Ethnography of ICQ

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Research has been done, woo! This meaning that I finally finished the Dell Hymes article in which he lays out the principles of an ethnography of communication, and the whole SPEAKING deal. Starrynight has also laid out the deal on SPEAKING, and I think he made up an excellent example using it, so I'm going to copy it for my paper. With his permission, of course. I'll C/P it here for fun. :)
Ends (community recognized goals)
Acts (substance or sequence)
Key (prevailing mood for meaning)
Instrumentalities (means by which acts performed)
is the acronym. StN's ex is a flame war, and goes like this:

Scenes (physical and situational circumstances): Any non-realtime electronic textual communication; email, bulletin board system, usenet, etc. An argument (usually with no clear outcome to begin with) must have degenerated to accusations and name-calling.
Participants: The disagreeing parties. Not limited to two.
Ends (community-recognized goals): To publicly vent one's frustrations at a faceless "other." Also, flame wars generally signal the end of a given thread of discussion, as most readers become rapidly disinterested.
Acts (Substance or sequence): Starting with an unresolvable difference of opinion (Mac vs. Windows, Playstation2 vs. X-Box, Star Trek vs. Star Wars, etc.) a simple argument can't resolve the issue; the only way to feel good about one's opinion is to sufficiently insult the disagreer (assuming that's a word.) Insults of increasing severity are traded until everybody gets bored and leaves.
Keys (prevailing mood that provides meaning): The whole point of a flame war is to let everybody feel that they've won, so it's a cathartic form of communication, rather than one which has some kind of clear resolution. It's very much like slamming a door as you storm out of a room.
Instrumentalities (means by which the acts is performed): Using a computer, and the most clever insults you can think up, without resorting to speculating as to the target's sexual or political orientation (i.e., calling him a faggot Mac-lover makes you look dumb, and calling him a nazi faggot Mac-lover makes you look even dumber.)
Norms (shoulds and should-nots): Generally it's bad form to clog up a group with a prolonged flame war. Once you've insulted the guy's intelligence and upbringing, it's best to bring the thread to a close and find something else to argue about.
Genres (literary forms): Scathing prose, although if you could compose a really insulting poem, that would probably work, too.

Given that he also uses an electronic form of communication, I think it's a good example to really illustrate SPEAKING online. Or I could just be fooling myself because he's far more brillant than I. Ah vel.

Not yet so concrete paper introduction...


The growing Internet is becoming a dominant force all part of people's lives. It's present in homes, schools, offices, public buildings; there are few places that have not "wired into the Web." Along with the growing Internet is the growing use of chat programs to communicate, such as the Instant Messanger (from AOL, Yahoo!, or various other places) or a program like ICQ, which uses the letter message format. These chat programs allow for conversation across distances without large phone bills or the lag time of e-mail, which makes it feel exactly like a true person-to-person conversation. Because of this, ICQ logs read like transcripts of conversation, and so often follow the norms of conversation; but, due to the electronic medium, have differencies to compensate for distance and lack of emotional reading.

I'm gonna stop there, 'cause I DON'T LIKE IT. Minus the title. Will work on this LATER. Jya ne!
posted by Lady Ariae 9:15 AM

Sunday, October 28, 2001

Dear Lord, I've gotten myself into quite a project here. I just read 432 pages of log between Ghent and Starrynight. I have 300+ pages of log to read for me and Ghent/Ki, and that's JUST the month of August. (I cut down to just a month for users I'm familiar with; with Ghent and StN, I had to read the whole thing up to that month. Kinda voyeristic this project is, too...*g*) If my ICQ program EVER cooperates, I'm going to get the logs pasted into the file for Korana and Kaizoku. I may have to do the whole thing by hand, especially if I want to highlight or play with colors. BUt I have some observations down:

  • Between Starrynight and Ghent, Starrynight is the main controller of topic. Occasionally, if the conversation is something Ghent knows more about, he'll change the topic, but Starrynight is the initiator of most topic changes by words. Ghent tends to initate topic changes or topics by presenting a link to something and inviting comment on it. Starrynight tends to make "out of the blue" topic changes and then invite comment on it; call it an abstract (thought based) topic control, rather than concrete (object based) topic control. Either way, Starrynight still dominates.
  • In the beginning, these two rarely exchanged a greeting, and almost never a good-bye. Towards the middle and end, they had a set "heya" or "how goes?" to greet, and then "jya ne" for a good-bye. Still, a good portion of the conversations had no good-bye phrase. They just stopped. I attribute this to Starrynight, since if a good-bye was said, it was usually initiated by Ghent.
  • Conversation topics center around social life, computers, and Everything2, an online database of knowledge.
  • Starrynight also uses emoticons more, but he uses the Eastern set. When Ghent uses emoticons, he uses the Western set, letter form.
    (EX: The Eastern set is based on Japanese Internet users--their "smilies" are all rightside up and display no teeth. For example, a simple smile is :) Western and ^_^ Eastern. Letter form of the Western set means that they uses *g* or *grin* or *smile* or whatever for emoticons and actions. Most likely, I'm the influence for that, at least on Ghent.)
  • For a contrast on topic control, between Ki and I, Ki controls the topic...but in a very segue-ish manner, in the sense that she almost ALWAYS asks, "So, what about...?" or "So, are you up for...?" and then we talk about it. We also have, standard to our dialogue, greetings and good-byes.

The working title for this project, BTW, is "SPEAKING on ICQ" after the general rule of thumb for doing an ethnography. I found it, oddly enough, on Starrynight's weblog for his communications class. Must look over actual academic sources for this again, but like with other projects, having trouble getting past "pilot study" stuff and thinking abotu related research. Yes, Susan, you can say it outloud--I'm a flake. :)

You know, considering that Starrynight is such an interest, I might as well drop Kaizoku and use Starrynight, so to study his reactions to me. Or I could just use Starrynight and drop everyone else. *bangs head against desk* It's TOO LATE! to REVISE! my DAMN PROJECT! GAH! No. I'll just stay with my four people, and have fun highlighting how he seems to break a LOT of the norms. Yea. That's it!

BTW, info on people, from AT THE TIME the logs were being written to my comp.
Ki: Female, high school senior. Met on a fiction forum. Spoken to on ICQ from November of '99 on.
Ghent: Male, third semester college student. Met in March of '99, through ICQ introduction by a mutual friend. Have met in person over the summer.
Korana: Female pharamacy student, year unsure. (4th, maybe?). Knew from home, keep in touch through ICQ.
Starrynight: Male, college student, 21. Asian studies major.
Ariae: me. Female college student, third semester of college.

I'll add more later, along with my paper introduction, but it's late. Jya ne, little log!

*suddenly scary thought--what if Susan is doing research on the way students use logs for a class? As in, how they address the log, what forms of the language they use...hmm. Now that would be interesting. BUt I'll stop speculating now...
posted by Lady Ariae 11:12 PM

Monday, October 22, 2001

Well, after a coupla weeks of running around in a sort of chicken minus head way, I've finally been able to straighten my projects out. FINALLY. So expect this Blog to get more posts as I sort through my information RATHER QUICKLY, since I have to present my project in...November? Yeagh. Can't wait.

Anyhoo, the revised-revised proposal is to look at norms of use. In this case, I'm going to look for three very specific things in conversation: greetings and intial topic, including who greets who first (this may be spoiled by Online Alerts and stuff, but it's good to look into); topic control and length of message; how the conversation ends and who (or what) is usually responsible for ending it. Plus a bit on emoticon use. Looking at it, it's not QUITE LPG...which reminds me, still need Starrynight's logs. And I'll probably stay with the first four people, since logs do range hundreds to thousands of pages, as I am finding out. Taking Susan's advice and highlighting; interesting stuff so far. I'll put it up tomorrow or Wednesday, though, since I have to fill out other stuff.

Sorry to have ignored you, little journal. I'll be better from now on, PROMISE.

posted by Lady Ariae 9:25 PM

Monday, October 08, 2001

Research has begun! I found one of the books Susan recommended; turns out it wasn't lost at all, woo. It's called Directions in Sociolinguistics, and is edited by John J. Gumperz and Dell Hymes. The call number is P40.D49. The other book is called Sociolinguistics: Goals, Approaches, and Problems by Roger T. Bell. The call number is P40.B35. I list them here for convenient reference, and because I won't be able to check anything else out until I turn some overdue stuff by in. *wince* It looks like that whole P20-P40 section is devoted to linguistics, so I have something to refer back to.

Probably have to expand user base. Still not sure how much conversation I'm going to study; I'll have to check logs. For Ki and Ghent, I have .zip files of their logs, and I can use those. Kaizoku is fairly random, and so is Lady Korana...I may have to toss in SRS and Rogue just to even it all out. That'll be my project for Wednesday night before I leave--putting log files on disk or on CD so I have them for anywhere access. Probably going to go ahead and count my side of the conversation (the Lady Ariae side) 'cause oftentimes I initiate emoticon exchanges. You know, I still say they constitute their own speech act for online communication; they may subsititute for body language and what not, but they have evolved their own speech purpose in chatrooms and chatboxes. Not easy to explain, though; an emoticon conveys tone? How's that a function of language? At which point I must answer, "Err, you'd have to be there," 'cause the experience is hard to convey. I've had messages, though, that have been drastically changed just by the use of an emoticon. A lot of my mis-communication with Kora-chan (Lady Korana) is due to this; she doesn't use them as much or on certain statements, and so I take them way too strongly. Interesting how that works...

I ramble enough. Gonna skim these books and hopefully have synops of what I find later on this week.

posted by Lady Ariae 1:12 PM

Thursday, October 04, 2001

First post, test post. Just came from my meeting with Susan, which is why this log is being set up.
Things to do:
Revise research statement and put it here.
Look up books on ethnography and electronic discourse
Copy logs or chunks of logs to easily accesible word file and start looking for usage.

Study topic SO FAR: An ethnography of ICQ communication, with emphasis on use of actions and emoticons as related to gender and speech.
In plain English: looking at what sort of speech acts or syntactical usages trigger emoticon/action use. Is there a difference between genders? Have emoticons simply become a sort of habit on the part of some speakers, or is it less ritualized? Do they take the place of other speech acts that might go there instead?

Wish me luck!
posted by Lady Ariae 10:51 AM

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A research and gripe journal for my Anth 401 LPG project.