Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.

THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf~ 2.html/pdf~ 3.html/pdf~  4.html/pdf~ 5.html/pdf~  6.html/pdf~  7.html/pdf~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html~ postscipt.html/pdf~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf~ Bibliography.html/pdf~  911~ thesis-complete.htm/~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  DATA ~ Case Study   1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ These links are from early notes and not the final edits which are in the published version available at the University of South Australia only. Not all links are active due to changing domains. Home page see

Conversational Analysis of Chat-room ‘talk’ – Terrell Neuage - PHD thesis


Note: This document reflects the opinions and ideas of Terrell Neuage who is solely responsible for its content. The contents of this document are copyrighted to Terrell Neuage (copyright (©) 2002). Please recognise that this document is only a rough draft of a more formal document to be published at a later date. I have endeavoured to credit any ideas used in this thesis to its source.  However, if, unknowingly I have ’borrowed’ someone’s ideas please inform me so I may provide proper credit and citation to them.



Abstract ~ mappings ~ method ~ bibliography ~ thesis_URLs  

CASE STUDY 7: 6:  5: 4: 3: 2: 1:  


INTRODUCTION_TO THESIS  - Saturday, 9 February 2002 (10,794/12,991)

A.    Statement of the Problem of researching online

B.    Research Questions

C.    Research Hypothesis

D.    Personal interest in researching online conversation

E.    The purpose of examining online conversation

F.    Current modes of on-line communication Theories of discourse analysis

G.   Is electronic talk comparable to verbal talk?     

H.    The evolution of language from early utterances to chat-room dialogue

I.      SOCIOLOGICAL and psychological perspectives Cyberculture and Cyberstudies


K.    Endnotes for Introduction



Chapter 1




It is my belief that through the interactive discourse forms of the day that society evolves. And the various issues facing us all will be managed.  Terrell Neuage


I am interested in the on-line interactive environment, its departure from the culture of a print milieu and its changes for both the reader and the writer. As on-line chatroom and discussion groups grow in popularity and importance and as these applications increase, so too will the analysing of these environments, in both depth and range.

1.                                   The problem of researching online

There are many forms of electronic communication to choose from. Therefore, identifying what area of electronic communication to analyse was the first task in this study. There is a continuing array of new communication forms being developed. How people 'talk' has gone through many transformations, from hieroglyphics to smoke signals to beating drums to electronic and now digital systems to share meaning. One of the first forms of non face-to-face 'turn-taking' communication available to most people in Western Society on a large scale was the telephone. Computers are the current step in non face-to-face 'turn-taking' communication being used on a worldwide scale. Currently, as discussed below, there are many technologies available to carry on online discourse, such as telephones, mobile phones with SMS text messages, hand-held computers, pagers, as well as computers in all sizes.

Research online is different from face-to-face research. There are the obvious differences: not always being able to verify who the writer of the text is, determining whether the writing has any validity to it and not knowing if what is read is a cut-and-paste of several other’s writings.  There is the problem of intent regarding why has the ‘speaker’ chosen to begin the turn-taking process in a specific chat area.  There is often no knowledge of the original, the beginning, the source or even the end of the discourse, as a chat room could be in operation continually.

Let us first examine one of the problems of not doing face-to-face research, namely, that of intent. Writing has a long history of questionable intent.  Research based on unknown writing is, at the best of times, experimental. For example, who wrote the Biblical line “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God” (John1:1)?  If we read it today, how many generations of “cut-and-paste” are involved.  What were the original words?  What did it mean? Whose translation are we quoting? We could say that we are talking about sound. Can we ask ‘what was the word that was in the beginning?’  Was the word spoken in Yiddish, American, French or were emoticons and abbreviations used as is common in chatrooms? 

When we don’t know the source and all we have is our perspective on something, then we are left with our translation of someone else’s meaning and translation of an earlier writing.  In other words we don’t have a clue.  Online research can have this same problem.  How do we do research online?  Obviously we do it online. When the research is on chatrooms the only way to do research is online. Just as one who is researching a radio talk show would need to record the conversation from the radio, one analysing chatrooms would need to save the data to a file for research.  Several problems with doing this will be addressed.

Another problem is the enormity of the task in analysing chatroom ‘talk’.  Where do we go from here?  I have narrowed this topic to a very few chat rooms; seven case studies. The problem with a study of anything involving technology is its shortness of relevance.  Every day I get emails from other researchers beginning to write theses or papers in this field.  Online conversation has become the trendy subject to investigate.

This study seeks to enhance understanding of communications within electronic textual sites. There have been several researchers who have begun discussing the Internet and communications within electronic sites (see Rheingold, 1985, 1991, 1994; Poster, 1988, 1990; Mattelart, 1996; Woolley, 1992; Eco, 1987; Gibson, 1986; Turkle, 1995) as well as by an increasing number of Internet based academics, such as Chandler, Landow and Cicognani. The French philosopher and social critic (hyperrealistic reporter), Jean Baudrillard is continuing his work in cyberspace, and is currently listed as an editor in CTHEORY, a weekly international journal of cultural theory, technology and philosophy.

When I started this research in 1997 I was able to gather very little material from anyone else doing an analysis of chatroom talk.  There were several who had written theses on the sociological and psychological aspects of online behaviours, but I was unable to find many researchers who were examining chat-communication from discourse linguistic theories, such as Conversational Analysis and Speech Act Theory.  The most I could find on Internet dialogue at the start of my research was from the semiotic researchers Daniel Chandler and George Paul Landow[1] who has published his research on hypertext at Brown University. Landow’s research is of limited value for analysis of chatroom “talk”, however, his research of hypertext has the similarity to my research as hypertext is one of the basis for moving around in cyberspace.

Therefore, due to limited researches in the field I am studying, I had the sense of “flying solo” at the beginning of my research.  On the positive side, this has given me the opportunity to break new ground; “blaze a new trail” in online conversational research.  In the recent years (2000 plus) there has been much interest in online communication from a linguistic theoretical view, as can be seen in my rapidly growing collection of resources on online communicate studies ( Therefore, I have been able to share in the exciting new developments in this area of knowledge and research which will undoubtedly have profound implications on our world because of the growing rate of use of the Internet.

If the social sciences’ two roles are, observation and explanation of human behaviour, then it is the chat-ethnographer’s responsibility to explain what is going on in ‘discourse communities’. Researchers such as Robin Hamman ( a doctoral student at the University of Westminster, London currently studying online communities takes an ethnographic approach to researching chatrooms.

An ethnographical approach provides a method for learning about, and learning how to talk about, that elusive process we call culture.  In this study I am discussing what is loosely referred to as an Internet culture.  This concept of an Internet Culture will be explored briefly in the conclusion and discussion chapter of this thesis. The purpose of my work is for me to gain experience in ethnographic practices such as interviewing, fieldwork, and qualitative analysis and to find the most appropriate method to examine the chatroom milieu. Most simply put it is the participant-observer in chatroom, the writer-reader of the text who influences and is influenced by the chat milieu. Though in essence I am more interested in the words as they appear and how meaning is derived from the often rapidly passing text on a screen; whether it is a computer or a device as small as the screen on a mobile telephone.

Are_chatrooms public or private? [2]

There is the question of whether communication on the World Wide Web, especially exchanges within chatrooms, are public or private. (Cybersociology)[3]. All exchanges within chatrooms, accessible to the public, are public, unless there is a notice saying all the dialogue is copy written. A chatroom where the participant has to log on as part of an organisation such as a university, company or government web site, could be private and confidential. The behaviour of participants could be different than in a chatroom that is open to the public and participants make up usernames which do not reflect or identify them. This issue of public and privacy will be further addressed in the discussion chapter. I have also addressed these issues of privacy and ethics of re-producing online discourse in my proposal to the ethics committee of the University of South Australia before I began this thesis.[4]

These areas of chatroom ‘space’ where talk is differentiated by anonymity (public), or the user is known (private) will be analysed for their grammar usage in the thesis of chatroom linguistics.  There are also various ‘types’ of chatrooms and I will elaborate on this further in this section.  Chatrooms can also be divided into either moderated or non-moderated. Moderated chatrooms can be subdivided into chatrooms where people submit questions and answers are provided.  This is most common in cases where people who are publicly known are in the chatroom, i.e. sport stars, politicians, and experts on a particular topic. Moderated chatrooms are ‘controlled’ by a particular person who controls the movement, the turn-taking, of chat.  For example, if there is inappropriate language which is considered offensive to others in the chatroom, the participant infringing can be prevented from continuing in the chatroom. Or if the ‘speaker’ wishes to dialogue on a topic that is not the assigned topic at that time, the moderator can block the ‘speaker’s’ messages from appearing in the chatroom. The chatrooms I will investigate are the open, non-moderated chatrooms as I believe these provide the opportunity for the flowing chat interaction I wish to analyse.  A question that I will explore throughout this thesis is “Are these chatrooms the closest to casual conversation?” And another question to address is whether we are all "eavesdropping" and taking a voyeuristic look into other’s conversations?

The emergence of the term 'chat' to describe electronic communication text forms is one indication of its difference from existing talk modes. There is the sense that online conversation is not serious and therefore may not be worthy of an intensive linguistic study. The term, 'chat', however captures only some of the dimensions of this emergent communication form. Chatrooms differ from TV or radio “chat shows”  in several ways.  Outside of the obvious physical voice giving a ‘hue’ to the speaker, the amount of dialogue which can be conveyed at any time in a chatroom is limited primarily due to the amount of words which can be put in a chatroom at a time.  This ‘speaking’ within a chatroom can be very much limited to the ability of the participant to be able to type quickly. A person able to type 120 words per minute will be able to convey much more in a short time than a person typing with one finger is able to perform.[5]  I have found in my research that in a chatroom, from examining many thousands of lines of chat, an average of five words is taken for each turn.  However, when conversation is ‘pieced’ together from ‘speakers’ a coherent conversation can be found.  In other electronic chat modes such as radio and television talk shows, more words are able to be ‘spoken’ by each individual.  The other major difference is the lack of control in most chatrooms of a topic if there is not a moderator. Whereas in radio and television chats there is a moderator who keeps control of the topic in a chatroom it is up to the others in the chatroom, if they care to, to control the topics.

There is little doubt whether there is any privacy on the World Wide Web. Several countries have been working on eavesdropping systems designed to intercept virtually all email and fax traffic in the world and subject it to automated analysis called ECHELON.  This system has recently been admitted by the US government to be in use and is intercepting all online communication.  Since September 11 the US government has vigorously defended its use of Echelon[6] to intercept terrorism threats.  However, there is not any reason why individuals could not use a similar system to observe other’s online activities.  This is already done using ‘cookies’ and placing pieces of codes on the World Wide Web (like ‘worms’) and furthermore, most chat sites are accessible by anyone who is capable of going online. V

Another behaviour that would be difficult, if not impossible, to know whether it is being done online is that a chatroom participant could easily insert pre-typed text. At a more functional level a particular phrase or word can be added to an ongoing conversation with the push of the copy (usually control-C) key on a computer. An example of this is in Case Study 3, the ‘Talk City’ chat of February 16, 2000. In this dialogue the ‘speaker’ “B_witched_2002-guest” copies in ‘OHI’ 37 times in 75 turns of ‘speech’. One-half of the conversation is computer generated. I will further examine this in chapter 8 when analysing this particular chat.


2. RESEARCH_QUESTIONS as a starting point toward analysing a culture of electronic-talk:



1)   Is turn taking negotiated within chatrooms?

2)   With the taking away of many identifying cues of participants (gender, nationality, age etc.) are issues of sexism and political correctness, as prevalent,  as in face-to-face talk?

3)     How is electronic chat reflective of current social discourse?       

4)     Is meaning contractible within Chatrooms?

5)     Will chatrooms (as part of an online discourse) create a universal language?

1)     How is turn-taking negotiated within chatrooms? What does turn - taking reveal?   In face-to-face conversation people can speak at the same time (talk over one another) but in chatrooms only one voice is ‘heard’ (seen) at a time because of the scrolling effect of the computer screen. In a chatroom where there are more than two ‘voices’ there are two primary functions in turn-taking that need addressing. Firstly, participants need to know when it is appropriate to ‘speak’ if he or she wishes to be heard and responded to. This is further broken down into two more functions of turn-taking. The ‘speaker’ is either addressing one particular participant in the chatroom or the ‘speaker’ is addressing the group.  For example, by referring to something someone said in particular ie. ‘how is 3 +3 equal to 11’ or ‘speaking’ to the group, ie. ‘whats the Mets/Bull score?’ the ‘speaker’ is identifying where he or she is placing ‘talk’.  Secondly, whereas in casual conversation between people ‘there has to be a way of determining who the next speaker is to be’ Eggins & Slade p. 25) in chatrooms, there is no protocol which indicates who the next speaker will be.  The next speaker is who ever hits their return key next. Turn-taking will be analysed and discussed throughout this work.

2)     With the taking away of many identifying cues of participants (gender, nationality, social and economical standing, age etc) are issues of gender, nationality, social and economical standing, age  as prevalent as in face-to-face talk? Does the chatroom milieu provide a pure communication space, where only words have meaning, and the author’s significance is only, the words produced.

3)     How is electronic chat reflective of current social discourse? I will examine whether eChat and in-person conversation appear to break down barriers between people of gender, nationality, social and economical standing, and age.  Some studies have shown that barriers still exist and are created by the authors themselves.  For example, it was found in one particular study that, female users who wrote themselves into a virtual community, did so, in an imagined social space very much defined by their experiences in a patriarchal culture.  As a result their discourse patterns were ‘gendered’; meaning that the female users were less participatory than their male counter parts, and often silent. (Dietrich, 1997: p. 181)

4)     Is meaning constructible within chatrooms? In this study I will examine whether eChat is a vehicle to assimilate and exchange  information or are the words on the screen  too random to produce a decipherable  message?

5)     Will chatrooms (as part of an online discourse) create a universal language?




1. That people  create a different ‘textual self’ for each chat room environment they are in.

2.      That conversation within Chatrooms will change how we come to know others.

3.      That observational study of chatroom conversation can capture some of the adaptations of conversational behaviours

4.      That this work will assist in an understanding of how, and why, Chatrooms are an important area in which to create a new conversational research theory.

5.     That 'chat' does not differs from natural conversation


1)     That people create a different 'textual self' for each electronic environment they are in, and that we should not continue to regard all electronic textual practices as equal. (A question arises whether the speaker makes the chatroom or does the chatroom create the speaker? Just as in real life, talk parallels an environment. For example, one speaks differently at a church supper than at a brothel) I am referring to different chatroom environments and not the wide range of electronic dialogue tools available such as eMail, eGroups, newsgroups and one-on-one eChat areas such as Instant Messenger or ICQ. Some chatrooms invite participators to play a role such as in ‘Friendly Bondage Chat’ (

A person may claim to be a different gender, or might use two identities at the same time in one chatroom....It’s up to each individual to decide how they wish to represent themselves...’ from

Participators in a religious chatroom may choose to ‘speak’ differently than they would in the bondage chatroom or in a baseball chatroom or an academic or policy making chatroom or a crisis care chatroom.  These are the various ‘textual selves’ I am exploring.  In my research I will use a variety of chatroom to analyse how text is written.

2)     That conversation within chatrooms, without all the cues of previous forms of conversation (physical or phone meeting and dialogues) will change how we come to know others and new cues based on written conversation may become as important as the physical ones which we rely on now.

3)     That observational study of chatroom conversation can capture some of the adaptations of conversational behaviours from the way people identify themselves (log-on or screen names) and how they 'talk' It will be interesting to see if the  As this is a grey area from an ethics point of view, the identifying of the user, I may not be able to explore this as fully as I would want to.

4)     That this work will assist in an understanding of how, and why, chatrooms are an important area in which to create a new conversational research theory. This new eclectic approach to ‘chat’ will ‘borrow’ from existing theories of linguistics and Computer Mediated Communications as outlined in the beginning of the Literature Review.


5)    That 'chat' does not differs from natural conversation


4. Personal_interest in researching online conversation

This thesis is a study of the use of text-based communication as it is used in chatroom in the period between 1998 and 2002, the life of this thesis. My interest in electronic communication is first and for most an interest in communication. How do people exchange and relate and create meaning?  Having ‘done the ‘60s’ in the States with all its ‘bits and pieces’ I came in contact with others who were interested in a global mindset.  I lived in Greenwich Village in New York City in the mid-1960s.  Listening to Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joan Biaz, Alan Ginsberg (I read my own poetry with him at St. Marks Place Church on East 9th Street) and being part of the great wave of protesters (we marched on Washington DC to stop the Viet Nam War, to stop segregation, to give women more rights – I marched for so many things I lost track of what we were marching for at times) and rebelling with so many others of the time against the ‘way-it-was’ I had a conviction as so many others of the time did that there was a better way.  Being young and idealistic I followed the trek of those who were seeking change to San Francisco in 1967.  There was the summer of love and the world had changed, or at least to us it had.

In 1969 I found myself in Hawaii and before long had joined a new age cult – the Holy Order of Mans.  This Order was an extension on my beliefs and searching that there was a better way.  It was all about communication, integration of the world mind, the Over soul, the connection of the parts to make a whole.  But the world did not live up to my idealistic sense that we are all one that we could all communicate that we could exchange ideas and that our differences were just part of a made us all humans.


At the same time some of us were thinking there was a whole, there were others who saw the parts as being subservient to the whole – they became the multinational companies: Nike, McDonalds, Woolworth and the world became a market place for western products.  Glaciation now threatens the planet with a homogenized worldview.  A post-colonial-Christian-American driven capitalistic system which has delegated the individual to a product. We have groups attempting to establish a one-world-religion (which would obliterate the individual cultural ways of viewing creation), one-world medias, one-world sports lines of clothing, we have the Euro dollar which could eventually become a world dollar, English (the United States corrupted version) becoming the language of choice (though Spanish is coming on strong), we have one ‘Super Power’ (policing the world and using its own moral codes and values systems which are multinational company driven as a basis to attack other countries and cultures).


Out of this mixture of 1960’s idealism, multinational marketing and globalisation came a need to communicate to every one.  The paradigm became ‘we are the world’.  With the growth of the personal computer and then the Internet and then chatroom my once idealistic pursuit of communication with different mindsets and various cultures became a reality. After a study of 35-years of astrology, metaphysics, literature, art, philosophy and many other aspects of life on earth I felt as if I had found what I had always been looking for; a way of turn taking in conversation where there was not a dominance of culture, gender, philosophy, nationality or age. 

There are many researches who are or have investigated why people use chatroom.  I am interested in what happens on a linguistic level in chatroom.  It is through linguistics, the use of words that we establish and create and interpret meaning. ‘We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings: above all, we are surely Homo significans - meaning-makers…’ (Chandler 2001).  I am not concerned with gender, age, nationality, and race or beliefs of people in a turn-taking situation.  These are topics for future research. It is what is said that conveys the message.  The words of the person is paramount. What the ‘speaker’ look like or is wearing or what day of the week it is does not matter. 

5. The_purpose of examining online conversation

Conversation is very much about negotiation.  Negotiation in conversation is based on turn taking.  This thesis on electronic communication is being undertaken at the same time as chatroom are becoming used more and during a time of change in how they are used and rapidly evolving software which will change the nature of chatroom from the way they are discussed in this thesis and with what they will become.

I am interested in the online interactive environment, its departure from the culture of a print milieu and its changes for both the reader and the writer. As online chatroom and discussion groups grow in popularity and importance and as virtual conversations increase, so too will the analysing of these environments, in both depth and range.

This thesis proposes that through the interactive forms of the day society changes. The more accessible communication is to all the quicker ideas can be exchanged. Through the exchange of ideas and information we become better informed and we are able to make decisions, which affect not only ourselves but also the world in which we live. It is within an analysis of how ‘chatroom’ as the latest form of communication ‘works’ or does not ‘work’ that I will explore electronic conversation as a force of social change.


All areas of communication are worth examining. Communication primarily requires speaking, listening and awareness. One must plan to communicate, there is effort involved it successful communication can not just happen.  Simply put communication is sharing information, to make known to another person, to transmit, exchange and impart information.  Understanding and giving meaning to what is communicated is necessary in order to progress.  At the two ends of communication is the Message sender and the Message receiver. (The classical conception of communication was that it travelled in one direction from a sender and was immediately understood by the receiver: sender – MESSAGE - receiver) This model has become more complex as we realize that which is clear in one’s mind may be distorted by physical, cultural or other interferences. These factors can alter the message so it is understood differently by the receiver than by the sender. When it gets to communication events such as that which happens in a chatroom the message can become quite scrambled and misinterpreted. This study will examine the communication message within the online environment and will seek to find how meaning is shared within chat rooms.

I will investigate one area of communication but one which is changing the way communication is being done worldwide, that of communicating within chatroom. There are many theories used to understand communication as complex forms. Some function more as umbrellas for more specific communication theories such as Communication Metatheory[7], Cybernetics[8] and Complexity Theory[9]. As outlined in my methodology section (, I will be using seven particular case studies to focus on one specific theories of discourse per study.

The World Wide Web is one of many Internet-based communication systems [10] and the primary source of this thesis. A significant value can be had from analysing current forms of communication as it may change the way humans communicate in the future.  The most obvious fact is that communication in chatroom is based on ‘speaking’ and understanding very short, usually packets of five or less, groups of words, often misspelt or abbreviated to decipher meaning from.

World Total

513.41 million



4.15 million


143.99 million


154.63 million

Middle East


Canada & USA

180.68 million

Latin America

25.33 million

  More and more people are communicating through electronic-online services. It  is    difficult estimating how many users are online. A large number of surveys, many claiming to be ‘official’, using all sorts of measurement parameters are available. However, from observing many of the published surveys over the last two years, an "educated guess" is 513.41 million  users on line as of August 2001 according to Nua Internet Surveys ( With eighty-four percent of US Internet users having contacted an online group (Nov 01 2001), according to research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. ( Pew Internet also reports that of the 59 million Americans who go online daily, 49% send email and 10% send instant messages and 4% use a chatroom daily. More than 2.4 million Americans daily or about five million world-wide are in a chatroom communicating daily. As of 6/02/2002 there were more than 115 million registered ICQ users around the world (

  See also Internet Demographics and eCommerce Statistics for Internet traffic usage statistics.





Point-to-Mass * 1

Synchronous communication





Instant Messaging



Synchronous communication








Synchronous communication





SMS (mobile phone messages)



Synchronous communication








Asynchronous communication







Point-to-Point * 2

Asynchronous communication





Message Boards



Asynchronous communication





Usenet / Newsgroups



Asynchronous communication






‘Although the boundaries can blur, there are basically five  different forms of Internet Chat: telnet[11], IRC[12], web chat[13], direct chat[14], and world chat[15].  All of these mediums are different ways of allowing people from all other the world to come together and interact and interact on a real-time basis.’ (Cyberdude[16]).

As there are many ways to communicate online, it is   necessary to group these into how they work on the Internet; whether they are delayed or instant. The textual behaviour appears different whether there is time to respond and structure a response as one can with email or whether it is instant communication as it is in chat rooms when there is no time for correcting or thinking about speech.

There is also a difference between point-to-point communication, when a message sent by one person is sent to only one person and with point-to-mass when the message sent by one person can be sent to many others simultaneously.  How one responds to messages may be a result of whether the communication is Point-to-Point or Point-to-Mass.

Also, as more devices become available that are chat enabled, the list on the left will grow.  Some of the devices currently available to use as a source of just ICQ chat are: Cell Phones (A person can send messages to cell phones from ICQ. As well one can send text messages from the Web to cell phones and receive and send SMS. Web-based ICQ, with the ability to launch ICQ from any computer the millions of ICQ users can easily communicate with each other.  ICQ email provides emails directly to ICQ users. ICQ phone - PC to PC and PC to phone with ICQ makes it easy to call anyone in the world with ICQ which has available Internet Telephony and Chat Requests and Online Phone Book and Dialler Hand-helds and there is ICQ for the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant is any wireless device for keeping calendars, addresses and Web access).

Ø     - 1 Chat rooms can also be Point-to-Point if one enters a private room and communicates with only one other person; however, in this study I am using the multilogue turn-takings as it is easily logged by entering a chatroom.

Ø     - 2 Email can be Point-to-Mass by sending messages to many mailboxes.

Discussion groups operate around the concept of threads, where a topic takes on a life of its own, and even within the topic chosen there can be offshoots to that and there are a growing number of studies into communication within discussion groups. The Internet has thousands of special interest discussion groups, each individually managed by an Internet server known as a list server. On one day, Tuesday, 25 September 2001, two-weeks after the attacks in New York City on the World Trade Centre,  (see: there were more than one-half-million (552761) messages posted to the CNN community discussions area in reference to that day’s events. Discussion groups will not be examined in this thesis but to date (Saturday, 26 January 2002) there have not been any studies on linguistics within discussion groups that I am aware of making this a good area for future research.

Instant Messenger protocols, such as Yahoo Instant Messenger, ICQ and PalTalk have two voices at one time, but not necessarily following one another. People still "talk" at the same time. One does not always wait for a response. If two people are typing rapidly back and forth, they can return and respond to something which was said whilst the other was typing. Here someone steers the conversation into a particular area of discussion, establishing, in CA terms, the "flow" or speaking space for a topic. Unlike chatroom and discussion groups no one else can enter the dialogue. Here the "talk-text" dynamic comes especially close to that isolated in Conversational Analysis, so that IM can operate as a foundational text for other Net forms.  I examine Instant Messenger in Case Study 7 of this thesis ( 


Chatroom and IM especially are reader/writer driven at the same time as asynchronous communication [17]. Often there is the feeling that one is writing and reading at the same time. In chatroom this can become chaotic. What differentiates "speakers" within chatroom is their logon names. If there are several voices, none following any particular protocol, all "talking" at once, the question becomes, "what is being said?" and at the same time "what is being heard?"


G. Theories of discourse analysis

Because of the developing diversity and its clear formation around both textual and conversational practices, this study will encompass several linguistic descriptive and analytical methods. The major researchers in the theoretical fields below will be discussed in the literary section and the reason for each theory used will be discussed in the methodology section.

Reception and Reader - Response Theory and Reader Theory’ (Umberto Eco (1979, 1986, 1995), J. Kristeva (1980), Michael Payne (1993). See Case Study 1

Speech Act Theory (Jurgen Habermas (1989), John Rogers Searle (1965, 1969, 1976), Deborah Schiffrin (1987), Terry Winograd (1986). See Case Study 2

Discourse Analysis (Norman Fairclough (1989, 1995), Bakhtin. See: Case Study 3

 Conversation Analysis (Diana Slade and Suzanne Eggins (1997), Donald Allen and Rebecca Guy (1974), John Austin (1962), Erving Goffman (1959), H Sacks (1974), E. Schegloff (1974), Deborah Tannen (1989). See Case Study 4

Semiotics and Pragmatics (Chandler, Barthes, Halliday, Saussure, M. A. K. Halliday (1978), S.C. Levinson), Nofsinger (1991). See Case Study 5

Linguistic schools of thought: See: Case Study 6

Computer Mediated Communication including: Electronic Communicated Analysis, Computational Linguistics and Text and Corpus Analysis: Charles Ess (1996), Michael Stubbs (1996) See Case Study 7

Together these methods will provide sufficient range to enable me to develop a method for chatroom analysis, which will encompass more of its attributes than is possible within any one of the existing frames.

The primary data corpus for my research will come from chatroom. Chatroom exist for almost any subject imaginable. According to Eastgate Hypertextual author Stuart Moulthrop (1997), Internet Relay Chat ("IRC") is a computerised version of citizen's band radio. It is also similar to talk back radio, community forums and is similar to every form of meeting since recorded history. The only difference is that the physical cues available in sight of the "speaker" are missing. IRC is the most used online chat software.

H. Is electronic talk comparable to verbal talk?                                                                         

Chatroom are close to combining 'spoken' and 'written' language. What is missing at this time (early 1999) are the visual cues, which are provided by the people involved. Computer-mediated-communication currently is a narrow-bandwidth technology and it will be another decade before world wide usage of fibre optics will be available to carry videos and the amount of data needed to enable full communication world wide. (Technology Guide 26/01/2002). Much of the information we obtain in face-to-face interaction is from body language, sound (phonetics and phonology), and other physical codes. In narrow-bandwidth communications, such as on the Internet, this information is not transmitted, causing frequent misinterpretation. When cam-recorders are mounted on the top of computers and combined with chatroom 'written' language, and participants can see one another and write at the same time, then we will have another tool to analyse how language between people is exchanged. In the meantime, it is important to assess existing techniques for observation and analysis of the emergent new "talk" of this interactive communicative format. My study involves recording and analyse of several types of online text environments and the examination of its similarities and differences in relation to conventional texts, and its developing uses.

Chatroom are "organised as "talk-text": "MULTILOGUE"

Chatroom with many interactants are multilogue (see Eggins and Slade, p. 24) environments. Separating these voices as conversation will be a focus of this study (and something of a methodological challenge, involving the creation of new transcription protocols - see below.) IRC (Internet Relay Chat) provides a way of communicating in real time with people from all over the world. It consists of various separate networks (or "nets") of IRC servers, machines that allow users to connect to IRC. The largest nets are EFnet (the original IRC net, often having more than 32,000 people at once). Once connected to an IRC server on an IRC network, one is able to join one or more "channels" and converse with others there. On EFnet, there are more than 12,000 channels, each devoted to a different topic. Conversations may be public (where everyone in a channel can see what you type) or private (messages between only two people, who may or may not be on the same channel). Conversations rarely follow a sequential pattern - "speakers" following one after the other. There are often jumps to an earlier speaker, or someone beginning their own thread. This is the first departure point from 'casual conversation'. When there are many "voices" at once, conversation becomes chaotic. The only way to follow who is "talking" is through the log-on names, such as in Example I: Janis, dammit, steven, 1love. To analyse conversation between two "speakers" I need to cut and past the "speakers" I wish to analyse. Even then it is not always clear who is speaking to whom unless the "speaker" names the addressee in their message. The speech is then, seemingly inevitably, a "multilogue" or multi-directional system, rather than the more conversationally organised "dialogue" we find in print text.

It is the history of any particular communication that the utterances can be studied for their mappings [18]. For example, grammar could be derived from distributional analysis of a corpus of utterances without reference to meaning, and I have done that in several of my case studies (see Case Study 5  The World Wide Web brings new ways of engaging in conversation which are emerging with the growing wide spread use of computers as a form of communication. How much people begin to rely on the Internet as a source of communication will determine much of our future ability to communicate in person to person conversation.  For example, there have been surveys suggesting the amount of time some people spend on the Internet in chat rooms is disproportionate to the amount of time they communicate face to face with others [19]. 

The impact these forms of communication will have on future interactions between people is just beginning to be studied. Verbal language was the first major step toward interconnection of humans which led to a fundamental change in the way we collected knowledge about the world. With symbolic language people are able to share experiences and learn about others’ lives as well as share information on their own. Chat rooms are one area of this rapid evolution in the sharing of minds. Language has allowed us to become a collective learning system, building a collective body of knowledge that far exceeded the experience of any individual, but which any individual could, in principle access. We have made the step from individual minds to a collective mind. (The GLOBAL BRAIN and the Evolution of the WWW

Concepts such as ‘the human superorganism’ and ‘global brain’ first appeared in modern form in Herbert Spencer's The Principles of Sociology (1876)[20] and the Internet is now regarded as a global brain (see also Russell (1983) who proposed a Global Brain that might emerge from a worldwide network of humans who were highly connected through communications. There are many articles that appear in search engines on this topic as of 6/02/2002, whereas there were only two or three articles on conversation on the Internet as being linked with a global brain concept a year ago. This shows the interest of academics, philosophers, and researchers on this topic.

The most common form of Internet communication, E-mail, is replacing a lot of traditional letter writing and its primary difference is the rapidity of response expected when an e-mail is sent. Unlike letters, which often are not answered for a varying period of time, it is assumed that e-mail will be responded to within a day or two. For example, if we do not respond to an e-mail within a day or two from a friend, another e-mail will prompt us to respond, inquiring why we had not responded yet. Therefore, e-mails tend to be answered in haste with at least a short response, maybe even just a "got your e-mail, am too busy to answer now, but will in a few days". Though e-mail can be a form of turn-taking, people writing back and forth immediately after receiving correspondence, it does not provide the conversational turn-taking choices which chatroom do.  Statistics of email usage and behaviour are varied and often the reliability of surveys found on the Internet are questionable.

A few studies of computer dialogue are beginning to appear on the Internet. I will note studies in progress and completed theses on this topic in the Literature Review section. A study of computer conferencing for instructional purposes[21] have categorized on line study by students as asynchronously or synchronously. Asynchronous study allows time for reflection between interactions. Synchronously interactions allows real-time interactive chats or open sessions among as many participants as are online simultaneously.

Chatroom conversations are more hastily interactive (turn-taking exchange) than e-mail. Conversations in Chatroom are rarely planned out making this environment an ideal source of casual conversation analysis. In Chatroom conversations are informal, often experimental and often are used for entertainment and escape. (Rheingold). This will be elaborated on during the Case Studies for this project.  Virtual conversations, as they are in chat rooms, can have little to no real life significance. For example, in some chatroom participants experiment with various personas, as they are not seen, heard or known by others in the chatroom. I will not explore this aspect of chat room behaviour. However, one who has written on this in length is Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Sociology of Science Program in Science, Technology, and Society Massachusetts Institute of Technology

To bring into being an "electronic interactive conversational analysis" requires a cross over between print and conversation-based analyses and theorisations. Electronic digital technologies lack a sense of linearity, in fact, they are based on a nonlinearity that tends to facilitate a more associative way of organizing information, e.g., hypertext. The prime example studied in this research is chatroom where there can be multiple conversations involving multiple subjects happening at the same time. While print media works on a flow of conversation or writing directed to an organised progression, online conversations fragment into multi-directionality. Conversation on the World Wide Web, whether in chatroom, Instant messenger (IM), discussion groups, or even in role-playing games such as MUDs and MOOS involve two new paradigm shifts. Firstly, there is the shift from print to computerization. Print relies on hierarchy and linearity. Computer interactivity can be either asynchronous or synchronous. Instant Messenger, ICQ, and PalTalk, have only two voices at one time, but not necessarily following one another. People still "talk" at the same time. One does not always wait for a response. If two people are typing rapidly back and forth, they can return and respond to something which was said whilst the other was typing. While print media works on a flow of conversation or writing directed to an organised progression, online conversations fragment into multi-directionality.

Asynchronous communication is communication taking place at different times or over a certain period of time. Several currently used examples are: E-mail, electronic mailing lists, e-mail based conferencing programs, UseNet newsgroups and messaging programs. To make use of asynchronous communication requires using computer conferencing programs and electronic mailing lists which reside on a server that distributes the messages that users send to it. Any computer user with e-mail and a connection to the Internet can engage in asynchronous communication. Web-based conferencing programs that distribute many messages, or messages containing attachments, will require more system power and a current model computer with a sound card and speakers and a fast connection to the Internet. The computer should also be running Netscape 6 or Internet Explorer 5+ and should be Java enabled.

Synchronous communication is communication taking place at the same time and can have several voices going at once or a "synchronous communication", where there can be multiple conversations involving multiple subjects happening at the same time (Aokk, 1995; Siemieniuch & Sinclair, 1994). Several currently used examples are: Chat rooms, MUDs (multiple-user dungeons), MOOs (multiple object orientations), videoconferencing (with tools like White Pine’s CUSeeMe and Microsoft's NetMeeting) and teleWeb delivery systems that combine video programs with Web-based resources and activities and print-based materials.

To make use of synchronous communication in a text-based environment one can have the chat room on their server or the chat room can be imported into their Web site as an applets. Real-time interactive environments like MUDs and MOOs are Unix-based programs that reside on servers. In both kinds of synchronous communication, users connect with the help of chat-client software and log in to virtual "rooms" where they communicate with each other by typing onscreen. Because MOOs and chat rooms frequently attract many users, it is advisable to access them using a high-end computer and a fast connection to the Internet. The computer should also be running Netscape 6  or Internet Explorer 5+ and should be Java enabled. MOOs and chat rooms often have their own sound effects to denote communicative gestures (such as laughter and surprise); to use or hear them, the computer must be equipped with a sound card and speakers.           

A second paradigm shift is currently taking place around the changing environment of on line discourse, parallel to the shift from print to the Internet. Within the Internet interactive environment there is a shift from e-maiI and discussion groups to chatroom and "Instant messenger" and ICQ. E-mail and discussion groups are more or less a one-way road. For example, one usually waits for a return e-mail, which often is a complete response with several paragraphs: a considered and edited "textual" piece. Conversely. chatroom environments are composed of one or two lines of text from one person then a response of one or two lines from another person. Chatroom are thus spontaneous casual conversation while discussion groups are e-mailed "texted" responses, which are usually thought out and spell and grammar checked before they are sent to the discussion group. Discussion groups I hypothesize are even more controlled and planned than emails, more "textual". In other words, the Internet has already produced its own set of "text-talk" genres and practices. The online universe of discourse is rapidly diversifying.

Chatroom have limitations that conversations in which physical speech is produced do not have. Talk in chatroom is limited to short phrases. Rarely will there be more than several words written at a time by a 'speaker'. Looking at a sampling of a dozen Chatroom and hundreds of entrances I found that there was an average of 7.08 words per turn. Within that sampling 25 percent of words consisted of two letters, and 20 percent consisted of three letter words. Eighty-three percent of words used in chatroom conversations were five letters or less. The way we will communicate will change and is now changing. As we are faced with more choices and more to do all the time communication will become more concise or the speaker will be left behind.

How this will affect the future way people speak with one another can only be hinted at. For example, will people only ‘speak’ with those people who understand what they are saying in five or so words? Instead of explaining meaning, will conversation only continue with those who grasp what is being said immediately? In the rapid pace of chatroom ‘talk’ this seems to be the case. There is also the danger that people can become poor communicators. Test is ‘spoken’ often to no one in particular with the apparent hope that someone, somewhere will grasp the utterance and respond appropriately to what is meant to be conveyed.

Chatroom do not demand proper grammar as a conversation in person would. Spelling, because of the rapid rate of scrolling text is an unimportant aspect. Abbreviations become important. It is much quicker to write BTW than to write by the way. All chatroom talk could be considered informal speech. Will we stop using prepositions? In a Chatroom one may say, "he'll hit sixty in cincy...maybe sixty five" (turn #85 in baseball chat). When can such a statement be made? Without knowing the context there is no meaning. As I will explore later in this thesis, words do produce meaning, however the difficulty in Chatroom is not only finding meaning within any 'talk' but to have others understand or follow what we mean. However, as my individual case studies will show, it is the particular chat room, its environment, which will give the greatest chance to find meaning within the utterance. Chatroom do provide structure. There is an architectural setting, an existing space. There are rooms, towers, Plato's cave, cathedrals, cities, states, nations, worlds and universes.

Other factors of differences between online and face-to-face conversation is understanding what is being said  when the cues are deleted? Who holds the power? Can conversation even exist without knowing anything about the participants? My research says yes! People are fully able to communicate as long as there are structures to communicate within. These structures have a linguistic base, which “stand in” for our categorisation of speakers and will be further explored in the case studies.

Two ways which dialogue can be studied are through grammar and discourse (Eggins & Slade; 1997: p.178). Grammar provides the “nodes” of speech, the constituent mood structures of conversational clauses. In physical interacting conversation, linguistics provides a system of rights and privileges of social roles in culture. Words very much define the speaker. However, in electronic 'talk' words do not define social roles as much as they define ideas, or at least a continuum which can evolve into a conversation which will, over a course of many turn-taking sequences possibly define enough about a speaker to have some awareness of their social structures such as beliefs, and sometimes nationality, culture and standing.  I will explore this notion of trying to ‘know’ more about a speaker from the words they use in individual case studies.  Of course, it is only a guess as we can not really know much about someone whom we can not see or hear, especially if they reveal little of themselves.

8. The _evolution of language from early utterances to chatroom dialogue


The study of language is one of the oldest branches of systematic inquiry, tracing back to classical India and Greece, with a rich and fruitful history of achievement.[22] (Noam Chomsky).  What has been neglected thus far is a linguistic study of one of our most current forms of electronic communication, chat rooms which offer real-time interaction between participators anywhere and anytime.


The basic building blocks of communication have changed little, but the methods through which we are able to use our linguistic abilities to convey ideas has changed drastically. From the era of pictographs of accounts written on clay tablets in Sumeria 5500 years ago to the first evidence of writing during the Protoliterate period (Sumerian civilization, to about 28 B.C.) form of communication had advanced. For example, by 2800 B.C., the use of syllabic writing had reduced the number of signs from nearly two thousand to six hundred. (1) For the next few thousand years communication exchange evolved slowly.


We cannot know what the world was like before human language existed. For tens of thousands of years language has developed to what is our modern grammar and syntaxes. Language origins are based on speculations. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were several proposals with labels such as; ‘ding-dong’, ‘bow-wow’ and ‘yo-he-ho’ theories (Barber 1972) to explain the origin of language.  With chat rooms, language may be going through a new and rapid development.  Chat room communication separates from traditional language through world corruption and its use of abbreviations and emoticons. I will address these changes in language usage in the discussion chapter of this thesis.


The first humans exchanged information through crude grunts and hand signals. Gradually a complex system of spoken words and visual symbols were invented to represent new language. Earliest forms of telecommunications consisted of smoke signals, ringing a bell or physically transporting a message between two places.


However, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries communications codes for meaning exchanged at a greater distance across time began to become accessible to more users. A standard postal system allowed people to send messages throughout the world in a matter of days. The development of the telegraph cable including the development of radio made real-time vocal communication over long distances a reality. The Internet is the most recent advancement in the communication. It allows us, in a split second, to disseminate a limitless amount of information throughout the globe.

All communication involves interaction and thus forms a basis for relationships. “Throughout the history of human communication, advances in technology have powered paradigmatic shifts…” (Frick, 1991). Technology changes how we communicate; big shifts in culture cannot occur until the communicative tools are available. The printing press is an example. Before its invention Scribal monks sanctioned by the Church had overseen the maintenance and hand copying of sacred texts for centuries. The press enabled widespread literacy, with books accessible and more affordable for all. The spread of literacy in turn changed communication which changed the educational system and the class structure. 

There are many different ways of analysing the history of the current dominant communicative system. Whether one studies the historical, scientific, social, economical or the psychological impact of these changes depends on the analysis of the system. Lisa Jardine in Worldly Goods  studies the financial and economic forces. Elizabeth Eisenstein analyses the social and historical scientific approach. And Marshall McLuhan concentrate on the psychological impact of these changes.

Jardine argues that the development from script to print was driven by economic, emerging capitalist markets forces. For example the letter exchange between merchants who had an increasing need for reliable information related to economic exchange. (Jardine, 1996). McLuhan brought to our attention the psychological impact of changes of the dominant representation systems. In the Gutenberg Galaxy he focuses on the change from manuscript, which according to him was part of an oral society, to print, which transforms it into a visual culture. (McLuhan, 1962). One of the main issues that arises with the shift from manuscript culture to print then to online culture is accessibility.  The more accessible communication is to a society the more opportunities are present to exchange meaning or as is often the case in chat rooms, to attempt to exchange meaning.

Communication through language is essentially the relationship between what we are processing in our mind and a resultant bodily activity that is perceivable and hopefully understood and interpretable by another person. Language is about how words are combined through their lexicon and grammar and their semantics and syntax to create meaning. In chat rooms the written forms are what is important in communication and the written form is different from speech language. We use chat room language (abbreviations and emoticons included) to pass our mental organisation to another person.  Language has its origins in signs and chat room ‘speech’ is similar to an origin of language in that communication is based on very short, often misspelt words.

"No one has proved that speech, as it manifests itself when we speak, is entirely natural i.e. that our vocal apparatus is designed for speaking just as our legs were designed for walking. Language is a convention and the nature of the sign agreed upon does not matter. The vocal organs are as external to language as are the electrical devices used in transmitting the Morse Code to the code itself; and phonation i.e. the execution of sound images in no way affects the system itself....How would a speaker take it upon himself to associate the idea with a word-image if he had not first come across the association in an act of speaking?... Language exists in the form of a sum of impressions deposited in the brain of each member of a community, almost like a dictionary of which identical copies have been distributed to each individual ... The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary ... I can simply say: the linguistic sign is arbitrary . .. i.e. unmotivated in that it actually has no natural connection with the signified".  De Saussure[23] in the ‘Cours de Linguistique Générale’

9. SOCIOLOGICAL_and psychological perspectives Cyberculture and Cyberstudies [24]

Current research analysis of online discourse is primarily either a sociological or a psychological perspective. Recently there has been an increase study on online discourse from a linguistic view. Much of this current research will be covered in the literature review section.

Online communities and their interaction are being explored in the sociological departments of many universities. The University of Southern California is one example of a dedicated study of cyber-communities. They are investigating what kinds of social spaces and groups people are creating. How is the Internet changing basic concepts of identity, self-governance and community? The University of Southern California heads its site with:

The Center for the Study of Online Community seeks to present and foster studies that focus on how computers and networks alter people's capacity to form groups, organizations, institutions, and how those social formations are able to serve the collective interests of their members. If you are willing to use the word loosely, all of these social formations can be thought of as some form of community.

The above site typifies the degree to which sociological research differs from my own "talk-text" focus. My focus is on the "speech-act", and the effects of "written conversation". Chatroom are instant, changing communities which often have no consistent centre, no obvious ideology (unless it is a particular ideological chatroom), and no direction (unless one is assigned and adhered to). There is little difference between when people crowding on to an elevator, train or bus with no one knowing anyone, all begin to converse. There is usually one who is louder than the rest, one who is funnier, someone is usually offended or not interested. Chatroom provide a social community study which will need to establish guidelines for analyses. My research project aims to provide one aspect of that set of guidelines.

Cognitive and Psychological Sciences on the Internet also exist. However, I have visited many university psychology departments on the Internet and have not found one that addresses conversation in chatroom and or discussion groups as of early 2001. There are a few sites that show interest in E-Mail Virtual Communities such as Storm King's (see notes) which discuss the Psychology of Virtual Communities, but otherwise I have not found any published material on how people "speak" and interact within the interactive environments of chatroom, discussion groups, or Instant Messenger.   

In this sense my work will create a field of textual interactivity for electronic sites, which will take in discourse theories and will include earlier forms of linguistic studies, with established and rigorous methodologies as is stated above in the theories used. 

For example, in the case study ‘ball-chat’ there is this exchange:


<smith-eric> cinni has already changed rules for jr.

<Pizza2man> he'll hit sixty in cincy...maybe sixty five


What do we know from this?  Do we know what the user ‘smith-eric’ was wearing, how old the person was, their gender, beliefs, nationality, location, race, whether they were blind, had one leg, was on the Cover of Playboy last month, or on the FBI’s most-wanted, are they writing from a hospital, prison, in the dessert, or on a houseboat?  We don’t even know if smith-eric’ knows ‘Pizza2man’ or likes or dislikes this person.  When we analysis this chatroom dialogue I will have a lot to say on this turn taking but none of it will be based on what we usually base our communication on.


There is the question of whether cyberspace is even "real" and therefore worthy of study. To most participators chatroom are real created space.  People are able to express ideas, ask questions, and make arrangements to meet in the physical. There have been the same experiences gained within the chatroom environment as there would be if people were at a meeting, party or at any social gathering; “chatroom are suitable places for developing the self socially, mentally and culturally, as well as shaping the character traits of the self.” (Teo Soo Yee) Virtual communities can be as important to those who visit the same chatroom as any community in RL (Real Life) would be. There are an ever-expanding amount of online essays, which discuss virtual communities.  Many of these essays will be cited in this literature review and as I find more they will be listed at: As I am investigating linguistic patterns in chatroom ‘speech’ exchanges I am not overly concerned with who exchanges meaning, i.e. what role the person is playing and whether it is ‘he or she’ ‘talking’ or a made up identity, but how meaning is exchanged.

As one of the latest in interaction communication forms to exchange meaning chatroom rules for ‘talk’, though being changed constantly, are beginning to be uniform in what is expected behaviour of the participants.  As will be discussed in the individual case studies different chat environments may have different rules of ‘talk’.  And just as every social grouping has rules of conversational engagement online ‘talk’ has to have some order, sometimes more strictly than others,  for discourse to continue. Examples of rules that would be considered standard protocol are on the Xena chat site ( as well many other sites which discuss Netiquette (a comprehensive one is at: 

When addressing online conversation, the terms "conversation",  "dialogue", "discussion", and are often used interchangeably. This thesis will attempt to clarify some of the subtle distinctions among them, describe how they work, and present some current research findings regarding both online and face-to-face conversations that take place within our current forms of electronic communication.






·       Bernal, Javier.  “BIG BROTHER IS ON-LINE: Public and Private Security in the Internet”. Issue Six: Research Methodology Online

·       Chandler, Daniel (23rd November 2001)  Semiotics: The Basics. Routledge London. New York

·       Eisenstein, E. L. (1993). The printing revolution in early modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·       Frick, T. W. (1991). Restructuring education through technology (Fastback Series No. 326). Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

·       Jardine, L. (1996). Worldly goods. London, UK: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

·       Jellinek and Carr (1996)

·       McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

·       Mumford, L. (1999). "The invention of printing". In Crowley, David; Heyer, Paul (Eds.). Communication in history: technology, culture, society. (pp. 85-88). New York: Longman.

·       Nobuo, Shimahara. (1990) Chapter 6 ‘Anthroethnography: a methodological consideration’. In Qualitative research in education: focus and methods. Edited by Robert R. Sherman and Rodman b Webb. London: The Falmer Press, pages 76

·       Rheingold, Howard.Rethinking Virtual Communities”

·       Richard C. Freed, and Broadhead Glenn J. "Discourse Communities, Sacred Texts, and Institutional Norms." College Composition and Communication 38.2 (May 1987): 154-165.

·       Russell, P. ``The Global Brain: speculations on the evolutionary leap to planetary consciousness'', Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 1983.

·       Sherry , Lorraine;  Billig, Shelley H.; Tavalin, Fern. Good Online Conversation: Building on Research to Inform Practice:  RMC Research Corporation Denver, Colorado;

·       Teo Soo Yee In Defence of Chatroom. (14) last accessed Saturday, November 04, 2000.





[1] George P. Landow’s books on hypertext and digital culture include Hypermedia and Literary Studies (MIT, 1991), and The Digital Word: Text-Based Computing in the Humanities (MIT, 1993) both of which he edited with Paul Delany, and Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Hopkins UP, 1992), which has appeared in various European and Asian languages and as Hypertext in Hypertext (Hopkins UP, 1994), a greatly expanded electronic version with original texts by Derrida, reviews, student interventions, and works by other authors. In 1997, he published a much-expanded, completely revised version as Hypertext 2.0. He has also edited Hyper/Text/Theory. (Hopkins UP, 1994).


[2]  Allison Cavanagh in her online article Behaviour in Public? “Ethics in Online Ethnography” on the Research Methodology Online, Issue 6 writes: “Can we justifiably regard online interactions on bulletin boards, mailing lists and in chat rooms as "public status" or do they constitute, as others may argue, a form of private conversation which is embedded within a public space? Or does the fact of private conversations occurring constitute these arenas as private spaces into which we, as researchers, are intruding? What are the natures and forms of intrusion online? And finally, and most significantly, what is the status of text in a world where the self is invested in the act of textual creation and no other?.”

[3] Research Methodology Online, Issue six: has valuable information on doing online research

[4] An ethics problem in any research involving humans is getting permission of a participant in a field of research or at the least to let them know they are being used in a research project. My original proposal was to have a ezine for the University of South Australia and within that to have a chatroom with different areas, such as for sports, women, students, staff, and personals. I pursued this for two years and no one visited my chatrooms.  I had a notice that the dialogue within the chatrooms would be saved and used for research. This may be what deterred people from using the site. Therefore, all my chat is from public sites and one, Case Study 4, I received permission to replicate the chat I used from the moderator of the site. In my ethics proposal “How volunteers will be recruited.” I had been approved for this format.

v     Volunteers will be recruited by engaging in conversation within the venue I am researching. As there will be a notification within each area being analysed it will be up to participants to dialogue or not.

v     At no stage will I be commenting on the content, or ideas or opinions, of contributors. My analysis involves the forms of electronic conversations, and works comparatively across site-types.

v    Conversation within other chatrooms will be observed and noted. Such chat is both textually formatted, and is in the public domain. Only its limitations in relation to collection of extended talk sequences have made the establishment of a purpose-designed site (southernexpressway) necessary.


[5]  For example in this chat turn-taking the “speaker” <SWMPTHNG>, in [turn #] 269  wrote a good deal more than the person before are the ones who followed or ‘spoke’ previously. In this turn-taking, the amount of words (including misspelt words) for the six ‘speakers’ were 5, 5, 11, 21, 7 and 6 .  Two reasons for this could be either the writer took more time to type out the text before inserting it or the person was a fast writer.  I address this in several of the case studies, where it is easy to track how often a person is contributing chucks of chat to an arena of talk. Of course there is no way to be conclusive and chat behaviour can only be assumed.  For example, maybe a participant only writes once in a while in a particular chatroom because either they are also chatting in other rooms or they are engaged in some other activity at the same time they are online.  Here is an example of turn-taking, taken from Case Study 1: 

Ø      [turn #] 3    [username] <Werblessed>   Where your hous thilling  in 

Ø      [turn #] 43  [username] <guest-MisterD1>HEY SOMEONE CAN ANSWER ME.            

Ø      [turn #]159 [username] <guest-EZGuest367> Anyone know if I should worry about daughter in west NC?

Ø      [turn #] 269 [username] <SWMPTHNG> SEATTLE IS TOO MUCH LIKE


Ø      [turn #] 275[username] <IMFLOYD> i've got a sister........want to see

Ø      [turn #] 276[username] <guest-MoreheadCityNC> finally got the 11 pm tropical

[6] Various forms of this have been in development since 1947. Designed and co-ordinated by United States National Security Agency (NSA), the ECHELON system is used to intercept ordinary e-mail, fax, telex, and telephone communications carried over the world's telecommunications networks. Unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organisations, businesses, and individuals in virtually every country. It potentially affects every person communicating between (and sometimes within) countries anywhere in the world.  Javier Bernal BIG BROTHER IS ON-LINE: Public and Private Security in the Internet.

[7] The Communication Metatheory (TCM) includes: Information Systems Theory; Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT); Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT).; Narrative Paradigm Theory (NPT); Diffusion of Innovations Theory (DIT); Interpersonal and Small Group; Communication Context Theories; Public Speaking and Organizational Communication Context Theories; Mass and Intercultural Communication Context Theories. Based on a book by: John F. Cragan  Donald C. Shields: “Understanding Communication Theory: The Communicative Forces for Human Action 1/e”,3771,0205195873,00.html accessed Wednesday, 6 February 2002


[8] CYBERNETICS The science of communication and control in animal and machine.  The term derives from the Greek word for steersman. Initially, the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine (Wiener). accessed Wednesday, 6 February 2002


[9]    Complex Documentation Using complexity theory to understand what's happening to technical communication accessed Wednesday, 6 February 2002


[10]  For a history of The Internet from its source see


[11] Telnet is the oldest, and uses a type of software that allows you to log on to another computer and use it directly via your own computer.  This was originally for accessing university databases etc but is now used mainly for chatting.   These involve incorporation of role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.  There are two types of telnet - MUD (Multi-User Dungeons (or Dimensions) and MOO - (Multi-user Object-Orientated) with differ in only minor respects.  Both allow many different users to converge and meet in a virtual space on a single server .  The interface is just a basic text screen, there being no scope for fancy graphics and so on. (Cyberdude6)

[12] IRC - Internet Relay Chat - allows many users on a network of linked servers at different locations around the world to converge in one "room" or "channel" and have a discussion, similar to a conference call or telephone party line.   Most IRC programs also allow funny little graphics and sound files. (Cyberdude6)

[13] Web chat is a term that can be used to describe any real-time chat that is run off a website and can be accessed through a standard web-browser like Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.  These are generally slower than IRC, due to the web’s greater bandwidth requirements. (Cyberdude6)

[14] Direct chat involves chat programs that allow you to connect to a friend or group of friends directly, instead of meeting on a server as in Telnet and IRC.  Many of these (such as the very popular ICQ) can just be left to run in the background on your desktop, so your friend can page you when he or she comes online, or let a group of people chat together.  Depending on the program, they can use voice (PowWow), video (Intel video phone), and/or shared whiteboard (for freehand drawing - e.g. Microsoft Netmeeting) as well as text. (Cyberdude6)

[15] Direct chat involves chat programs that allow you to connect to a friend or group of friends directly, instead of meeting on a server as in Telnet and IRC.  Many of these (such as the very popular ICQ) can just be left to run in the background on your desktop, so your friend can page you when he or she comes online, or let a group of people chat together.  Depending on the program, they can use voice (PowWow), video (Intel video phone), and/or shared whiteboard (for freehand drawing - e.g. Microsoft Netmeeting) as well as text. (Cyberdude6)

[16] IRC on AustNet - an example of a virtual community (9485 words 22 pages) Cyberrdewd 'This essay looks at the developing world of virtual or cyberspace communities, with specific reference to IRC on the AustNet servers. My qualifications in this area are based on five months experience as an "internet junkie", this being the amount of time I have had my new computer and hence been on the Internet ;-) I focus specifically on IRC community on AustNet becuse this is the network I regularly access. The essay concludes with a few imaginative speculations regarding the future of digital communities'. LAST ACCESSED ONLINE Tuesday, 14 November 2000 (15)

[17]  Asynchronous communication - Of, related to, or being a telecommunications mode that does not rely on an independent timing signal to identify the beginning and end of each Byte of data that is transmitted. In asynchronous mode, the communicating devices are free to send data in a continuous stream whenever both devices are ready. The beginning of each byte is identified by a Start Bit, and the end by a Stop Bit. Most communications between personal computers is asynchronous, because the relatively lower transmission speeds permit the use of standard telephone lines.


[18]  The Media History Project’ Promoting the study of media history from petroglyphs to pixels Wednesday, 6 February 2002


[19]  What do users do on the Internet?  Standford University  has some statistics on Internet usage at:


[20]  Herbert Spencer. British philosopher and sociologist  He was one of the principal proponents of evolutionary theory in the mid nineteenth century. He developed the ideas of the human superorganism and global brain first appeared in modern form in Herbert Spencer's The Principles of Sociology (1876-96)  see also:

Carneiro, Robert L., ed. 1967 The Evolution of Society: Selections from Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Peel, J.D.Y., ed. 1972 Herbert Spencer: On Social Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Spencer, Herbert 1897 The Principles of Sociology. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton. 1969 [orig. 1851] Social Statics. New York: Augustus M. Kelley.


[21]  Computer Conferencing for instructional purposes by Dr. Karen L. Murphy (, Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M University ( ) and Mauri P. Collins (, Research Associate for Educational Systems Programming and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff ( This study: Communication Conventions in Instructional Electronic Chats is available on line at


[22]  Language and Mind: Current Thoughts on Ancient Problems (Part 1) Noam Chomsky. viewed 25/10/2001


[23] Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is usually considered to be the father of modern linguistics. Born in Geneva into an illustrious family that included famous natural scientists, Saussure trained as a comparative philologist, studying (1876-78) in Leipzig, the main center of the Neogrammatical movement. There he gave precocious proof of his genius with a Mémoire (1879) containing insights that lie at the root of some of the most interesting twentieth-century developments in comparative philology. After a period of studying and teaching in Paris (1880-91), Saussure was called in 1891 to teach Sanskrit in Geneva. He published relatively little in his lifetime (see his Recueil 1922). Between 1907 and 1911, he taught three courses in general linguistics to small groups of students. After his death, two of his colleagues (Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, with the help of one of his students, Albert Riedlinger), on the basis of students' lecture notes and some of Saussure's own jottings, compiled a coherent Cours de linguistique générale (CLG; 1916). It proved to be perhaps the most influential text in linguistics, at least up to the publication of Noam Chomsky's work. Cut from accessed Wednesday, 6 February 2002



[24]  Cyberculture and Cyberstudies has a growing area of sites associated with it.  Some of the mega sites with growing lists of links include: Cyberculture and Cyberstudies (How has computer-aided communication affected human interaction? What significant issues need to be explored by researchers as online interaction becomes more commonplace? Are there case studies of lives that have been changed----for the better or worse--through the advent of the Internet? Does the Internet have a significant impact on furthering human understanding? These are just a few of the questions I have about the impact of information technology networks in society and in education.) at:; The Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies at; A comprehensive and continuously expanding list of online resources for humanities research into Anthropology, culture and community on (and of) the Net is  at; and Cyberstudies is a page devoted primarily to understanding the relationship between computers and culture at: viewed Wednesday, 6 February 2002


 This is a work in process by Terrell Neuage for a Ph.D at the University of South Australia