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Online Communication in IOPS is Critical and Must Be Improved: A Proposal to Implement Chat Rooms

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In this piece I will describe the problems with blogs as the primary form of communication between IOPS members, and I will make an argument that we replace blogging with chat rooms in order to address these fundamental problems.  In this I am talking about communication between members in different chapters; obviously members in the same city should meet in person, when practical.

Background & Assumptions:
-Our choice of communication is of paramount critical importance to IOPS and its viability as a vehicle for international social revolution. Furthermore, I believe our current mode (blogs) is hampering this vital communication to a severe degree, and is a significant factor in the lack of participation observed on the website and on recent discussions of critical issues, such as (to paraphrase coarsely) "what the heck do we do now?"

-The ideal form of 2-way or multiple-party communication is face-to-face conversation. This is the most natural way and conveys information that cannot be conveyed in writing.  This is not achieveable between members in different cities, but we should seek to make our primary mode of communication as much like conversation as we can.

-The primary mode should be something that all members with internet can participate in, so as not to leave anyone out (unfortunately those without internet are left out of official membership, for the moment). For example, video chat might not be practical because it requires high bandwidth and extra equipment.

-2-way communication between people in different cities is inherently difficult to achieve, but thanks to technology our practical options include blogs, forums, chat rooms, video chat, videos, and telephones.

-Our current form is the "blog" (short for web log, I think), where any user can create a blog, and then any user can post a response, which appears in chronological order. I have observed several issues with blogs, at least the way they are used: There are no time constraints on the discussion, there is no discussion facilitator, and there is no character limit on responses or on the number of times someone can respond. Nobody commits to "joining" a discussion, they simply indicate interest by posting and then disinterest by not posting again. The combination of these factors often leads to very long discussions between a very few people who have the time to read the blog and follow the ensuing debate; the blog then trails off with no salutation or resolution. This mode of communication is extremely different from conversation, and seems to lack the facilitators for desired behavior that normal conversation has. In IOPS blogs, communication rarely dissolves into petty insults, but it does feature frequent misunderstandings and somewhat unpleasant tones.  And if you look at YouTube or any other "comment" section of the internet, the format of which is very similar to IOPS blogs, they almost always dissolve into personal attacks.

Conclusion:
This is mostly conjecture, but I believe that if we changed to the "chat room" medium, we would get much better results in our communication. Chat rooms / video chat approximate normal conversation much more closely than any other form. People are a little more likely to be friendly and "solidaritous" toward one another. People are less likely to drone on and on, requiring vast amounts of time for anyone wishing to participate. People can see a list of who is "present" in the conversation, giving an indication of who is "listening" as well. There can be a facilitator and a time-limit, so the discussion can have an opening and conclusion with all interested parties present. I'm sure others could list other positive reasons.  Additionally, I think I have seen comic-style graphic aids with "avatars", which might further enhance the approximation to regular conversation (though we obviously don't want to get creepy).

Obviously there are some things that blogs and forums are better for. Sometimes you want to write an essay, like this, and you just want to get your point across, maybe see a few responses. But if we want real discussion, if we want people to feel truly connected internationally, I think we desperately need chat rooms.

Imagine if you saw the post: "This Saturday, 8:30PM to 10:30PM US Eastern Standard Time, an international discussion on IOPS and Nuclear Weapons: Whether to adopt resolution proposed by John Doe" - wouldn't that be kinda cool? Or is it just me?

I'm not sure what the technical restrictions are for this idea, but given the achievements of the webmasters thus far, I'd say it's well within their reach, and if what I say is true, then well worth the time. I'd like to propose this for immediate action.

-Will Henry

Discussion 20 Comments

  • Pontus Proteus 18th Jan 2013

    I agree with this. I imagine it is something that ZSocial will later incorporate. Google+ is something that can facilitate this well, but no-one should be forced to sign up for a Google account. Or indeed a Facebook one. So some form of IRC might be a good idea. Maybe X-Chat that works across multiple OS's? At the end of the day it doesn't need to be like IOPS-sanctioned, ICC-official. I'm interested in chatting to you Will, I'm interested in anyone else here joining in, so let's choose the least controversial and accessible platform. Suggestions?

  • Will Henry Lapinel 18th Jan 2013

    Thanks for the reply Pontus - what I would really like to see is a chat function hosted by the IOPS website itself. I know this may be difficult to implement (perhaps way more difficult than I imagine?), but if it's possible I think would be a worthy investment. I'm down for joining in on a discussion some time using another site, but I'd really like to see chat available here, using our IOPS profiles.

    • Pontus Proteus 18th Jan 2013

      So would I, but no clue how long it might take, and no reason we couldn't have an interim off-site chat.

    • Will Henry Lapinel 19th Jan 2013

      Certainly, no reason at all.

    • Pontus Proteus 19th Jan 2013

      Will, do you already use any chat programs anywhere?

    • Will Henry Lapinel 20th Jan 2013

      Not really - I have gmail and skype though.

  • Jason Chrysostomou 18th Jan 2013

    I agree that instant chat would be a very useful feature to add to the site. It's on the list of feature requests and is certainly possible to implement and we could use a third party software. Here are some I've found:
    https://buzzumi.com/
    http://www.tokbox.com/
    https://jitsi.org/
    http://wibiya.conduit.com/

    Have you thought about details of how it should work? For example, a horizontal bar on the bottom of the page that shows online members for 1-1 chat(like facebook) and/or having chat rooms for each chapter, etc..

    We will be releasing a few new features to the site next week, including the polling facility, an welcome slideshow with intro video and a few other updates.

    We could use the polling feature to gauge membership opinion on what features we should implement next on the site, like instant chat, interactive map of chapters, etc. What do you think?

    • Will Henry Lapinel 19th Jan 2013

      Jason,

      I think a poll is a fine idea, if there are conflicting ideas of what features/functions we should prioritize adding to the website. If not, a poll may be unnecessary, but I wouldn't see any harm in it.

      Actually I haven't given much thought to the details of how it would work, but the ideas you mention sound great - a horizontal bar at the bottom of the page for 1-1 chat, in addition to permanent "general" chapter chat rooms, and/or I would add the ability for members to create chat rooms at any level/chapter.

      Thanks for applying your computer skills to make all this possible; I'm excited to see the new features!

  • Lambert Meertens 18th Jan 2013

    It would be more transnational (read: less US-centric) to advertize the time in UTC: "Sunday 01:30—03:30 UTC". Not many people from Western Europe can be expected to participate in taking a position on the Nuclear Weapons resolution if it is being discussed from 2:30 am to 4:30 am local time. Any other time will be equally inconvenient for members somewhere around the globe. Chat functionality per se is OK, but for conversations that are oriented towards decision taking only if they can be held at a time that is not a priori inconvenient for a whole class of members affected by the issues being discussed.

    • Will Henry Lapinel 19th Jan 2013

      Lambert,

      You're right about the UTC vs. EST being more transnational, but I was just giving an example off the top of my head. You're right though.

      I certainly agree that decisions should be taken only after all affected parties have had an opportunity to say their piece (peace?).

  • Sarah Owens 18th Jan 2013

    First off, that was a good piece of writing you posted. Looks like you worked on it. All our blogs should be so clear. Second, you're certainly right about the limitations of our blog coms; good for some things, not everything. Third, although I've never been in a chat room, I'm persuaded by your piece and Jason's second (in proportion to the degree to which he in his admin role stands to be affected), that the IOPS site should provide an "instant chat" medium, and as soon as practicable. A chat room was suggested early on, as I recall, but now's a good time to renew the suggestion. Thanks for doing so.

  • Anarcho com 19th Jan 2013

    Although i'm sure chatrooms can help communications within chapters etc., i think international communications will be somewhat difficult through chatrooms. I know for sure that most of our members are offline when i have the oportunity to be online.
    It's not so much a problem of our blogs and it's commenters, it's more a problem of a lack of use in international and national forums.

    Ideally there would be both regular useage of both forums and chatrooms. So i am not at all oposed to implementing chatrooms. I just think it's not smart to choose chatrooms over forums. Both are equally important.

    While we are on that matter, i'd like to urge each and every member to make more (maybe even regular) use of our forums. If the IOPS want's to be able to take action, we all need to participate.
    In the end we ARE the International Organisation for a PARTICIPTORY Society!!!

    • Will Henry Lapinel 19th Jan 2013

      (re-posting as an "answer" so you get the notification)

      Anarcho,

      I see your point - perhaps I was overshooting a bit with "replacing" blogs and forums. A "parallel" mentality might be a better approach.

      I agree that forums could use a little more love. On the other hand, I think there's a root cause for the lack of activity that needs to be addressed collectively, and we'll only continue to see low levels of participation unless something changes institutionally. Not sure what exactly.

    • Anarcho com 19th Jan 2013

      I agree. If we can not solve the issue of inactivity, how can we implement activism? I think that it is the root of maybe the IOPS' biggest problem right now.

      As you said, not sure what exactly we should do...

  • Will Henry Lapinel 19th Jan 2013

    Anarcho,

    I see your point - perhaps I was overshooting a bit with "replacing" blogs and forums. A "parallel" mentality might be a better approach.

    I agree that forums could use a little more love. On the other hand, I think there's a root cause for the lack of activity that needs to be addressed collectively, and we'll only continue to see low levels of participation unless something changes institutionally. Not sure what exactly.

  • Sarah Owens 19th Jan 2013

    Earlier chat room request & comment here: http://www.iopsociety.org/forum/the-site/wish-list .

  • Zane Hannan 20th Jan 2013

    Sarah: thanks for the reminder about that wish list. Very important!

    I certainly like the idea of a chat function. I posted this earlier under Michael’s recent blog, but I’ll repeat it here:

    “I would strongly suggest that we give equal status and respect to the formation of virtual groups and chapters, rather than focusing only on physical face-to-face meetings. For many of us, face-to-face meetings are simply impossible. This could be because of geographical separation in general, but even if members are in the same area, there are still work commitments (for those of us lucky enough to still have work!), and the often prohibitive cost in time and money of travelling to meetings. The virtual is often the only connection some of us have. Those of us lucky enough to be on the connected side of the digital divide, of course! Such groups can be formed on Z-Social, and linked to the IOPS site”.

    The chat function would certainly be useful, but as has already been determined in this discussion, in parallel with forums and blogs, since IOPS members are so diverse geographically and temporally.

    I do have a strategic concern, however. Instead of putting our very limited resources into improving the social network functions of IOPS, could we not put that energy into improving the social network functions of Z-Social? Unless, of course, the coding is identical. Then it benefits both.

    I’d just like to see IOPS members use Z-Social more for forming affinity groups and virtual chapters, and then linking these across to IOPS. As long as the privacy and security issues are functioning, of course!

    The way I understand the larger Z project is that we now have the weight and credibility of the more serious, long form, diverse substantiality of Z-Net, combined with the more organisationally oriented IOPS, as well as the much more fluid, participative and dynamic social medium of Z-Social. So we should now work on integrating them into a larger, more organic, more participative, encompassing cyber structure and culture, while maintaining their specific functions and uses. This larger integrated yet diverse entity’s usefulness will be amplified by, and serve to amplify, any real face-to-face, real-life activities members choose to engage in. Yet it will also serve as a welcoming space for those who are simply unable to meet face to face at that particular time, or ever!

    So my bottom line is ‘yes!’ to the chat function, but within this larger context not only of the IOPS website, but also of developing Z-Social, and the larger ethical project of the Z brand.

  • Verena Stresing 21st Jan 2013

    Hi Zane, everyone,

    I really like the idea of a chat room as well. Writing also takes up a huge amount of time, and chatting at least is a bit faster, more interactive, more direct.
    I also like the idea of opening up IOPS chapters to other groups, I'd call them working groups or something like that.
    I am one of those people who have a very hard time getting a chapter started where I live (for various reasons, not gonna go into that now), so being an active part of a working group would be a way for me to have direct meetings with people (if not face-to-face) and participate more. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. There must be more people out there who feel isolated where they live...

    So, yes to chatrooms and yes to a broader definition of the chapter! As to ZSocial, I'm not entirely sure if we should mix that, but I'm always easily to convince be good arguments ;-)

  • Zane Hannan 30th Jan 2013

    Hi all!

    It's a pity that when blogs are bumped off the front page by other blogs, regardless of their relative importance, the participation disappears.

    Just wanted to pop in and say that I hope this initiative is being being carried forward.

    All the best!