Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Perspectives on Turn-Taking and Recent Features of Online Chat Communication

Perspectives on Turn-Taking and Recent Features of Online Chat Communication
Veronica Machak

In the face of changing technology, speakers employ strategies that integrate and exploit new features and media as they change. One example of such a change is the introduction of the “is typing” feature in the Gmail and Facebook chat interfaces, which indicates when a person is entering text that has not yet been sent. Building on the research on face-to-face communication, turn-taking and floor-holding (Sacks, Schlegloff, and Jefferson 1974, Schlegloff 2000), and chat communication (Garcia and Jacobs 1999, Schonfeldt and Golato 2003), this paper addresses the following research questions: Are chat users aware of the “is typing” feature on Facebook and Gmail? Do they have conscious knowledge of whether it affects their chat rhythms and strategies, and if so, what is the effect?

In order to gather perspectives on the “is typing” feature of chat communication, interviews were conducted via Gmail chat with respondents familiar with the interface. Respondents were asked about their general experiences with chat, their perspectives about the difference between the chat interface and other forms of communication, such as face-to-face and telephone conversations, and their awareness of the “is typing” feature and its effect, if any, on their chat strategies.

All of the respondents were aware of the “is typing” feature in the Gmail chat interface. The strategies respondents used in light of this feature varied, however. Some reported it had no effect on their chat style. Some considered the “is typing” feature an indication that their conversation partner was going to take the floor in the conversation and were more likely to stop other computer activities and withhold an utterance they were preparing until their conversation partner finished theirs. Other respondents noted the feature was a reminder that chat communication is not fully synchronous.

This research is intended as a pilot study to gauge the general opinions of chat users. A larger study focused on conversational analysis of chat conversations would provide more insight into the effects of the “is typing” feature and the differences, if any, between the participants’ perception of their strategies and actual strategies employed. Such a study would benefit from capturing keystrokes and video feeds from the monitors of interlocutors in order to measure abandoned and repaired utterances in the face of the “is typing” display on the screen.


April 17, 2009 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This sounds like a really interesting paper! I hope you also address the (weird and confusing) ‘has entered text’ message that pops up at seemingly random times – I don’t find that it makes any sense, but maybe you have found some explanation for why it exists.

    Comment by J. Pope | April 18, 2009 | Reply

    • I didn’t focus on ‘has entered text’ but I found that the chat users who commented on it were perplexed by its purpose as well. One user commented that she thought it was a sign that her conversation partner was about to abandon a typed response, rather than send it. I suspect this is an instance where the feature doesn’t align completely with public perception, and I am curious to see how it evolves.

      Comment by Veronica Machak | April 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’m actually very interested in online communication and socialization – I think if I hadn’t veered into archaeology, I would likely have followed a similar path. In any case, I am curious to see the results of this study, and your further research!

    Comment by Elanya | April 20, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks! I am invested in exploring this topic further with some actual conversation analysis. I am especially interested at the difference between the perceptions of chat users of their conversations and their actual chat habits.

      Comment by Veronica Machak | April 27, 2009 | Reply

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