Introduction To Online Conversations
Can't talk to you,
Without talking to me.
-- Robert Hunter
Online conversation is not very different from the conversations
people have been having for thousands of years. Topics are introduced,
ideas are shared, and sometimes enlightenment is forthcoming. Or maybe you
just learn a really fast way to reformat your hard drive. Whatever the
conversation is about, the one cardinal rule to keep in mind is that you are
conversing with other people, not with bits and bytes on your screen.
Given that humans are imperfect creatures, a good rule of thumb is to cut
slack as you would like to have slack cut for you.
What is an online conferencing system?
An online conferencing system is an electronic forum where people
can meet to share ideas, ask questions, commiserate, and pontificate via a computer network.
What are forums, topics, and responses?
This conferencing system is organized in a hierarchy of forums,
topics and responses.
- A forum is a group of topics centered
around a particular subject such as "Public Policy" or "The Internet." Each forum has one or more people (typically volunteers) who act as host(s). Different hosts may be more or less involved with the interaction in their forums. Some may bring definite ideas, structures, and goals to their forums while others may limit their activity to more custodial duties, leaving the direction and content of discussions entirely up to the participants.
- A topic is a collection of comments or responses, from various people, related to a particular subject. For example within
the Internet Forum you might find topics such as "Internet
etiquette", or "Cool web sites." Topics are composed of a "subject" and "responses".
- Like any conversation, a topic may contain a wide variety of information and tones. It may be a serious discussion of an issue, an exchange of witty remarks, a personal sharing of the trials of everyday life, a place to describe the local weather, or a workshop on the latest tricks of html editing. It all depends on the people participating and the guidance of the forum host. You, as a participant, are the primary creator of topic content.
- The subject of a topic is a premise (an opening statement or question or invitation to contribute.) Participants respond, one by one, to the topic subject and to each others' responses. The train of conversation continues as long as there is interest and people continue to post. You can read a topic even if there are no new responses in it, and even if you do not respond, just like a conversation preserved in text.
- A response is the individual posting of a participant (you!) in a
topic. Responses are really the building blocks of conferencing.
Here's a graphic description of the structure on this conferencing system.
Limitations and Warnings
- No matter what the tone and content of a forum and its topics,
the basis of online conferencing is people communicating with each other.
So, along with mutual enlightenment, entertainment and relationship-building, there exists the potential for disagreement and conflict. And given our inability
to see into each other's eyes, hear each other's voices, and feel each other's sincerity or discomfort as we communicate online, there is an increased likelihood of misunderstanding.
- Each person should consider that likelihood when responding to a topic. This tool offers us the wonder of being able to converse with groups of people living all over the map, but it has limitations and can easily become a platform for embarrassing and tangled public hassles--the dreaded Flame Wars. As you become more familiar with the habits and personalities of other individuals using the system, you will find it easier to take liberties with them. Be careful in the use of sarcasm, subtlety, and irony, and always refrain from personal attack and insult.
Personal Reponsibility and Community
- An online conferencing system is a public forum. Your responses to
topics will be read by many people.
With that in mind use consideration when you respond,
and be as courteous to others on-line as you would face-to-face.
- Each member of the conferencing system logs in with a User ID and password. Each person has an account, and is accountable for the words and information he or she leaves here. Personal accountability is crucial in a conferencing environment because it not only gives credit to those who contribute, but it makes it less likely that people will abuse the privilege of having the attention of so many others.
- Conferencing systems have the potential to support community as they allow people to become familiar with each other and to build trust within groups of people over time. The nature of conferencing encourages discussion of both the technical and social aspects of the system itself and how they can be improved.
- Over time, as members become familar with each other and more comfortable in their conferencing environment, they develop a sense of place about it. They put value into the system as a meeting ground with customs and needs for reasonable standards of behavior along with a tolerance for diversity. Together, these can make for a gratifying experience of community online.
- It is essential that the responsible users of a conferencing system have effective creative input into how the system is managed on a social level. The management of this system invites and encourages feedback about everything from the software interface to rules of conduct and how they are enforced. Representatives of the management will be responsive to email and will participate in specific topics regarding their roles as providers and custodians of the conferencing environment here.
Written by Cliff Figallo and Kathleen Watkins for Internet Literacy Consultants.
Updated for the Yapp OUG by Mike Vincenty.
Back to: Main Index