Friday, March 20, 2009

An Evolution of Online Chat: Microchatting

Wikipedia defines chat as "any kind of communication over the Internet, but is primarily meant to refer to direct one-on-one chat or text-based group chat (formally also known as synchronous conferencing)." I still know of people who herald back to the days where IRC was very popular, long before social networking took off here in the Philippines. I wasn't a chatter during that time, and I never really got into IRC, not even after my young online friends from Davao tried to teach me how to work it.

My first foray into group chat was in "special interest" websites where netizens of a common interest, usually sexual in nature, all convene into chat rooms to talk to other people they normally wouldn't casually meet in the real world. Chatters liked the option for anonymity and the ability to maintain a totally separate online persona vs. their real selves in the real world. That's also where my online nick kuya_law was born. Some, me included, would choose to keep it real and bridge their online world with the real one thru eyeball (EB) meet-ups. Chat allowed me to expand my social circle way beyond what it was before. I have a number of good friends today that I initially met thru chat.

Then instant messengers came along -- Yahoo Messenger, the gold standard for Filipinos. But they were there for a different purpose: primarily private one-on-one chatting. It usually complements chatrooms when you want to take the conversation private. Another plus was permanence -- you can go back to talk to someone you've been chatting with before. And know if they were online or not.

Wikipedia clears, " It is important to understand that what separates chat and instant messaging from technologies such as e-mail is the perceived synchronicity of the communication by the user - Chat happens in real-time."

That's the thing about chat: because it's real time, you need to be online when others are. It starts becoming an effort having to spend a lot of time online trying to catch meaningful conversation (Meaningful as defined differently by different people). It can become an addiction. And it caters mostly to those who do have a lot of time to spend online. Not for your average netizen.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have blogs, social networks and forums where netizens post thoughts, opinions and sentiments that is less time-bound. You post whenever you can or want to, you read whenever you can or want to, and you react at your own pace. And there is a permanence to the exchange that extends the life of the conversation, but at the same time doesn't have the energy and "now-ness" of real-time exchange as chat.

Enter mobile integration and the concept of microblogging

Microblogging, as defined by Wikipedia is "a form of multimedia blogging that allows users to send brief text updates or micromedia such as photos or audio clips and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaginginstant messagingemaildigital audio or the web."

It wasn't Twitter that brought microblogging into the Philippines. It was Facebook that started it here, with its Status updates function. Before we all knew it, a lot of netizens developed this compulsion to update their status on Facebook more and more often. It also became a quick way to share content: pics, videos, music, links -- whatever netizens found online. And you didn't need to be verbose about it, unlike maintaining a real blog.

But the real charm of microblogging was that it encouraged what I call microchatting -- unexpected snippets of conversation that revolve around topics started by simple questions: "What are you doing right now?" or the new Facebook's "What's on your mind?" Suddenly public chat is initiated not by a chatroom or forum topic, but by anyone sharing anything that piques the interest of others. These threads can end after two entries, or it can continue to be 50-100 posts long.

In microchatting, the new currency is how interesting your status update is. Junk updates can get you unfollowed. Interesting updates can get you fans or followers. In Plurk, this is coined as karma. My friends who have started complaining about Facebook's new layout have not realized that Facebook has seen this trend and have responded to it. Your News Feed thread becomes hot real estate and friends who dump junk on it can be dropped. That's the point.

Now about Plurk:

Wikipedia writes: Plurk is a fresocial networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send updates (otherwise known as plurks) through short messages or links, which can be up to 140 text characters in lengthPlurk was developed by and envisioned as a communication medium meant to form a balance between blogs and social networks, and between e-mail messaging and instant messaging.

I never started on Twitter. Maybe it's like my aversion to Friendster. It became too popular and mainstream before I got into it. And I didnt understand the value of stalking people as was the selling point of Twitter back then. Then I read about Plurk and was curious enough to check it out. One week in and I think I'm a new Plurk addict. Now, when I go online, I have to keep open four browser tabs automatically: my Facebook, my Multiply, my Blogger, and now my Plurk.

Things I like about Plurk (without the benefit of being familiar with Twitter):

1. You can stumble upon total strangers who are interesting because of what they microblog about. (a benefit you used to get from online chat).

2. You have the onus to start interesting conversations by posting something revealing, interesting or controversial.

3. You can update your Facebook status automatically because of integration. (Multiply, Twitter, and other online spaces too if you want or need)

4. It goes beyond just status messages. You can Plurk photos, videos & links. (Similar to Facebook)

5. Karma rewards better microbloggers with more functionality and options. I think this is genius.

I'm still new in this microblogging thing. But I think it's here to stay. Time will tell.


  1. I think you'd find that most of the thing you like about Plurk are on Twitter too. But the Karma idea is really a stand-out element.

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  3. Thanks, buddy & Jay d.

    Thanks, Jen. Will check out your blog too.

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