Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A conversation between Mel and Chandra

Chandra: In videoconferencing, you're more likely to stick to one thread of conversation because it's a turn-taking system and that makes us tend to stick to one topic at a time, and it's also more more like two groups communicating (Olin and Strathclyde) instead of four people.

Mel: I liked the four people feeling. It makes the distance divide seem less for me.

Chandra: But there were a lot of times when we (Mel and Chandra) typed the same thing at the same time, and we could probably be more efficient if we filtered out the double responses.

Mel: On the other hand, when we were video conferencing we had to wait so long to take turns; we'd talk, and then the other side would discuss what to say, and they'd talk, and then we'd discuss what to say - dialogue by committee.

Chandra: I value the chatroom because it feels more like four people than two teams; it feels like we're more comfortable and less hesitant at talking in the chatroom, maybe because we're a computer generation. And obviously I think that it's great that you (Mel) can understand the stuff in chatrooms. But because the lag is so slow and we're having a lot of topics on at once, it's easier for us to do other things while chatting. So we should be okay with listing aside tasks to do later (like "oh, I'm going to blog this") instead of doing them during the chat.

Mel: I think we're less hesitant to talk in a chatroom because all the attention isn't on us. We know we're not taking away our teammates' chance to say what they want to say, because there's that tiny bit of asynchronity built in to chatrooms over videoconferencing. I have a hard time with videoconferencing; it's not that I absolutely can't understand it, it's that it takes so much extra effort, like when you learn a second language well enough to understand people but it takes so much more concentration to speak and listen to than your first; you'll prefer communicating in your native language because it's just so much easier, and frees up your brain to do other things, like think.

Chandra: In the chat we have to backtrack a lot because someone will be carrying on with a conversation and another person hasn't had a chance to say what they've typed on the same subject. I don't want to institute Robert's Rules in the chat, but on the other hand it's less efficient because it's more efficient; it's too easy to keep going with a conversation without realizing everyone else is on a different track. There isn't signalling from other people.

Mel: We can do artificial signalling.

Chandra: We can, maybe we should, but we're not doing that yet.

Mel: Do you want to try it?

Chandra: I don't know. I'm trying to think of what would make our chatroom more efficient; would it help if we had a facilitator, a way to signal each other that we're typing (grab attention)? But I think if we do that we be losing some of the feeling that we are comfortable having an equal voice in the chatroom (as opposed to videoconferencing where Mel doesn't talk at all).

Mel: So what do you want to do?

Chandra: I don't have an answer, I think it's something we should think about. It will be interesting when artifacts come into play, when we have our user videos and physical prototypes.

Mel: And we can't do that over chat.

Chandra: I'm worried that there's content we'll keep losing unless we find a better way of communicating around physical artifacts. Like if I'm looking at a video of Phil's user study, should I be writing my comments and responses, when do I send those, should I just try to remember everything, when do we have time to go through all that information? We have the content (the video), the content creators' condensed version of the content and their responses to it, the other three members' responses to the content, the responses of all four members to each other's responses, and the new content that develops out of that conversation.

Mel: That's a lot of content. Would it work if we actually formalized it that way, "now it is the time to show content," "now it is time for Chandra to respond?"

Chandra: I've tried that and it doesn't work. You need it to be more rapid-fire, or you will lose the instantaneousness of the response, and everything keeps on dragging out and taking more time.

Mel: Even in an face to face conversation you have limited bandwidth. If the four of us were meeting in person there would be things I would want to say that I would not be saying. That information would be lost. In the digital world, you can transmit every bit of information; it's all stored. It might just take a long time to get through.

Chandra: But in a face to face conversation people usually take notes or minutes. Like right now, we're talking and you're typing (not verbatim, but a rough description of what we're talking about). Then also you have physical artifacts that you bring to, create at, or take from meeting, like we're bringing videos and responses to our next videoconference; that might happen as well if we were meeting face to face. If I was working with you (Mel) face to face on the project I would still bring my videos and my responses.

Mel: Anything else?

Chandra: I really want the ability to visually cue each other with a quick response to things - thumbs up ("I'm with you on this one"), thumbs middling ("I dunno, ehhh, can we talk about it"), thumbs down ("no! no!").

Mel: Can't we do that in the chat, ask people for a quick poll response?

Chandra: Only if we if come up with a more structured way of talking. Otherwise we don't know which conversational thread each poll response belongs to. Unless we do it outside the chatroom.

Mel: It has to be a short-term (on-then-off) notification rather than a mode switching (it stays on until you switch modes) otherwise everyone's status will be really outdated. (click a button and it will flash your response to everyone, then fade).

Chandra: It's like at Olin, at our meetings, people will hold their thumbs up and down while the speaker is talking, because people value a very quick response to things. Every group that I've been in that didn't have a quick mechanism for people to respond has eventually ended with someone being frustrated by the lack of response.

Mel: What if we could tag each other's chat lines with our thumbs-up, thumbs-down? I can click on individual things that you have typed and "vote" that way. I'll look and see if anything like that is out there.

Chandra: I'm hungry.

Mel: Let's eat.


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