Wednesday, November 10, 2004

CSCW - Wednesday morning - second session

Another case where there are two sessions I want to be in. The first is a panel discussion of digital backchannels in shared physical spaces. The other is a paper session on interruptions. Oh, well. I guess I can just read the papers.

This was a very good session, and the most active backchannel I've seen. No big surprise there. The IRC backchannel was projected on the screen at some points, which made part of the primary channel. As I was an active participant in the IRC chat, it was nearly impossible to take notes.

Here are some points the panel and audience made. I'm not even going to try to attribute them individually, even the ones that I'm pretty sure are my own. :-) I view it as a collective effort. So here goes, in one huge paragraph:

There is always a backchannel, be it whispering, note passing, eye rolling, fidgeting, or whatever. Physical presence doesn't mean mental attention. The audience could be counting ceiling tiles, doodling, reading the proceedings, or whatever. When laptops and wireless enter the equation, it is simply the means changing. Having an official backchannel provides the audience the opportunity to more productively deal with confusion, boredom, and the like by doing something that is more on topic than emailing or doodling. The perceived ephemerality of the channel leads to highly informal interaction, but actions such as projecting the backchannel on the big screen and logging the traffic changes the behavior of the channel, although the former has a much greater effect than the latter. People tend to forget they are being logged, much like email or IM. The claim was outside participants reduce focus, but we had a few outside participants during this session and it wasn't apparent at all to those in the physical space. While the focus was on physical spaces, there was a discussion on the backchannel (which included panel members) about the need for a backchannel on conference calls for everything from bio break notifications to building consensus.

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