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Conversational gymnastics: What makes chat tools work?

2 min read

Marketing Strategy

David Hollender is chief Internet strategist for Mind Sky, an online-communication consultant for associations, nonprofits and social enterprises.

During a recent online chat, I was struck by how awkwardly Twitter manages conversations. Though pervasive and easy to use, Twitter does not excel in keeping thoughts, insight, suggestions and occasional tangents of participants in context.

After setting up a search column in TweetDeck with a hashtag, I read and watched the proceedings, following a flurry of questions, thoughts and replies that filled my screen. I could not always tell which ones belonged together and which followed one another. The conversational gymnastics of our Twitter discourse was vibrant, interesting and fun — but messy, reminiscent of a raucous dinner table with everyone talking at once. Neither the engineer’s part of my brain nor the inventors of Twitter could have anticipated a use case such as this for a tool designed to post brief updates for family and friends.

If Twitter is such an awkward tool for conversation, it seems fair to ask what makes particular chat tools able and elegant. To meet the needs of a diverse semi-public set of users, a tool needs to be widely available, easy to use and capable of structuring content in a way that makes it understandable and easily absorbed.

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