updates @ m.blog

Backchannels

I’ve been too lazy to make a full blog post about this, but I have to link to it sometime. I’m officially yet another degree overeducated, and have ended my career at U.C. Berkeley. You can read the “award winning” (no, really) thesis Jen and I produced on this site, but I’d recommend waiting for the version adapted for publication we’re working on.

The abstract of said thesis:

This project analyzes the social uses of computer-mediated backchannel conversation in a shared physical environment, specifically the SIMS Backchannel—a virtual communication environment actively used by graduate students at the U.C. Berkeley School of Information. In this study, we follow seventy backchannel participants over eighteen months of persistent usage in an academic environment, during which time over a quarter-million lines of conversation occurred. We employ a mixed methods approach including statistical analysis, an opinion survey, qualitative interviews with a number of participants, and field observation. We demonstrate and describe how the users of this communication backchannel have independently developed a variety of different usages for a novel communication environment, both in-class and outside. We descriptively categorize these usages and attempt to analyze the ways in which they are both highly dependent upon—and augment—the contextual relationship of co-presence.

The project was fascinating and I’m pleased with the results we obtained. Recently though, I’ve been excited about the potential for spontaneously emerging communication backchannels via Nintendo DS. So much so I used it as an excuse to buy a DS Lite as a personal “research expense.” (For those not in the know, the Nintendo DS is the new Gameboy that contains built-in WiFi for ad-hoc gaming sessions, and ships with a built in software program for textual and drawing communication.) Lately, I’ve been pulling the DS out in public places and scanning for active Pictochat sessions—the other night I successfully found one. A friend and I were at the movies and waiting through the boring trivia and candy advertisement pre-trailers, so we decided to mess around in Pictochat instead. Shortly thereafter, a “James” joined the chatroom, and proceeded to trade a few drawings back and forth with us. I stood up and scanned the theatre, and in the back, I could see James signaling back to me by waving his DS excitedly in the air, backlight aglow.

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