Disappearing IM Messages

Tom Simonite at the New Scientist Technology Blog pointed to a study back in December on instant messaging behavior from Germany that discovered that 20% of IMs are drafted but deleted before they are sent:

Instant message irrelevance

The reason is that during the time they were composed, they became irrelevant. Michael Bei??wenger derived the figure while studying people chatting in the Multimedia Lab at the Dortmund Institute for German Language and Literature.

Anyone that has used IM is sure to have had the same experience. Just as you finish typing a message, the other person answers the question you were about to ask, or otherwise moves things on. Most clients let you know when the other person is typing, but it still happens a lot.

After hearing that, I thought, “that sounds about right.” There are plenty of times where an incoming message not only answers my previous question but addresses the follow-up I was working on as well. Or the conversation moves in a different (and more interesting) direction, causing me to pull back on a previous thought.

Simonite goes on to ask whether that number could be reduced through turn-taking in messaging. Personally, I don’t see this as a problem that needs to be fixed, so I have a hard time thinking about solutions.

As Spudley points out in the comments on Simonite’s post, providing more context to writing – like we used to have – could cut down on unsent messages, but more importantly, provide additional emotion to the writing.

If efficiency is the goal, taking turns is probably a better approach. I’m sure your average SMS conversation communicates more information with less back and forth messages than IM, but that’s partly due to the pain of drafting messages on a phone vs a computer keyboard.

Early versions of ICQ didn’t merely show that the other person wast typing something; they actually showed the message as it was being typed.

You could even see the other person making typos and correcting them, etc.

That was valuable information. I did a lot of that using the Vax phone application in college. Partial thoughts can tell you a lot more about a person’s personality and emotions than “Person is typing” followed by a sentence or two delivered all at once.

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