MAS 963  ·  Designing Sociable Media  ·  Spring 2007

02.15 text based conversations



  steve whittaker: tammara turner:
Saville-Troike, M.    The Ethnography of Communication
Donath, J.    A semantic approach to visualizing online conversations. 2002. Communications of the ACM 45, no. 4: 45-49.
Small, D.    Navigating large bodies of text. 1996. IBM Systems Journal 35, no. 3&4.
optional: Turner, T., M. A. Smith, D. Fisher, and H. T. Welser    Picturing usenet: Mapping computer-mediated collective action. 2005. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10, no. 4.
optional: Whittaker, S., L. Terveen, W. Hill, and L. Cherny    The dynamics of mass interaction. 1998. Proceedings of the 1998 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work: 257-264.


  1. Read: Please read all the papers.
  2. Observe: Observe an online conversation (mailing list, newsgroup) and write a short description of its key elements. Some questions to think about include:
    • how many people are there (and do you know how many others might be silently participating)?
    • what constitutes a "conversation"? How do threads and topics emerge, mutate, disapper? Are multiple conversations carried out at once?
    • What is the situation - and what is the purpose of the conversation? How is this maintained?
    • Is there some form of official mediation? How are deviations from the norm handled?
    • How is identity
    • What constitutes a "conversation"? How do threads emerge, mutate, disappear?
    • What is the social structure of the group: do the participants seem to know each other? are there distinct subgroups? are there problematic participants?If so, how do the other members deal with them?
    • How is identity established by a writer - and how do participants indicate the impression they have of each other?
    • How do the participants use the medium to convey social information (e.g. turn-taking, agreement/disagreement,etc.)? Are there discernable gradations of communicative competence within the group?
  3. Sketch: What does this conversation "looks" like? Illustrate your analysis with sketches of its structure, of the participants, etc.
  4. Repeat: Now do the same thing with a face to face conversation among several people. Think about the same questions, and again sketch the conversation.

    Please link your work by Tuesday 2.13.