Ethnography of ICQ

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Analysis of log one done. Moving on to the other two over the next three days. By my count, each participant should take about six hours to finish.
Entered topic and time data into a chart and didn't really find an correlations, but think it's interesting to see how much certain people talk, when there are spikes, when it runs particularly short. Greetings and closings are also interesting, especially in light that so far, 7G opens and ends far more conversations than Lady A. Looks like an issue of power, methinks.

Powerpoint/paper outline, first draft
Introduction to topic--Limited ethnography of communication on ICQ.
Ethnography--based on the SPEAKING acronym of Dell Hymes and the examples given using that acronym by Nancy Bonvillian. (pass around SPEAKING sheet)
Limited because there are certain parts of the acronym that do not fit with my chosen medium of communication--A, I, N, and G specifically.
Thesis: ICQ conversation is normal, informal conversation that has evolved to fit the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.
ICQ is an Internet based messenger system that is primarily used for talking to other people. Conversations are done through message boxes--a box containing the message comes to the user, they read it, and then reply in a different box. This means that unlike other messengers, ICQ does not show the progressive conversation on the same screen. Rather, this conversation is logged by the program in History files, which can be accessed from the message box. They can also be converted to text files if the user wishes to read the whole of the conversation.
For my project, I studied three pairs of people for this project: one m/m (7G and StN) one f/f (Lady A and Lady H), one m/f (7G and Lady A), taking fifteen conversations from February, May, and August of 2000. I chose these months primarily because there was consistent conversation and because I had existing log files for all of them.
Starrynight(StN): 21, University of New Mexico student, Asian Studies major, male
7Ghent(7G): 20, University of New Mexico student, Linguistics major, male
Lady Ariae (Lady A): 18, IUPUI student, English major, female
Lady Houki (Lady H): 17, high school student, interested in Star Wars, female

Data review
Situation: ICQ, a real-time instant messaging system
Participants: In all of these conversations, only two.
ICQ users can choose their conversation partners in four ways:
a) From friends in real life
b) Introduced by a mutual friend
c) Know from some other setting, such as a chatroom or a classroom, and wish to converse outside of that medium
d) Find randomly by searching for similar interests or location
StN and 7G know each other in real life, 7G and Lady A were introduced by a friend, and Lady H and Lady A met on a bulletin board. This has an impact on their conversations; for instance, StN and 7G talk about events and people that they know mutually, making of some of their conversations unclear to the outside reader; 7G and Lady A tend to talk about things and people that they both have knowledge of, as well as more of their lives; Lady H and Lady A tend to, at least in the beginning, focus on one topic: the bulletin board and the stories Lady A posts there. Later on they branch out.
Ends: To communicate. An underlying goal is to become friends with the person you communicate with.
Key: In the case of these users, friendship.
Norms: Three norms are usually observed by ICQ users, with some underlying norms that pertain to usual conversation.
Greeting: Opening a conversation. The conventional greeting of "Hi, Hey, Yo!" is pretty standard, followed by the standard, "How are you?" and oftentimes, "What are you up to?" in some form. Greeters usually have the first topic--"How are you?" and so in the beginning, whoever greets controls the conversation.
Topic changes: These are usually accomplished by a putting a space between the old topic and the new, and then opening the new with some sort of question/statement of topic introduction.
Well, I didn't like her much anyways.

So, how's the paper coming along?
Ooooh...that sucks...

Guess what? I'm failing Math!

Occasionally, two users will pick up a conversation where it ended, so you might have an opening that functions also as a topic introduction. This is rare, and it's because occasionally users don't get the last message until they log onto the system again. If this is a user's opening, then they tend to tack on some sort of greeting phrase to their reply. Or they just ignore what was said all together, go through the greetings, and then return to topic presented.
I hope you have a good day! (last message)

Actually, my day sucked and I want to go to bed. But how are you? (opening message)

Another key to this is prompt reply to a topic. Because ICQ works off an Internet connection, a leeway is given between messages--about 3-5 minutes, occasionally up to ten. After that, the one user will prompt the other with another message to check and see if they're still around.

Due to ICQ's spatial medium, and because a space between sentences indicates that there's a different topic, participants can carry on discussions on up to three topics at once. This usually doesn't last very long, though.

Closing: Some sort of way to tie off the conversation. This is also standard to normal conversations between people--"Good-bye, bai, good night, sleep well." Users occasionally develop a personal closing. For instance, between Lady A and 7G, "Night and sleep well!" was a sort of ritualized closing. Between Lady A and Lady H, oftentimes they would close with, "Talk to you tomorrow!" or some variant of that.

StN pretty much violates all of these norms. He doesn't greet, switches topics without much lead in, tends to wander off and not reply to his ICQ messages, and fails to close.

Other things to find places for (help!, please)
Emoticons and Actions
Emoticon: A figure "drawn" with letter and punctuation that resembles a face in real life. EX: ^_^, >.<, :-), ;-), O_o
Action: An event, usually enclosed in ** or //, that the user is essentially miming taking place. EX: *hug*, *kiss*, *smile*
emoticons used occasionally as mood indicators, and often as defusers. For instance, if something strong is said:
I really HATE that. :) <----that will function to make the statement not as serious.
Also take the place of body language on many occasions.
Actions: used to emphasis a statement made, to show affection or solidarity, and to fill in non-verbal cues.
*grrrr*punches paper through wall* I can't write this stupid thing!
I'm so sorry, chica! *hugs*

Gender differences between m/m--f/f conversations--where do I fit those in the paper? What section do they belong to, or do I cover it after I cover everything else?
Can I have a section called "Miscellaneous?" or "Various other thingees"?

Conclusion: Though ICQ is conversation through text, it has the same essential characteristics as normal speech. Differences are made to accommodate the format and medium, and include things such as topic shifts and emoticons and actions.

posted by Lady Ariae 11/27/2001

Sunday, November 25, 2001

Okay, that was ambitious. I'm about a 1/3 of the way done with my analysis of log number one, and found out I need to cut down quite a bit. My total file of three months for each conversation is 1078 pages long--mostly me and Ki, actually, since we tend to have LONG messages. The change I've decided to make is to look at 15 "days" of conversation--three from each section of the month (1-4, 11-15, 22-26)--and then do my averages. Looking down at my previous log, the only thing I haven't charted is who initiates the topic changes, though I have been counting the rest of the things. I'll try to reproduce some of the charted data here. (this is actually horizontal on the page, but I needed to put it vertically here for it to work...)

Feb. 2000: 7Ghent and Lady A
Date 1
Greeting 7Ghent
Topics Seven/Four
Conversation Time(min) 119
Min/Topic 10.1
Emoticons n/a
Actions n/a
Closing 7Ghent

I haven't actually checked out Emoticons/Actions yet. They're going to be part of my Keys analysis. I'm not doing the full SPEAKING acronym--right now, it's just SPEKN (Situations, Participants, Ends, Keys, Norms)--because I think that's all I can establish and use from my research so far. Also, E/A play a roll in looking at gender stuff...which is why I want to separate the categories. While emoticons are almost useless in many conversations (they act as emphasis or defusers), actions are key to knowing the mood of who you're talking to. And they're such a part of the online culture that any analysis of conversation would be pointless if I didn't show how their meaning can affect communication.

More tomorrow.
posted by Lady Ariae 11/25/2001

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

My analysis of log number one will be up over break, and hopefully my ICQ logs will be fixed by then, too. Might do log number two as well. I corrected and added some things to my first three sections, but that introduction will need a revision, neh?

Is it all right to structure my paper on the SPEAKING? As in, sections S, P, E, A, K, I, N, G, or is that too much? I don't anticipate any of those sections being too long, minus the Norms one, but it might be overdoing it with how many people I'm working from. still, an overview perhaps? I thought it would make an interesting structure...or, really, the only structure I could think of. I've also thought of going just with Norms, but then that's not really an ethnography, either. Gah.

Quick things I am looking at in logs:
How topic changes are intiated, and who does it.
Time on a topic.
Time of conversation.
Some use of actions/emoticons

posted by Lady Ariae 11/20/2001

Sunday, November 18, 2001

First three sections, rooooooough draft.


I. Introduction
As the use of the Internet increases, more and more people are using it to keep in touch. There are various methods to do this, including e-mail, cellphone messaging, chat rooms, and instant messengers. Instant messengers provide an interesting new linguistic venue, for while the conversations are usually informal, there are subtle differences that have evolved in order to compensate for the format. This paper intends to show how these new rules have been worked into the communication, making for conversations that are both very similar and radically different from ones had in real life.

To do this, I have done an ethnography of communication on ICQ, one of the most popular instant messengers, using Dell Hymes' SPEAKING acronym. Ethnographies of communication are studies of conversational patterns in certain sections of society, usually following along the eight ideas suggested in Hymes' paper. They details not only the norms of communication, but also the societal mores that figure into conversation. This paper will not be a full ethnography of communication; however, its structure is based on the SPEAKING acronym. Each section will be prefaced by one of the letters, a short explanation of it, and then how ICQ conversations relate to that.

II. Review of Literature
In Dell Hymes' article "Models of the Interaction of Language and Social Life," Hymes describes what he feels to be a gap in socio-linguistic research. According to him, researchers either concentrate only on the structure or the social patterns of a language. In order to close this gap, Hymes created the SPEAKING acronym. Each of the eight letters deals with a certain concept that Hymes explains in detail. These eight concepts are: Situations, Participants, Ends (community recognized goals), Acts (substance or sequence), Key (prevailing mood for meaning), Instrumentalities (means by which acts performed), Norms, and Genres. He concludes by restating that both forms and the social supports for those forms must be studied, but like most theories, this one will need testing.
Nancy Bonvillian's chapter on ethnography of communication from her book Language, Culture, and Communication presents a summary of the eight SPEAKING principles. She gives details on each principle, and in some cases, gives examples of what could be included under these principles.

III. Methodology
For this project, I used three sets of logs: one between two males (7Ghent and Starrynight), one between two females (Lady Ariae and Houki), and the last a mixed sex pair (7Ghent and Lady Ariae.) I picked the months February, May, and August from last year because the conversation was consistent in all three, and there was enough of a time difference to track any changes in norms. All three logs were converted from the ICQ database to a text file format; from there, I copied the three relevant months for each set of people to one file, and made notes in a separate file.
The participants at the time of the recorded logs ranged in age from 17 to 21. Starrynight and 7Ghent are both New Mexico residents that attend college at UNM; Starrynight is a sophomore for most of the log, and 7Ghent is still a freshman. They know each other personally, and are best friends. Both are skilled computer users and have used ICQ for over a year; Starrynight uses the Mac version of ICQ and 7Ghent uses the PC version, which may account for some of the glitches in their logs. Starrynight is 21 at the time, and 7Ghent turns twenty during the February log. Houki is a high school junior in Idaho during most of the conversation--in August she becomes a senior--and is 17 all throughout the log. She is also a skilled computer user, started using ICQ in July of 1999, and has been talking with Lady Ariae over ICQ for four months by February. They met on a bulletin board dedicated to Star Wars fanfiction, and began using ICQ to encourage each other's ideas. Lady Ariae is 18 and from Indiana; a college sophomore when the logs begin, she becomes a junior over the course of the summer. Though not as good with computers as the other three, she has been using ICQ since early 1998, and is very familiar with the system. She met 7Ghent in late March of 1999 and the two had been conversing steadily up to the point where the project logs begin.
posted by Lady Ariae 11/18/2001

Saturday, November 17, 2001

So, it's been awhile, but I have done work. Really. There's some good news and bad news, though...
Bad news: The group I set up--the male-male, fem-fem, and then mixed sex pairings in those groups--didn't work. One of the members refused permission on a shared log, so I'm back to just the male-male, fem-fem, and one male-fem pair. This could put me behind, since I had keyed myself towards those groups. Also, my ICQ prog. is down and I can't access other histories for people. Blergh.
Good news: Things are taking shape in my head. The three other people I chose to analyze I already have text logs for, ie logs I exported to text file. Is just four (including me) people enough for this project? I think so...I'm gonna look at three separate months of conversation just for progression...and that's at least 150 pages of material per month. The only really wonky person is Starrynight, and I think it makes a perfect contrast to the rest of us. It's a nice little cross-section, and it's all people I'm familiar with.

Rather than clutter this post, I'm going to go ahead and start writing the Intro, Lit. Review, and Methodology sections (perhaps in that order...perhaps not) on the next post. And just for fun, things i want to get done tonight:
Write said sections.
Read and ANALYZE (I've just been reading so far) the 7-Starrynight log.
Post up the results on that.
Maybe sleep.

'Til later!
posted by Lady Ariae 11/17/2001

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