Presentation paper: Chatroom Discourse as a new and unique genre

April 23, 2002.  Terrell Neuage

Presentation abstract 1

Presentation: 4

Slide 1.  Slide Titles. 4

Side 2. Personal interest in new genres of writing. 4

Slide 3. Java Script picture. 9

Slide 4. Writing: Interactive ~ Non-Interactive. 10

Slide 5. Logical map of the ARPANET, 1971. 11

Slide 6.  CMC.. 12

Slide 7.  Chat 12

Slide 8 Sample of a virtual-chat 13

Slide 9.  Chatroom Types. 13

Slide 10. 911 Moderated example. 14

Slide 11 Example of entertainment vs. Information chat 15

Slide 12.   Features, which differentiate chatroom ‘talk’ 15

Slide 13.    1. Emoticons and abbreviations. 16

Slide. 14 Examples of foreign emoticons. 17

Slide 15.   Chat example, Baseball Chat 18

Slide 16.    2. Threads and discontinuity. 18

Slide 17.     3. Lurking. 19

Slide 18.     4. Fleeting text ~.. 19

Slide 19. The Self as other as Avatar [the author bytes]. 20

Slide 20. Chatroom graffiti: tagging, crews, anti-languages. 20

Slide 20. Raw data – First words. 21

Slide 21. wrap up. 21


Presentation abstract


Chatroom Discourse as a new and unique genre. April 23, 2002.  Terrell Neuage


This is the third and final series of a thirty-five year exploration of text used as new genres. During this time I have used text as an art form which I have referred to as picture-poetry since 1967.  I have found similarities to my artistic endeavors of picture poems with my academic study of streetart and chatrooms as well as Internet literature. Picture poetry is a combination of art and writing where both are needed to tell the textual story. Whether using slashes of colour with text merged with it or combining photos and text as a collage I have given control and interpretative power to the reader-witness for him or her to ascribe meaning to the final piece. It is this merging of author reader and the importance of the two for a performance completeness that has led me to an academic study of textual communications as new genres.


Academically I have been pursing text in various genres since 1991. My BA was in journalism and literature and at this time I began to use computer mediated communications (CMS). During the four years I studied I became increasing involved with bulletin boards on the first widely used computers, the Commodore 64. The ability to have a written discourse with others anywhere in the world that was in real-time followed in my life-long interest of a shared creative writing space. At this time chatrooms were increasing on the Internet, with ‘The Well’ with its beginnings in 1985, being the most widely used world-wide.


Following my BA I undertook an Honours degree on another form of interactive textual expression. My thesis was, ‘Graffiti as text: How youth communicate through streetart’.  I have discovered that several of the features of chatroom ‘talk’ have similarities to streetart, including an universal language. Graffiti is used and understood by youth cultures worldwide just as emoticons in chatrooms are shared world-wide. Both graffiti and chatrooms need several participators to make a story complete. And the most outstanding feature the two share is that of the ‘fleeting-text’ and the disappearing or veiled author. In chatrooms the discourse disappears as it scrolls by on the computer screen. Some text-based chat is possible to be copied and saved as a word document. However, more and more chatrooms are java windows which can only be copied and saved as a screen shot. The text in a chatroom disappears and no matter what the chat-story becomes, unless it is ‘captured’ somehow it disappears and is not replicable.  This same phenomena occurs with illegal streetart. Either the council describes it as vandalism and paints over it or rival crews (gangs) paint comments, such as ‘toy’ or tag over the piece (streetart). Both graffiti and chatroom text have an anti-language or a new language that is particular to the genre. With graffiti there are terms such as ‘crew’, ‘writer’, ‘piecing’, ‘toy’, ‘old school’, ‘tagging’ and a whole vocabulary of words to describe different types of graffiti or the actual doing of it. Chatroom language is centred around emoticons, abbreviations and usernames. As well as the ‘fleeting text’ there is also the unknown writer. Whether it is the graffitist using a name which is tagged on either the piece or on its own, or the participator in a chatroom with a username or a chatter using an avatar in a 3D virtual world such as in Traveler ( or a 2D virtual world as in MUDs or ‘The Palace’ ( the author of the text is often hidden.


With my Masters thesis in new communicative mediums, titled, ‘How the Internet changes literature’, I explored hypertext and the idea of the never-ending story. Internet hypertext is similar to chatrooms with threads and discontinuity of text. One can continue forever following links in websites just as one can carry on a chatroom dialogue forever. With hyperlinks on webpages creative narratives have user-defined links where the reader becomes the author. This genre of writing was popular in the mid-1990s and many hypertext stories became available at this time. Though there appears to be a small market in hypertextual stories, as a genre it is an important step on the way in the evolution of Internet literature and chatroom genres. Eastgate[1] was the original publisher on the Internet and continues to be the leader in this form of interactive writing. Hypertext may eventually become a life style and how we communicate and link with others may be based on how one exhibits and defines the textual self in a virtual world. At the same time as I undertook my Masters degree I began a Bachelor of Science degree at Flinders University in computer programming and this has helped me in my research and development of web sites as well as being able to understand the mechanics behind CMC.  My BA, Honours and Masters were completed at Deakin University between 1991 and 1997.


Through a twist of events, that I can only describe as the hypertext of my life. I was able to continue my interest in new genres by beginning a PhD in 1998. I was fortunate to have a lecturer at the University of South Australia who taught cyberculture and who was willing to take me on as her student. I was even more fortunate to have the University support my project. For the past four years I have worked on my research into ‘conversational analysis of chatroom conversation’. During this time I attempted to find a way of analyzing this new form of discourse.  Along my journey I have identified several ways to analyze chatroom dialogue.


To further understand ‘talk’ in chatrooms I have undergone, through the making of ‘case studies’, of different chatrooms a way to describe how the communicational act is being understood. To accomplish that I have borrowed from already established forms of conversational analysis such as, Reader-response theory, Speech Act Theory, Conversational Analysis, Discourse Analysis, CMC, and various schools of analysis. As chatrooms are a different form of communication than the just mentioned no pre-existing theory is complete on its own. In my thesis I borrow from these communicative acts and use what works and discard what doesn’t.


At this time I am interested in the chatroom writing genre.  What makes it unique from other forms of writing, such as a novel, sermon, children’s story, or poetry and even, to include what I am actually doing, an academic thesis. This paper discusses briefly what the features of online writing in chatrooms are which make it a genre of writing unique.


Slide 1.  Slide Titles

Side 2. Personal interest in new genres of writing

I have been involved with various new writing genres for the past 35-years. These writing styles have broken away from traditional presentations of text standing alone in print and with the incorporation of other mediums present writing possibilities seldom explored in the past. During this period computers have changed the way we express ourselves and write. From the first computers available to the general public in the early 1970s produced by Commodore, Radio Shack and Apple Computers to the first PCs (Personal Computers) to NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today’s computers the method for new genres of writing have become more accessible.

I am interested in how meaning is presented, interrelated, understood and shared between audiences and producer, i.e. the author writer. With new models of presentation the text interacts with other forms, such as art, to make the story or text unstable and moldable into something new.


My argument that chatroom dialogue is a new genre, centres on chatrooms as a phenomena of the current communication evolution rising at the end of the 20th Century.  Chatroom communication, I believe, is reflective, of or maybe a symptom of, or even possibly a cause of, chaos in communication in society. Out of this chaos may arise forms of communication that will not only enrich society through a communication format unavailable before online communication, but may give rise to a change in how we communicate with one another.  Whether chatting will harm or benefit society will be examined many decades from now as hindsight. For now we are at the beginning of an exciting and global experiment and many millions of people are part of this with hundreds of thousand new participants every day. My presentation will look at both the unique features of chatroom ‘talk’ and at several sub-categories of chatrooms, which create new genres within a megachatroom genre.


My first exploration into the possibility of a new writing style began in the mid-1960s. I became interested in ‘Text as art’ and have explored this as a literary art genre since 1994. I refer to my multimedia presentations as picturepoems and have held exhibitions throughout the USA (1967 – 1980) and Australia (1981 - 2000). Picturepoetry as a genre places equal importance on the text-story as it does on the art. They co-exist. That is, the art and the text-story need one another for meaning to be complete.




My honours, (Deakin University) thesis was ‘Graffiti as text: how youth communicate through street art’. I saw graffiti called ‘tagging’, ‘piecing’ and ‘writing’ as a new genre of writing and have observed its evolution and many styles of expression. I have borrowed from my research into graffiti for my work on chatrooms. In my current study of chatroom conversation I compared the use of graffiti in the urban landscape, to similar textual behaviours in chatrooms. There are several features which are common to both graffiti and chatroom discourse, such as ‘fleeting-text’ and collaboration needed. Furthermore, like chatroom ‘talk’, graffiti uses a new language (anti-language) that is peculiar to graffiti and is used and known by others who practice this form of linguistic expression.


In my Masters thesis at Deakin University, I explored ‘How the Internet changes literature’. This represented a necessary step between my study of  graffiti and chatrooms as new literary genres. I researched the changing of literature, primarily due to hypertext, as a non-linear style with no beginning and no end. This is a primary feature of chatroom conversations as they potentially can continue forever. . I will further discuss this with an exploration of the phenomena I call ‘threads’, in slide 9.


My current PhD research, “Conversational analysis of Chatroom Talk”, uses several theories of discourse analysis to investigate chatroom ‘talk’. For my thesis I have moved from Reading Theory, to Computer Mediated Communications, Semiotic Analysis, Speech Act Theory, Discourse Analysis and Conversational Analysis in the process of finding a way to analyze online chat and to create a method by which to interpret the chat-act.


NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - - Today’s paper looks at one area that has emerged from my studies, chatrooms as a mega-genre of writing. It is a mega-genre of writing because there are so many styles of writing available to those who write in chatrooms. There are serious chatrooms and ones for entertainment, there are purpose filled chatrooms as well as ‘members’ only chatrooms. There are as many types of chatrooms as there are people online.  However, with all this diversity there are some specifics which identify chatroom writing as so unique it is not possible to perform in any other format.


Dialogue in Internet chatrooms, despite interactions which appear founded in conversation, is primarily a writing form, though there is a combination of spoken and written form in the chat-act performance. Chatroom performance is similar to speech-acts.  Examples can be found in oral story telling, rumour spreading, sermons and parliamentary debates and many other conversational acts performed in person-to-person communication. However, at the same time there are similarities to textual expressions used in written formats such as letter writing, novel, graffiti, and poetry publication. Chatrooms are one of an emergent genre of online writing. Other forms could be emails, discussion groups, MUDs, SMS messaging via mobile phones and palm computers, interactive consoles, as well as webpages and hypertext. The growing use of net-meetings online and game playing, and client-created virtual worlds such as Traveler ( which is a written performance operating in 3D worlds with Avatars and lip-sync real time audio, are also new forms of online writing. Immersive entertainment forms will fuse the writer and the reader in the future in a shared act of creativity. All of these present chat technologies as well as future technologies have their foundation in the chatroom text writing of the late 1990s.


What may be missing with the virtual technologies of the future is the same as what is missing in other online communication; that of physical cues, so important in communication between people. The performer and the audience change roles with other audiences and performers, and often there is no revelation of the identity of a person, or whether at any given moment this person is the performer or the audience. The author is never actually present. In actual fact he or she may not even exist but the ‘other’ may be a bot (a computer program which responds to input by others). These created genres of presentation with their implied and ‘guessed at’ meaning may have powerful effects on the future of society.


What results is a new genre of writing that encompasses many traditional writing styles and creates new ones. In my thesis I have sought to develop an ‘Online Discourse Analysis Method’ (ODAM), to capture, for analysis, the complexities of this emergent form of communication. This will become my Online Discourse Analysis Theory (nODAT) to use in future analysis of this genre.


I began my research four years ago, looking at chatroom discourse from a linguistic perspective instead of a psychological or sociological view, and I have stayed within a linguistic mode as much as possible. Now, at the end of my study, I am coming to the conclusion that what I am finding is fundamentally a writing style that may be historically unique to the end of the 1990s and first years of 2000. However, the impact it may have on global communication may continue, and this genre, that of chatroom discourse, may evolve into new genres and styles of writing and speaking, that are unimaginable now. As recently as twenty years ago, it was difficult to imagine electronic chatrooms being used by hundreds of millions of people for as many reasons as there are chatrooms. There have always been chatrooms, from cave-dwellers sitting around a fire, to Socrates, to King Arthur and his Knights, to our more recent chatrooms, such as, speakeasies, pubs, coffee houses and groups and meetings.


My research has examined the text-based chatroom, as this was the primary source of online interaction in 1998 when I began this study. I believe that research of text-based chatrooms will have a short-term cycle. It seems that text based chatrooms have been at the height of popularity during a relatively short period of history, starting around 1994, until the present day, and that this popularity is already beginning to wane.


It seems to me that the text-based genre of chatrooms is coming to an end. There are two factors which are contributing to this:


1.      Firstly, there is a change in saving chatroom discourse due to the use of java script for chat sites (see slide 13 as an example). Java script opens a dialogue box on one’s computer screen which is not savable. With person-to-person, spoken, conversational analysis, the researcher uses tape recorders to examine data at a later time. This was similar to the way chatroom dialogues could be ‘captured’. The chat logs could be copied and pasted into a word document or saved as a file for later analysis. With Java Script the dialogue box cannot be copied and pasted unless each screen of text is captured with ‘print screen'. When a person logs off of the chatsite or off of their computer the java script is no longer available. This gives the fleeting and instant writing style of most current chatrooms.


Slide 3. Java Script picture


 With the growth of multimedia chatrooms less text is being used for dialogue and the narrative of text based chat is changed. New multi-media, communicative tools and environments mediate communicative acts in ways not possible in a text-based only chatroom. Multimedia chatrooms use several other media such as pictures, videos and voice. As these types of chatrooms grow textual chatrooms will become less common.


Web-based chat systems are combining the features of standard text chats with the graphics of avatar based chat as well as sound. The author is often disguised as an icon with little recognition of his or her intended persona. Java-based-multimedia chatrooms are performance driven and the communication act is less linguistic and more representative, though the traditional forms of discourse are still present such as speech acts and reader response mechanics. Therefore, text-based chatrooms as a genre of communicative writing may be short termed in the thousands of years of writing history. It is only a blip or bubble on the timeline of human discourse.



In this paper I will briefly discuss text based chats as a new genre of writing and highlight areas which gives this form of writing its diversity.


Slide 4. Writing: Interactive ~ Non-Interactive


There are many ways to divide writing into genres. In my current research I have started with a simple division of writing as either being Interactive or non-interactive. The first categorization in my proposed method, Online Discourse Analysis Method, which I develop further in my thesis looks at this division of reader-response theory as a method of analysis of online discourse. For the purpose of this presentation however, I have given a brief overview as a graph on this slide. The difference between Interactive and Non-Interactive is between a static style and a shared style where the final piece of writing is a collaboration of others to produce a chat-narrative or chat-story or chat-discourse.


Non-interactive forms are writer only produced, such as books, newspapers and web sites. The writing is one sided and any impute into the writing is afterwards and not during the writing process. One could argue that there are some books which have hand written notes in them and therefore, are interactive. For example, a textbook from the library sometimes has notes in the margins that someone has made. Many of these notes are quite personal and are the reader’s comments about the material. Some books have several people who have written in the margins with comments being made on comments. It then becomes similar to the writing on toilet walls where people extend other’s writing. But in general, books and web pages are final products, which provide little room for interaction.


A commonality between chatrooms and webpages is the unpredictableness of hyperlinks in webpages and threads in a chatroom. The flow of the narrative is often out of control of the audience. The difference between webpages and chatrooms though, is that the audience is also the narrator.


In Interactive writing the reader and the writer together produce a text.  For example graffiti on walls is an interactive and writer-reader produced text. Youth who tag fences and walls are even called writers. 


Online writing is the form I have investigated as the most interactive of all writing genres. Of those, only a few forms provide full interactivity. Email is letter writing and even though one can write on top of the email and return it, there is not the full interactivity of writer and reader producing a piece of writing together. Bulletin boards provide a low level of interactivity. MUDs are more of a virtual room space with icons, and though they are interactive, they do not result in a flowing text of writer-reader collaboration. MUDs are primarily role playing narratives and a unique genre of creativity and story telling on its own.

Instant Messenger (IM and ICQ) as well as SMS messages on mobile phones are also interactive. But these two mediums are limited to two people. It is the writing in chatrooms however, which produces the most unstable and unpredictable style of writing.


Chatrooms come in all sizes and shapes. There can be fifty people chatting at a time and within that there could be fifty different topics. Chatrooms can be divided into sub categories such as topic specific and general chats, moderated or unmoderated. It is the unmoderated general chatrooms which, from my research, I have found to be the genre of writing that is the most unpredictable.

Slide 5. Logical map of the ARPANET, 1971

I am showing how the Internet looked in 1971with this slide when the first structure of the Internet had only a few dozen nodes  connected to one another now there are thousands of nodes but the original structure in its simplicity is similar in structure to a chatroom conversation with its many threads. The primary difference being that text-based chatrooms are a linear format whereas 3D multimedia chatrooms are in different places of the chat-map.

Slide 6.  CMC

Computer-Mediated Communication is any form of communication using computers, including Internet, Intranet, Power Point displays and simple typing. Every writing genre is technology based, from the first recorded writing to Internet based writing. The areas I am interested in for my research narrows in on one of the four areas of computer usage involving Internet based technologies: usergroups, email,  webpages and chatrooms.


Slide 7.  Chat

Chatrooms come in many varieties. I have divided the area into three, two are text-based and one is voice-based. These are not clear divisions necessarily, and they all have aspects of each other.

Instant Messenger (IM), ICQ, SMS type of text-based-chat where only two people at a time are involved. This is a gender of writing that is difficult to research and analyze as it is not possible to observe two others chatting unless they allow a screen shot of their dialogue. But the writing style has several of the same qualities, use of emoticons, abbreviations and fleeting-text as a chatroom which has more than two speaking at the same time. Some of the multiple person chatroom features are difficult to employ in a two person chatroom. It is difficult to lurk as there is no conversation to lurk at. Threads and discontinuity are possible but it is not as chaotic as a multi person chat. However, there still exists a possibility for a very creative collaboration. SMS messaging on mobile (cell) phones is even more limited and the use of emoticons and abbreviations are vital as only a couple of dozen figures are allowed per message.

*      3D virtual chat or avatar-chat uses primarily voice to communicate with. Many no longer do not use text at all, and though the computer keyboard is used for navigation this form of chatroom is better suited for role or game playing or performance orientated communication.

Slide 8 Sample of a virtual-chat

This slide shows two characters or avatars conversing. They can close in on one another or exist above, below or in another area of the chatroom. They can explore many virtual worlds together and discourse is through voice.

*      Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or text-base chat is a linear scrollable conversation, and is what I will discuss for the rest of this paper.


Slide 9.  Chatroom Types 


*      Moderated/un-moderated

For example, placing these two chats side by side we can see the difference between a moderated chatroom and an unmoderated chat. The moderated chat in this example is controlled, and even though there is interactivity,  there is no room allowed by the moderator for wide open free writing which is common in an un-moderated chat room. Unmoderated chatrooms give one full ability to say what they wish and when. Moderated chatrooms are censored to keep users either on the given topic or to weed out people who are not suitable for that particular chatroom. For example, a person may be pushed out of a chatroom for using language not appropriate for that room.  Moderated chatrooms are useful when an authority on a subject or a popular person is available to chat with. If it is a popular person then it would be difficult for thousands of people to all ask questions at the same time. With an authority on a subject, just as shown in the moderated chat above, the moderator is able to keep people on the subject matter. Moderated chatrooms tend not to have as many threads as unmoderated. Chatters do not go off onto tangents but are forced to stay on one topic. Users submit their question and the moderator passes it on to the quest ‘speaker. For example, in a moderated chat about September 11th people form questions and answers and the chat appears as an edit version of the conversation. The primary feature of moderated chats is that they seldom use emoticons and abbreviations.

Slide 10. 911 Moderated example.

Moderator at 7:20pm ET

Do you have to be a skilled pilot to fly the 757/767? We're trying to understand how easy it would be for someone to just take control and man the flight.

ABCNEWS' John Nance at 7:25pm ET

 Only a skilled pilot can takeoff, fly, and land a Boeing 757 or 767 and do it safely. It would be extremely difficult to imagine a small airplane pilot, untrained in large aircraft, initiating flight in such a big jet.

By noting the time difference between the question which the moderator selects from those submitted to ask the quest speaker and the amount of time for the response, five minutes, it is clear this is far from the chaos and emoticon and abbreviation filled dialogue of a text-based unmoderated chatroom. Both the moderator’s and the quest speaker’s chat is closer to email correspondence and the words and grammar are properly constructed.


*      General/Topic Specific


The next division of a chatroom is in it either being a general chat or a topic specific chat. With a topic specific, such as a baseball or a computer information chatroom the topic is defined by the name of the chatroom.  One chat server,, has thousands of named chatrooms for any topic imaginable. Because there are so many choices of subject matter an individual chatroom, unless a popular topic, has few people in it at any one time. An example of two topic specific sites side by side are at:


General chats are the wide open many users talking one after another. There is difficulty in following the script, and as will be mentioned in features of chatrooms in a moment it is the threads that make the chat such a unique genre of writing.


*      Information/Entertainment

Slide 11 Example of entertainment vs. Information chat


The final division that chatrooms can be put into are information or entertainment. Entertainment chatrooms are usually inhabited by users who do not reveal much, if anything of their physical self. People have usernames that may be useful in identifying themselves to either others or her or his self at the time they are in the chatroom. Information chatrooms, like about a disease or a sport or a computer program, usernames are not so important. What is happening is the essence. The two examples in slide 11 demonstrate that in the information chat when people are asking questions about what is happening in New York City they use real names. Whether it is their real name or not doesn’t matter;

                                            Information chat from 911 chat

14:58:05 novyk: hello from Spain

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

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

14:58:14 Sascha: i watch it in tv it is unbelievable

                                            Entertainment chat

<B_witched_2002-guest> 0HI

<tab_002> hi bwitch71                                                                                                        

<soldier_boyedo835> 10Ok quit allready

 In the entertainment chat the usernames are not similar to real names where they are in the information chat.

Slide 12.   Features, which differentiate chatroom ‘talk’

The primary features, which differentiate text-chatroom ‘talk’ from non-electronic writing are;


Emoticons and abbreviations

Spelling and Grammatical errors

Threads and Discontinuity

Fleeting text


[Avatars] Particular to 3D chat.

Chatroom graffiti: tagging, crews, anti-languages

Slide 13.    1. Emoticons and abbreviations

The new global language as a result of electronic communications is based on emoticons and abbreviations. [anti-languages: new words, miss spelt word]

In chatroom writing there is a difference in writing styles in the use of an emoticon or an abbreviation from miss spelt words or grammatical errors. Emoticons and abbreviations have to have shared meaning and are becoming universal. Miss spelt words are often the result of the chatter typing too fast whereas emoticons are part of the chat genre. Being able to express one’s feeling so others know what the writer is intending gives this form of writing as stylistic aspect that has its closest writing style being hieroglyphics. In fact  emoticons could be viewed as an electronic version of hieroglyphics. Linguistic chat units are the building blocks of online writing. The emoticon represents the smallest particles in a physics of online language in use.

Some abbreviations are the same, such as By The Way (BTW) even though the words are different in other languages. The most widely used emoticons and abbreviations are with SMS, text messaging on mobile phones with 750 million SMS messages per day, person-to-person text messaging alone, with additional SMS messages generated by Internet-to-mobile text messaging – will equal one billion messages per day. This will increase with MMS (multimedia messaging services) more in 2002.

Using symbols and abbreviations in writing is always risky. If others do not share the meaning of the signs then communication does not occur.

There are other comparisons to chatroom language, such as its similarity to the universality of music. For example with music, a system of musical notation in common practice in western music can be read and written equally by speakers of most world languages.

Slide. 14 Examples of foreign emoticons

Emoticons and abbreviations are developing into an international language where emoticons are the same, whether it is a French Chatroom or German or English speaking chatroom. Interestingly, musical notation has a similar universality. Notation in western music in common practice can be read and meaning can be made whether the musician, (the reader and sometimes the writer), is English speaking, Hungarian, Chinese or any other language speaker.


*      Spanish  Chatroom!!

:) mnemo: . . . .  amutje


*      French Chatroom

:-) Toutes les grimaces permises dans le courrier électronique!


*      German chat [2]

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



^_^  Smile


*      Dutch [3]

:) lachen


*      Japanese emoticons. Adapted to their culture. According to The New York Times (August 12, 1996), the Japanese are using emoticons even more than Westerners. In American computers, each letter or punctuation mark is represented by one byte, a string of eight zeroes and ones, allowing for 256 possible characters. But Japanese computers use two bytes for each character, to allow for enough combinations to represent all the kanji. For punctuation marks, Japanese users can choose between single-byte and double-byte characters, with the latter being wider or appearing double spaced. A double-byte smiley ( ---- ) is used to convey a stronger feeling than a single-byte one and often merits a line of its own in the message. ( -- ) [4]

Linguistic styles tend to form and converge faster in chatrooms than in discussion groups, or emails. If one person starts a linguistic trend in a chatroom then others follow. For example, one person using emoticons evokes others to use them as well; they imitate the style set up by the first person. This is an interesting phenomenon which I explore further in my thesis. Or in my example in this slide; .

Slide 15.   Chat example, Baseball Chat

In this example of a chat which took place in a baseball chatroom one of the participants asked the question,

Ø      if you like the yanks press 3


In response to this question the next several entrances were done in numbers to express the chatters points of view on this question. See slide 15.

Slide 16.    2. Threads and discontinuity

What categorizes chatroom discourse more than any other factor is the threads and discontinuity of conversation. What appears to be chaotic intent, like a sabotaged story, is individuals responding to individuals and sometimes to the group. In slide 15 with the baseball talk, prior to the thread about whether the others in the room liked the New York Yankees there was a discussion about who would win the baseball world series, and another thread was about several individual players. Few chatroom conversations, especially in general, non-topic orientated chats continue on a particular thread for long. Even when the topic is about a particular subject such as in the 911 chat there are threads about various aspects of the topic. Keeping track of threads in a busy chatroom is almost an art form in itself.  Some text-based chats have as many as fifty chatters and the text scrolls by at such a speed that it takes a lot of concentration to follow what is being discussed.

Slide 17.     3. Lurking

Lurking is the being there but not being there in a conversation. Linguistics instructor (University of Texas[5]) Susan Herring referred to her research into electronic dialogue "carrying out ethnographic observation”. Whether lurking is a (TCU) 'turn-constructional unit' or is just what it is called, ‘lurking’ is matter of opinion. I believe by entering a chatroom and having one’s user name showing that they are treated by others in the room in the same way as someone standing near you, who could be a possible conversant but is not actually one until they or someone else initiated a sequence. With the new type of chatrooms that have avatars, chatters can now 'face' one another with their avatars and increase the physical proximity, adding a dimension to the chat that is absent in text-based only chatrooms.[6] Others in the chatroom have no idea why someone is not responding. When several chatters say ‘hi …’ to someone who has just entered the chatroom and there is no response it is left for one’s imagination for why the silent person is present. There are several reasons why someone may lurk, such as one could be intimidated by others or one does not know the chatroom genre, or what sort of conversation is being carried on or there could be shyness or the person may not be good at typing or unable to use the technology and then there are those who seem to be voyagers and finally they could be a researcher observing the chatroom as Herring mentions.

Slide 18.     4. Fleeting text ~


What is written is seldom ‘captured’ for future reference or discussion. Othere literary genres, even those that are also Internet based, such as email or Noticeboard postings, are preserved, discussed and available as subjects of future writings.  Chat dialogue, however,  is seemingly chaotic and disappears when the chatroom is left or the computer is turned off. There is not a linear progression in text.


In a public chatroom, ideas, discussions, prose or poetry is seemingly chaotic and disappears when the chatroom is left or the computer is turned off. Chatters know that their text may be lost forever, yet ideas, prose, experiments of identity and statements are written that in other writing genres would be saved and elaborated on. Even if a chat dialogue is saved for future reference, there are seldom the same participants in the chatroom who were in it earlier to carry on the discussion.


Slide 19. The Self as other as Avatar [the author bytes]

The disappearance of the author. The author is at the same time invisible and visible. Because there is the aspect that the author is simply a username and not the actual person, the author is often as fleeting as the text. The disruptiveness of this form of scripted “chat”, its fusion of behaviours from written and spoken modes, its redefinition of ‘present communication’ though verbal or scripted co-presence, and its dissolving of the commonly understood boundaries between speech and writing means that the final product is always what is on the screen at any given time.

Whether by the use of a username or the use of an Avatar one’s virtual representation in an online world is real and not real at the same time. The digital self is a self creation. In the real world we are one person, but online we become another, maybe even more than one.

Slide 20. Chatroom graffiti: tagging, crews, anti-languages

The common terms of graffiti; tagging, crews and writing are similar in behaviour to what occurs in a text-based chatroom. Youth form into groups or gangs which they call ‘crews’ to collaborate a piece of writing. In a chatroom chatters combine to create a piece of writing. Every chatroom conversation is unique and is impossible to have again. Taking into account the random assortment of people at any one time in a chatroom and the rushing by dialogue it would be close to impossible to ever repeat the chat-story exactly as it appears. It is like several strangers crowed together during rush-hour on a commuter train and a conversation occurring about an accident that they all had just witnessed. There most likely would never be another time when the same people got on the same train carriage at the same moment and had the same experience. Chatrooms are even more unstable as people change their usernames and go to any one of thousands of chatrooms. For example, to record the same dialogue as I ‘captured’ in the baseball chat with everyone giving the same response would be rare.


Slide 20. Raw data – First words

One other feature of chatrooms is that they can have original responses, the raw data of an experience, before it is filled with meaning influenced by politics or anything else. I noted this in the 911 chat and this is an example of people asking about something that they could not fathom. In chatrooms a week or more later the events were discussed, whereas in the first hours of the event few people, even those in New York City, knew what was going on.

Slide 21. wrap up

This has been a brief discussion of chatroom ‘talk’ as a special genre. Whether it will continue as a linear turn-taking is unknowable at this time. From the direction chatrooms are currently taking I would assume that they won’t. However, in the history of writing, narrative, literature, communication, chatroom writing is a unique study of human discourse at the beginning of a new millennium which has been referred to as the communication revolution.

4/30/2002 1:04 PM 6708

[1] Eastgate,  "...the primary source for serious hypertext"
  -- Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review. At Eastgate, we create new hypertext technologies and publish serious hypertext, fiction and non-fiction: serious, interactive writing.”

[2] German emoticons

[3] Dutch emoticon page:

[4]ANDREW POLLACK. (1996)  HAPPY IN THE EAST ( -- ) OR SMILING :-) IN THE WEST, The New York Times, Late Edition - Final Monday Aug 12, 1996




[6] See, for others who have studied chatroom talk and their impute on lurking.

contact Myanmar 2014

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

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