Thursday, May 8, 2008

Event chat transcripts considered harmful

For a number of months I have been familiar with the observation that the quality of an event recap is a decreasing function of event chat transcript density they produce. Recently I became convinced that event chat transcripts should be abolished from all "higher level" event recaps (i.e. everything except, perhaps, business meeting transcripts). At that time I did not attach too much importance to this discovery; I now submit my considerations for publication.

You've all seen it before. The event is nearing its close an an enthusiastic host exclaims "Oh, and we'll put up a transcript online!". True enough, the transcript shows up in your RSS reader - but although you had missed 10 minutes because of a phone call or something, you never, ever read the transcript. It's not because you are lazy. It's because transcripts are useless - they not only have zero informational value, they actually decrease the information content.

There are several reasons for that. First, a large portion of event chats is simply people socializing - saying hello, wawing to one another, laughing or nodding in agreement. As virtual worlds make non-verbal communication rather hard, a lot of it has become verbal. Second, a lot of the time the log is full of system messages - people signing on or off, which adds to the clutter. And third - even if we prune all the non-essential parts, the transcript is still too long. It's one thing being present at an hour-long event - you pass the time during less interesting parts IM-ing or camming around. Reading the whole transcript, however, takes a lot of concentration - and, to be frank, I'd rather invest 30 minutes focused reading time in something well written, not pore over old event transcripts.

OK, so the transcripts are useless. So what if people publish them? Where is the harm? Simple - the transcripts kill the Google search, or at least, maim it. Here are some of the search results for IYan Writer:

Is it really helpful to someone searching for me? Even worse, as Google usually displays the first occurrence or two, you're very likely to seem like some weird "Hello"-saying and madly wawing maniac - heaven forbid that the search would show a cutting question you posed at the end of the event.

So what are the event organizers to do? Again, it's simple: provide actual value. Don't do the easiest thing and just slap the transcript online. Take the time to go through the transcript, identify a few key issues raised at the event and write a paragraph on each one of them. Some Metanomics event recaps are stellar examples of it. If you're taking the time to remove the "XX has signed off" lines already, chances are that this will not take much more time. Event visitors, readers and the hamsters powering the Google servers will be grateful to you.

PS: Why the title? Hint for non-CS grads :)


Digado said...

I agree 100%. SL makes it really inviting to just post a transcript as it's all written down anyhow... However, from a readers point of view it's just really inconsiderate and annoying. Somewhere in the giant mess of timestamps, un-introduced names system messages and casual chat there is supposed to be the 'value' the title of the article promised, completely untraceable of course.

Transcripts should be used for on reason only - proof of actual wording. So you have something to go back to when someone claims you misquoted/misinterpreted. No reason to put this proof online though, just use quotes when needed.

Kanomi™ said...


I actually will not say much if I know something is being logged for eventual posting... none of the "hi, blah, I ate a banana" stuff...

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Ciaran Laval said...

I'm not a big fan of chat logs myself, there's a serious lack of context, conversations don't flow so well in a chat log because person a makes a comment, person f responds and in between persons b,c,d and e have all had their input on different issues.

I'd much rather read a summary of the event.

Prokofy said...

You're dead wrong about this IYan, and it's some sort of hangover from some sort of repressive society curbing freedom of speech that you believe this.

Chatlogs are a time-honoured tradition in SL. In a world where you have no other way of bringing accountability because there is no Constitution or courts or internal free media, you have to use chat logs. I think it is perfectly fine to make chat logs of public meetings (not of two people having a chat privately between themselves) and of public officials doing their duties (Lindens, landlords). This is absolutely essential to get what freedoms and accountability you can out of SL.

It doesn't matter if the logs are dilatory, filled with dreck, and hard to read -- people eat them up. They want them. They read every word. And that's why you need to provide it -- people *want it*. It's there on the public record, like a Congressional hearing or a town hall meeting in real life, and that's a GOOD thing.

You're calling *me* lazy because I don't spend hours culling through long transcripts and summarizing them? Sorry, I'm already volunteering my time and groups and land to hold meetings and keep the conversation going; I'm already huffing and puffing to make the log, clean up the log-ons and chat from inanimate objects, and post it on my blog. That's enough. I try to put a nice summary of the main themes at the top, but hey, I do this for free, not for pay, so your mileage may vary.

It isn't inconsiderate because people have adapted to reading it, they skim, they eevn merely do keyword or name searches. It's a great function of SL that most people still have public meetings with typed chat so that others can easily make transcripts and those who didn't come can skim them -- or read every word, which is in fact something they do!

Prokofy said...

Digago, a good chat poster removes time stamps, log ons and log offs and inanimate posters.

As for the problem of the splicing and delay of comments aebfcq etc, well, that's the territory. You can rearrange it, but it's too much trouble.

IYan Writer said...


I guess we meet distinctly different types of users.. I have yet to see a person exclaim "I love chat logs!".

Samantha Poindexter said...

This is one of the rare instances in which I wholeheartedly agree with Prokofy in every particular.

My name is Samantha, and I love chat logs. :-)