line, who uses the English-language abbreviation-expressive  “hehehe” after a series of words in Pinyin, the romanised version of Mandarin,  there are no words ‘spoken’.

Case Study 7 – baseball chatroom

Chinese chatroom[36]

<NMMprod> if you like the yanks press 3

<dhch96> 1111111111

<smith-eric> 5555555

<CathyTrix-guest> 2I hate the Yankees

<Pizza2man> 12456789


<meteor>: y-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-


<baibai>....e e e e e

<wu~yuan~you>: guy ni bu shi dui bu qi wo. ni dui bu qi ziji hehehe

In each case however the conversation is perfectly meaningful, on its own terms: within the conventions of chat itself.

Question 5. Is meaning communicated within Chatrooms?

I suggest then that each of the case studies above have shown plentiful, evidence that meaning is communicated within chatrooms – both in terms of conventional conversation, and within the new techniques established to firstly compensate, and then creatively extend, the repertoires of online texted talk in its own right. As I have shown throughout this study, and especially in Case Study 3 emoticons provide added meaning to what is ”said”.  Abbreviated forms add both efficiency, and a mode of witty play, adding to topic or semantic load, the capacity to enact and read back technical proficiency at online chat: an “online credibility” for skilled users, which appears to be used to assess and rank utterances and threads in the sorts of social ways found in offline conversation and communication. In other words “meaning” online is conveyed in different ways, but for the same reasons, as offline. Both instrumental and social-relational, it operates both as language and as discourse: directed to both linguistic systems and social-regulatory systems. It is, to that extent at least, a fully-fledged communicative apparatus – even if, as this study shows, it is still very much under development.
5.3 Assumptions at the beginning

The current study however presents no overarching hypotheses, beyond the view that the texted talk emerging in Internet chatrooms has so far remained undescribed, and requires a very broad review of all possible analytical approaches, in order to isolate which features of existing techniques best address its particular properties. This study is, to that degree, entirely empirical.  It has sought only to capture examples of online chat, examine all of the features which existing linguistic and discourse analytical methods allow us to detect, and suggest wherever possible new avenues for inquiry.

I posed five assumptions at the beginning of this research, based on the reading of the literature on discourse theory and how it might be applied to examination of text-based chatrooms. The following questions were asked in the methodology chapter (3.2), as a way to explore assumptions uncovered the literature review (2.7). Online communication, like all new communicative modes, has raised issues not only for researchers, but for society more broadly, many of them frequently discussed in the media, as societies and communities react to the new communicative relations and their influence on communicative conventions and cultural traditions. Since these have in turn influenced the early academic research into online behaviours, my own research data also needs to be scrutinized to examine whether evidence has been found to confirm, or allay, some of these socio-cultural concerns. 

Assumption 1. That people create a different ‘textual self’ for the chatroom environment they are in.

This was my original assumption when I begin looking at text-based chatrooms in mid-1997, before putting in a proposal to begin this research.  It appeared to be the popular wisdom at the time – only two years into the “Internet Super-Highway” moment – that online chat was largely about concealment of “true” identity, and even that it was largely a space of “identity play” at best, and criminal intent at worst.

When I visited a dozen chatrooms I found that there were indeed quite different  “speech” styles being carried on in different rooms. This would seem reasonable, since in person-to-person offline (p2p-off) conversation is also different in different social settings. I therefore expected to see this online. But does this mean that users adapt their texted-talk repertoires to enter the chat-conventions of each chatroom – and that, in the absence of the usual offline physical verification checks on identity, this actively promotes identity disguise: that simply by changing rooms and enacting a new discursive technique, chatters can “play” with identity? Certainly, it remains impossible to tell exactly who is in a given room. If “judythejedi” or “prettyjenny” say they are female, unless they present the sorts of talk-texting behaviours which work by Coates and others suggests marks hyper-masculinity in communication, we are unlikely to doubt them. And since online communication is so heavily invested in representing its own special markers of expert talk-texting, we are even less likely to be easily able to read back markers of other categories contributing to utterance-form preferences. Without some form of observational ethnography which can actually contact online communicators physically to verify their identity, it is difficult, and maybe impossible, to amass reliable information on the issue of online identity play. I have asked this question of my students at the University of South Australia over a two-year period. I asked four classes of 20 students each in both 2001 and 2002, 160 students in total, if they had ever created a different ‘textual self’ in various chatrooms and the overwhelming consensus was that they had. I defined the ‘textual self’ as the self a person wanted others to believe they were. This included gender swapping, language change; i.e. from informality to sounding academic, and changing their nationality, age, beliefs and name. For example, only a very few students, 12 out of a survey of 127, used the same username in more than one chatroom. 

It is difficult then to know who a chatter “is”. Some chatters have a link to their 'homepage' from their username which may contain more information about the person - but this information too could be false. As Daniel Chandler says in his "Personal Home Pages and the Construction of Identities on the Web" (

the created 'textual self' is how the author wishes others to see them. The medium of web pages offers possibilities both for the 'presentation' and shaping of self which are shared either by text on paper or face-to-face interaction. I suggest that the username or icon depicts how the chatter wants others to see him or her.

This does of course suggest that the “textual self” presents itself as less of a constructed "reality" in the more spontaneous and speedy exchange of on-line presentation. There identity is often a fleeting one that is created purely for the chatroom that one is temporarily in. Even while in a chatroom a user can change names or icons - but the chatter retains the same identity in real-life. This new identity can then also assume a new role and change the type of talk. For example one can change gender, age or nationality or alter an avatar or icon, perhaps from an animal to an object. Because the user is logged into the chatroom there may be an indicator in the chat space which signals that the user has changed: <boomrat> is now known as <sillycat>. Others in the chatroom have the information that the chatter is still, in real-life, the same person – and that even online, they have made a visible identity-switch.  The chatter may now switch from being aggressive to being passive, or from loving to hateful, textually acting out the new username.  What remains to be seen is what impact this public-presentational work – conducted as either concealed or open disguise - will have on longer term communicative behaviours.

Assumption 2. That conversation within chatrooms will change how we come to know others.

Traditionally we have come to know others through meeting them person-to-person. People now meet through chatrooms as well, work through problems, meet in person, get married, or else learn about someone’s culture as well as they would if they were together in person. Within the text-based chat form there appears to be only mind present and people are attracted initially to another person or group based solely on the written text. How far a more embodied presence – the “hexis” bearing self of Bourdieu’s account of culturally defined social identity – is also present in online texted talk is only partially analyzable within these texts themselves – and even then it may be a carefully enacted “disguised” self. How far then are we likely to be under pressure to evolve new ways of discerning “self” within “text”?

Misunderstandings can easily occur due to the absence of verbal cues or body language; in addition, such communicative strategies as sarcasm or  irony can be easily misinterpreted. Emoticons, now acting as “tonal” indicators, if not fully understood can add to confusion – however, standard emoticons such as a smiley are understand by most who use the new electronic media  for communication.  But even this simplest of all codes has had to undergo confirmation within widespread usage before it could communicate anything at all.  It remains  possible to communicate only to the extent that participants have some common ground for shared beliefs, recognize reciprocal expectations and accept rules for interaction which serve as necessary anchors in the development of conversation (Clark and Shaefer, 1989).

Our meeting of others in a social context has of course already changed because of the various technologies of communication (Meyrowitz, 1985). The influence of social context on the construction of identity is beginning to change, especially in younger people, as reference communities like the family, school or church, which in the past anchored social contexts in shared sets of rules, gradually lose their appeal and their power, and as what Castells (1996) calls “legitimizing identity” gives way to “project identity”. A description of what this world could be is by William Mitchell in his “City of Bits” (1995)[37]: "a worldwide, electronically mediated environment in which networks are everywhere, and most of the artifacts that function with it (at every scale, from nano to global) have intelligence and telecommunications capabilities. Commercial, entertainment, educational, and health care organization will use these new delivery systems as virtual places to cooperate, and compete on a global scale" (pp. 167-168). If this becomes the new reality: Castells’ “real virtuality”, then the sorts of communicative strategies we have seen already developing online are likely to become intensified, subtler, more complex, and far more widespread.

Assumption 3. That observational study of chatroom conversation can capture some of the adaptations of conversational behaviours

Community for persons living in a technological environment, using textual chat forms as a major or even primary communicative means, is shifting from culture-defining mass media to a proliferation of interactive media as sources of mediated experience. This shift into person-computer interaction is beginning to orient chat users to forms of interaction based on new psycho-social and conversational models, but at the same time it has introduced new types of interactional structuration, which both build on and differ from traditional psychosocial descriptions of interaction. Even in telephonic communication, which predates digital computer technology, there can be no doubt that interlocutors do interact, even though they cannot see each other. CA analysis shows clearly that regulatory systems developed in and for natural off-line conversation are being adapted to online texted talk – but that variations have been forced by the technologisation of CMC, and have in turn provided outlets for new and creative use of these adapted conventions.   By adapting some of the elements of linguistic and socio linguistic analysis not conventionally used in CA, it is already possible to detect and describe some of these new techniques. Further studies – including ethnographic studies of chat users in action – will help to establish how chat participants themselves react to and create their talk-texts, so that methodologies such as CA can perhaps be formally extended into electronic forms.

Assumption 4. That this work gives us a better understanding of how, and why, chatrooms are an important area in which to create a new conversational research theory.

The purpose of this study has been to establish at least some of the means by which to construct a theory of online communication. I chose chatrooms over other forms of electronic discourse firstly because of its wide spread usage and the amount of data that is collectable. Unlike email that is private, chatrooms are a public viewable platform in which to do work. Even as electronic chat moves from desktop computers to Palm computers and cell phones (mobile phones) with Short Message Service (SMS)[38] text, the origins of these textual communication forms will remain the chatrooms of IRC systems.  Instant Messaging emoticons and abbreviations are already clearly the same as those used in chatrooms on computers – and there is evidence from media reporting that these texted talk forms are already appearing in other communicative forms – such as children’s school essay writing. Both the degree of expertise in online communicative forms illustrated by this study and others, and the suggestion that these specialist skills appear to be expanding and constituting new relational forms and expressive techniques, suggests that IRC is not a devalued and disempowered form of talk, but something asserting its own cultural space and powers. To understand better what this new form is, and how it works, is not only to prevent ourselves from being overly critical of it, or regarding it as some deficit form, but to permit expert intervention at the point of future IRC or related CMC design. By knowing how users operate in electronic talk spaces, we can improve the technologisation as a communicative mechanism of enablement, rather than as an engineering-centred system. At the same time, by discovering, as this study has begin to do, the different range of uses and styles in IRC, we can select and allocate systems more carefully and more consciously. The kinds of institutionally appropriate communicative services often projected within both technophile literature and Government policy may then become possible.

Assumption 5. That 'chat' does not differ from natural conversation.

My findings are that chatroom conversation is strikingly similar to ‘natural language’ in many ways but unlike my original assumption, there are clearly “conditions” for such similarities. 

1. In natural language or face-to-face conversation there is an exchange of meaning. In chatrooms meaning is similarly exchanged, via turn-takings of written text. As I have shown in this study, chatters will for instance ask to be re-informed on a topic if they are unsure of what a prior participant  is saying, and a chatter will “re-pair” their utterance to make it clear if someone questions what he or she has said.

Case Study 4

57) <IroquoisPrncess> hey Judy did a get my car inthe link thingy

63) <judythejedi> car in the link?



In such ways continuity is established with natural conversational techniques – despite the intervention of other “turns”, caused by the technologisation of chat, which does not separate responding threads. Chat, in relation to the basic CA technique of turn taking, is both like and unlike natural conversation – and this discovery holds up across all of its other features.

2. Chatters in a chatroom will ask for clarification of an utterance, as  in face-to-face chat.

Case Study 1


This both continues a conversation, and opens it to a new thread – thus operating as precisely the sort of consensual strategy central to developing natural conversation, within a context of anticipated and “tested” social or cultural consensus. Here the chat participant believes he or she sees a commonly held attitude, and pushes deeper into the topic, to launch their own views. The fact that they ultimately prove wrong in this belief in no way weakens the attempted community formation in this chat – instead, strengthening it, if in a negative way, as this participant is openly reprimanded by others.

3. Chatters that are of the same community can easily converse in a similar “culture-bound” text base, which is similar to a group’s “anti-language” or slang[39],



if you like the yanks press 3






got it















2I hate the Yankees



don't have a 3








4. Turn-taking can take place as it would in a face-to-face conversation, however, it is easier to maintain in an Instant Messenger service chatroom than in a multivoiced chatroom, where turn-taking can make conversational exchange seem more like a random event.

As one of the latest interaction communication forms through which to exchange meaning , chatroom ‘talk’, despite being  regulated by techniques still in development,  is beginning to be uniform. Behaviours expected of chat participants are becoming clearer and more defined.  As has been discussed in the individual case studies, different chat environments may well have different rules of ‘talk’.  And just as every social grouping has rules of conversational engagement, online ‘talk’ has to have some order, sometimes exacting it more strictly than others, for discourse to continue. Examples of rules that would be considered standard protocol can be found  on the Xena chat site ( as well as on many other sites which discuss Netiquette (a comprehensive one is at: But beyond these protocols, chat participants can be seen to be demanding and commanding, consciously or otherwise, many subtle variations to offline communicative practices. This study has shown how some of these might be captured and examined, but also how creative users are in achieving these variations.


[1] See for my original proposal to do this thesis in 1998  and for the original work started in February 1998.

[2] Below are a small selection of historical timelines on the Internet. Viewed 9-28-2001

Global Networking: a Timeline1990-1999

Brief history of the Internet

Hobbes' Internet Timeline

History of the Internet

[3] An example of graphical conversations is available in Judith Donath's course on graphical conversations. Designing Sociable Media, is at  viewed 9-3-2001



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?


[5] I refer to a thread as two or more utterances by two or more participants on the same topic.


   15. <mahmoo> brb.......gotta go get me some chocolate

23.      <mahmoo> dark chocolate

25 <playball14> chocolate and carmel oh yeah

163. <mahmoo> 33.5 oz Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate

171 <mahmoo> oops 3.5 oz

177 <KikoV> mahmoo, you send spices, I send Hershey's ...even steven


[7] Some of the definitions used in CA can serve as a starting point to describe what happens in between these turns. Three terms in common CA practice are gap, lapse and pause. A gap does not "belong" to anyone. It is a place of transition. A gap is a silence; the speaker has stopped speaking, and the next speaker ‘self selects’. In chatrooms this silence may be occupied by others reading the chat. 

When there is a silence, the next speaker has not been selected, and no one self selects, we have a ‘lapse’. It is only possible to distinguish a gap from a lapse after the event. Again in chatrooms, the next speaker may already be writing the response, reading the previous response, or there may simply be a silence in the same sense as the CA definition. 

A pause is silence when the current speaker has selected the next speaker and stopped talking, but the next speaker is silent. A pause is also silence that occurs within a participant’s turn. A pause "belongs" to the person currently designated speaker.


[8] I know who the speakers are in this Instant Messenger example hence I am able to identify them as male and female. In most cases this would be impossible on the Internet.




































* sara4u















[10] For further studies in gender and cyberspace and indentification in chatrooms see Flanagan and Booth, 2002; Shade, 2002; Turkle, 1984, 1985. See also GENDER AND PARTICIPATION IN SYNCHRONOUS CMC: AN IRC CASE STUDY at: viewed March 29, 2001.


[12] ‘Learning-on-line’ Viewed March 04, 2002

[13] ‘Liechtenstein on-line’ Viewed March 04, 2002.


By Karen55 on Tuesday, December 10, 2002 - 08:28 pm:

“lots of luck! LOL the one time we tried to have a pic made of the 4 kids, 2 were crying, one was rolling her eyes and the other looked totally irritated!” Viewed at March 04, 2002

[15] ‘THE LOL AND THE VIP’ Most people know what a V.I.P. is, (Very Important Person), and many know what an L.O.L. is, (Little Old Lady). Viewed March 04, 2002.

[16] "Britney Spears chatroom" lists 63 sites as of November 23, 2001 on the Google Search Engine.

[17] (see,,,,,,,

[18] To make this observation I have had to make the assumption that a chatroom with a name like Britney Spears is likely to attract a younger group of participants than a chatroom on 3D animation (Case Study 6) for example. Though it is impossible to verify this, it is I believe a reasonable assumption based on the research of Hamman (1996, 1998), Rheingold, (1994, 1999), Spender (1995), Turkle (1995, 1996).

[19] This is a page from several pages of a CA workshop held on Fridays in 2002 at the State University of New York at Albany.

[20] For example in the Postscript discussion of the 911 chat during the World Trade Centre destructions there were 644 turns and 4833 words of spoken text covering 80 minutes or an average of 8.05 turns per minute. Often there were utterances logged at the same second.



tippybond: can someone field me to another other chats for ny



Gary: i woke up to this and i just cant belive heart goes out to all who have been injured


[21] Active Worlds, a Virtual-Reality experience, lets users visit and chat in 3D worlds that are built by other users. Viewed 12-2002,

ATMOSPHERE, with Adobe® Atmosphere™. With Atmosphere, users add a third dimension to their Web experience by creating realistic and immersive environments that offer a revolutionary approach to content, navigation, community, and communication. Viewed 12-2002,

EXCITE CHAT, Text-based and graphics-based chat, events, and web content. Viewed 12-2002,

HABBO HOTEL, Graphics-based chat where the user visits different hotel rooms or creates his or her own room. Viewed 12-2002,

Moove German-created 3D visual chat program. Viewed 12-2002,

A continually updated list of other 3D chatrooms are at Viewed 12-2002.

[22] Mann (1997) suggests five characteristics of a wearable computer:

(1.) it may be used while the wearer is in motion;

(2.) it may be used while one or both hands are free, or occupied with other tasks;

(3.) it exists within the corporeal envelope of the user, i.e., it should be not merely attached to the body but becomes an integral part of the person's clothing

(4.) it must allow the user to maintain control;

(5.) it must exhibit constancy, in the sense that it should be constantly available.

Mann, S. (1997) Conveners report of CHI '97 Workshop on Wearable Computers, Personal Communication to attendees. Viewed 12-2002 at

[23] Cognitive radio, a radio that is programmable to send messages on its own is part of the array of devices for wireless providers, for voice and data communication for the fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless services beginning in 2004. Viewed 12-2002

[24] Electronic Performance Support System Viewed 12-2002

[25] There are two claims for the origins of the smiley. One is that in 1972 Franklin Loufrani a journalist created a simple concept for France soir and other European newspapers, he displayed icons to communicate news and especially good ones. He gave this original icon the name of Smiley, it was published for the first time on Jan 1st 1972. Under Loufrani's supervision, SMILEY quickly spread across the world, easily crossing political, social and economic boundaries with his ever-increasing vocabulary of instantly recognizable emotions. (See, The Smiley World at The other claim for the origin of the smiley is that artist Harvey Ball created the first "smiley face" around December 1963 for one of his clients. He designed a yellow pin with the smiley face. This pin was handed out to company employees and clients and soon became a big hit. In a short time the "smiley face" appeared on all sorts of products. By the end of the 60's "smiley" had spread around the world. (see World Smile Corporation at  World Smiley Day has been proclaimed for October 03, 2003.




[27] (See, four possible types of message posted to a mailing list McElhearn, 2000[27], and Gruber, 1996)

[28] The results cited are from a survey on Assessing Student Learning Outcomes online at Sited online October 21, 2000. Other online surveys and viewers responses are; Test of an internet virtual world for teen smoking cessation online at; Hispanics in the U.S. 16 years of age and older, 38 percent are using the Internet on a regular basis, according to a new study released by AHAA and 43% are using the Internet for chatrooms, INTERNET USE AND THE SELF CONCEPT:  LINKING SPECIFIC USES TO GLOBAL SELF-ESTEEM College freshmen at a mid-sized university in the mid-Atlantic of the USA were surveyed on chatroom behaviour -

[29] Cybercafes worldwide are added constantly to at Sited November 30, 2002

[30] This was ‘captured’ 7 March 2003 shortly before the US invasion of Iraq.

[31] I have also begun each of the seven Case Studies in Chapter 4 with questions that I answer in the Case Study.

[32] This same list has also been sited on other chatroom sites, such as;; Florida Atlantic University; Kapi'olani Community College; Illinois Online Network and on the University of Illlinois site

[33] Many countries have chatrooms, one mega chatsite is  

[34] Global Networking: a Timeline1990-1999

Brief history of the Internet

Hobbes' Internet Timeline

History of the Internet

[35] Die Gewinner des O`Reilly 'best new smiley' Wettbewerbes. Hier zum ersten Mal in einer deutschen Übersetzung:

[36] Chinese chatroom at: viewed 8-12-2001

[37] See for information on this.

[38] SMS was created when it was incorporated into the Global System for Mobiles (GSM) digital mobile phone standard.
A single short message can be up to 160 characters of text in length using default GSM alphabet coding, 140 characters when Cyrillic character set is used and 70 characters when UCS2 international character coding is used.

[39] An online slag dictionary of words common to social groupings is at

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NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today working on picture poem links starting around "better" (17 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. Follow @neuage .

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