Nardi’s Paper on Instant Messaging Receives Lasting Impact Award

August 9, 2018

Since 2014, the Lasting Impact Award has been awarded annually at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW). It recognizes a paper published at the CSCW conference at least 10 years prior that has been extremely influential. This year’s award goes to “Interaction and Outeraction: Instant Messaging in Action,” a paper written in 2000 by Informatics Professor Bonnie Nardi, UC Santa Cruz Professor Steve Whittaker and former Informatics Ph.D. student Erin Bradner, now the director of robotics at Autodesk.

“As far as I know, this was the first empirical study of the use of instant messaging,” says Nardi. The technology itself had been around for a while, but in 2000, it was just starting to go mainstream through platforms such as AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM). “This made it interesting for a study of computer-supported collaborative work.”

In talking to workers about how they used instant messaging (IM), Nardi, Whittaker and Bradner found that IM not only facilitated workplace tasks but also brought friends and family (virtually) into the workday. “The data allowed us to complicate communication theory, which had been taken to be mostly about information transfer,” explains Nardi. Through their work, they noted several meta processes, such as negotiating conversational availability, using IM to switch to other media if needed, generating feelings of connection, and creating spaces of ongoing conversations broken up by pauses of minutes or even hours. “One of my favorite stories in the data,” says Nardi, “was the boss and his admin who shouted to each other in the morning when no one was around and then switched to IM when people began to arrive — showing that IM can be used as a direct substitute for voice, depending on context.”

Although the old platforms no longer exist, IM is now an integral part of everyday social media sites and of business and gaming applications. Nardi believes the paper is being recognized because it “combined strong empirical work, theory, and a first look at an enduring technology.” It considered communication theories from psychology, ethnomethodology, media studies and human-computer interaction, using data to point out aspects of computer-mediated communication missing in such theories.

The Lasting Impact Award will be presented at CSCW 2018 the first week of November in New Jersey. Bringing together top researchers and practitioners, CSCW explores the technical, social, material and theoretical challenges of designing technology to support collaborative work and life activities.

“I am thrilled to receive this award! It’s very nice to see an article that you wrote has had a long shelf life,” says Nardi. “And certainly an award like this will extend it a bit more.”

— Shani Murray