Re: WWW Conferencing

David R. Woolley (
Thu, 8 Jun 1995 17:48:41 +0100

Philip Adams says:

>There seem to be some possibilities for making Conferencing easier and
>perhaps friendlier by using the WWW. My impression of conferencing after
>following a course on a COSY system is that there are some negative
>features including:
>1. Lack of structure to the postings, which follow in chronological order.

I'm not familiar with how CoSy does (or doesn't) structure conversations.

In my opinion, the best way to organize a conference is in a "star" 
structure: the conference has any number of topics, and each topic is a 
linear chain of postings attached together in chronological order:

    Topic 1 - response 1 - response 2 - response 3 ...
    Topic 2 - response 1
    Topic 3 - response 1 - response 2 ...

So every topic is a separate conversation. It's a simple structure that 
has stood the test of time. It's very successful at promoting dialog 
because it resembles face-to-face conversation.

HyperNews and WIT use a tree structure that can branch out infinitely. In 
my experience, this tends to make discussions fragment and dissipate more 
quickly. It's often confusing and easy to get lost.

>2. WebChat will display a small .GIF of yourself or alterego

Yes, that's an interesting approach. A Web-based conferencing system could 
be designed to let you attach a picture of yourself to every post. Or, the 
author's name in the header of each post could be a hypertext link to a 
home page. That's an approach that some Web conferencing systems have 
already taken.

Of course, some would argue that the lack of visual clues about other 
participants is an advantage of CMC, not a disadvantage, because it forces 
you to pay attention to and respond to someone's words, without prejudging 
the person according to age, gender, race, hairstyle, or whatever.

>3. Lack of feedback from people who have read a message, agree or
>disagree, but don't want to commit to an actual reply.

This is a well-recognized difference between CMC and face-to-face 
meetings. (I hesitate to call it a "problem" because, again, whether it's 
a positive or negative attribute depends on your perspective and your 

Anyway, I've heard various ideas proposed for collecting what you call 
"virtual nods" but I don't know of any conferencing systems that have 
actually done this successfully. WIT doesn't really accomplish it, partly 
because you still have to go through the motions of posting a response in 
order to register agreement or disagreement, even if you don't type any 
text into your post. Most people won't bother unless they actually feel 
fairly strongly one way or the other.

You could design a system that would make the agree/disagree choice as 
easy as it could possibly be.  Suppose, for instance, that to move on to 
the next response you have to press "a" or "d". But the problem would 
remain that you would be forcing people to commit to a binary choice, when 
their actual feelings might be much more complex and ambiguous than that. 
Body language can reveal such subtleties, and it's hard to imagine how a 
conferencing system could to capture this.