Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chatrooms or why we are alone in the internet

Is not that we are completely alone when we connect to the Internet. At a given moment hundred millions of people are connected but we hardly feel or see those people. So, where is everybody ?
Sure, we can notice that millions of people have been there recently: millions of blog posts, web pages and profile should have been edited by someone. And when using instant messaging we can get aware that some of our friends are connected on the internet -without knowing what they are doing- but again that's tens of people at most.
Chatrooms is a 20 year old intent to put in touch the Internet crowds. But chatrooms have never really been successful. Indeed, the failure of the chatrooms is embedded in their design.
Have look on how a chatroom system works: there are several chatrooms and people are free to move from one to another and let's see where this simple dynamic leads to.

When eventually a chatroom becomes empty, then it will remain empty! If you enter a empty chatroom ,why will you stay ? there is nobody to chat with, after all. So, you will move to another to another chatroom -preferably not empty.
First evidence: Empty Chatrooms Remain Empty.

But what happens with non empty chatrooms ? They should be successful, they attract people willing to chat. When you are in a chatroom, the messages typed in by the users scroll up in a window. At some point, there are too many people chatting and the messages scroll up to fast to be read. If you have been in chatrooms, you'd know that a chatroom becomes unusable when there are more 10-20 people inside.
Second evidence: Non-empty Chatrooms Become soon too Crowded.

Some strategies can make then somehow useful: you can try to attract people inside empty chatrooms and refuse entrance to non-empty chatrooms. But, fundamentally chatrooms are not very compelling. They can be quite useful in some cases (developers use IRC channels to team up, for example), but they help very little in meeting the Internet crowds.

In next post, I will talk about virtual worlds -also called glorified chatrooms- and how they help in solving the problem.

Update 2008-08-13:
I just read Avi Bar-Zeev post and he thinks, as lively or metaplace designers do, that a lot of -empty- rooms is the future of virtual worlds.
Re-imagines the web as a series of connected spaces, some of them 2D, some 3D, most mixed. The Metaverse and SL got the notion of one big Euclidian space wrong IMO —
I agree with most of what is said in this interesting post but not with this.

Update 2008-08-14:
In response to my comment Avi clarified his position and I finally agreed with him. Indeed, comment after comment we've ended up with something really interesting.

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