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3. Enacting participation : hybrid modalities in online video conversation

Anthony J. Liddicoat

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1. Introduction

1Video-mediated face-to-face interaction (e.g.,closed circuit television, videoconferencing) has been a topic for research since the early 1970s (see for example overviews of early research in Hiemstra 1982; Short et al. 1976). Most of the work done on video-mediated interaction has focused on the idea that the communication technology is assumed to restrict or distort the interaction in some way (Ruhleder and Jordan 2001). To determine if this is indeed the case, video-mediated interactions have been compared with face-to-face interactions to determine differences and deficiencies in mediated communication (Culnan and Markus 1987; O’Connail et al. 1993). What is less available in the research literature are studies of video-mediated interaction in its own right rather than as a substitute for other forms of interaction – that is, video-mediated communication as a site of human sociality (Fischer and Tenbrink 2003, is a notable exception). An important consideration in understanding online video conversation as a form of human social interaction is whether it is to be understood simply as a face-to-face interaction, mediated technologically, or whether the technologically mediated nature of the interaction constitutes a new modality with concomitant impacts on the ways in which interaction is conducted by participants. The relevance of this question derives from an interest in face-to-face interaction as the basic site of sociality – what Goffman (1959, 1983) has termed the interaction order and Luhmann (1984) has referred to as simple social systems.

2This chapter will examine some strategic points in the interactions in the data set of conversations – the beginning of talk, interruptions to talk, and the end of talk – to examine the ways in which the mediated nature of the interaction is manifested in interaction. These are strategic in that they are points at which the interaction moves between computer-mediated written interaction and computer-mediated face-to-face spoken interaction. Such situations have been recognised as significant for online video interaction (e.g., Tang 2007) ; however, the treatment of these has tended to deal with the implications of other systems of interaction (face-to-face, telephone) for the design of videoconferencing platforms rather than examining the nature of the interactions themselves. This chapter will examine how these movements are understood and performed by participants as instances of social interaction in technologically mediated contexts.

2. A note on the data

3The platform used for the interactions, Microsoft Network (MSM), integrates visual images of both interlocutors, spoken language and written text in the form of both chat and computer-generated text (see Develotte, Kern and Lamy, this volume, for an overview). This platform allows for specific interactional possibilities and orientations because of its amalgamation of modalities. The structure and functioning of this platform will necessarily influence how interactions between participants flow and may differ from the interactional possibilities and needs found in online interactions with other platforms. The interactions were also influenced by the nature of the study. They did not occur spontaneously, but rather were held for the express purpose of recording online conversations, and the participants were assigned particular discussion tasks to accomplish (in this case a discussion of relationships between men and women in France and the United States). Although participants were not co-present (and thus the interaction occurred as a legitimately remote interaction), the location of each participant was determined by and equipped for data collection purposes. These aspects of the communication context are also likely to have influenced the ways in which participation was constructed. One clear example of this is the need to set up recording of the interaction, which would be absent in non-research contexts. The situation here is therefore similar to many interactions which are set up for educational purposes and as such can be considered instances of institutional talk (Drew and Heritage 1992 ; Drew and Sorjonen 1997 ; Heritage and Greatbatch 1991), with the potential for concomitant differences from non-institutional instances of interaction.

3. Opening exchanges in online video conversations

4The opening spoken exchanges in the online conversational data are characterised by very little interactional work before moving to the first topic, as can be seen in Extract (1).

  • 1 The data on which this paper is based is recorded through a computer which shows only one participa (...)

Extract (1): Isabelle-Céline – Céline’s computer1

cél donc c’est parti.
so it’s going.
isa d’accord.
isa t’en as déjà fait ou : . (.) pas ?
have you already done it or : (0.2) not ?
cél oui, une fois avec Samira. (.) donc (.) on avait parlé des rapports hommes-femmes.
yes, once with Samira (.) so (.) we talked about relations between men and women.
isa °ouais.°
cél voilà. (.) Je ne sais pas de quoi vous avez à parler.
there. (.) I don’t know what you have to talk about.
isa oh euh de plein de choses après
oh uh lots of things afterwards.

5The talk begins here with elements connected to establishing the channel. Céline’s first turn here deals with aspects of establishing the online environment in which the talk will be conducted. This is ratified by Isabelle’s D’accord (Crozet and Liddicoat 1998). The first turns, therefore, are oriented to the technological interface rather than to personal interaction. After a further pause, during which Céline is engaged with other activities related to the configuration of her computer, Isabelle proposes a first topic for talk. This is the first truly interpersonal action in the conversation that is topic talk. This format is unusual not so much in terms of what is done here, but in terms of what is not done.

  • 2 The discussion here is based on openings in English ; however the format described appears to be qu (...)

6In order to understand what is happening in these first turns of conversational opening in online video conversations, it is necessary to consider the ways in which interactions are opened in other contexts, both those which are technologically mediated, such as telephone talk, as well as those which are not. (For a discussion of similarities and differences between online and face-to-face interactions, see Kerbrat-Orrechioni, this volume). The opening phase of telephone conversations has been studied intensively (for example, Hopper 1989, 1991, 1992 ; Hopper et al. 1991 ; Hopper and Doany 1989 ; Schegloff 1968, 1979, 1986, 2002).2 These studies confirm an interactional process which orients to the interactional necessities of establishing an interaction between participants who are not co-present. These openings begin with a summons-answer sequence consisting of the ringing of the telephone and a resulting answer, as shown in Extract (2), which is taken from outside our current corpus.

Extract (2)

Anna : Hello ?

7This sequence confirms the opening of the channel of communication and the availability of the participants for talk. Once the channel is opened, the next relevant action is to establish the identities of the participants in the interaction. This is actually begun in the answer to the summons itself in which the recipient provides a voice sample which can be recognised by the caller (Schegloff 1979). Identification is a highly salient part of telephone openings, as participants do not have visual information with which to identify each other. The achievement of recognition of each of the participants through interaction is a pre-requisite for the interaction to proceed.

  • 3 “How are you” questions are the most culturally variable components of the opening. Such questions (...)

8Following identification, the opening may then move to greetings. Greetings serve to put the participants in the conversation into a state of ratified mutual participation (Goffman 1963). Sacks (1975, p. 64) has argued that greetings are “ahistorically relevant,” that is, they are deployed by people regardless of what previous interactions or relationship may exist between them. This means that greetings themselves are designed primarily for beginning conversation, not for other social or interactional goals. The final action routinely performed in telephone openings is an exchange of “how are you” sequences. These sequences provide for opportunities to make some state of being a matter for talk in the conversation or to pass this up as a relevant action at this point in the talk and in so doing provide for a bridge to the first topic of the conversation.3 The mediated nature of telephone interaction makes the tasks involved in establishing interaction much more explicit and requires some actions, such as identification, to be accomplished through talk rather than in other ways. The basic requirements of the telephone opening format are, however, replicated in the openings of face-to-face conversations (Liddicoat 2007).

  • 4 Openings in face-to-face interaction in French follow a similar trajectory (see Traverso 1996).

9In order for a face-to-face interaction to proceed, it is necessary to establish the presence of an interlocutor, which may be done through a summons-answer sequence or, alternatively, through establishing eye contact between participants (Kendon and Ferber 1973). Eye contact not only serves to establish the possibility of interaction, but also is an important element in recognising participants in the interaction. Frequently the simple action of directing one’s gaze toward another person achieves the necessary identification work and no explicit interaction work is necessary for identification to be achieved, although non-verbal (expression) or verbal means may also be employed (Goffman 1963). Once recognition has been established, participants may move into a closer spatial location in order to facilitate an interaction and exchange greetings to ratify their participation in the conversation.4

10This brief overview of conversation openings demonstrates that there are some basic interactional necessities which need to be achieved at the beginning of a conversational interaction :

  • participants need to be available to participate in the interaction and participation needs to be secured and assured ;
  • participants’ identities need to be established and known ;
  • participation needs to be mutually ratified ; and
  • topical talk needs to be initiated.

11These activities seem to be missing in online video conversations, if the conversation is taken as beginning when participants begin their spoken interaction. On the other hand, if the interaction is seen as being part of a more complex interaction established through the hybrid modalities available for online communication, the interactional trajectory of these conversations appears to be quite different.

12In beginning an online video conversation, the initiator of the conversation is faced with a significant interactional problem : s/he must secure a non-present co-participant for the conversation. This task must be accomplished through the technology and is achieved in this instance by a formulaic electronically created exchange – see Extract (3).

Extract (3) : Isabelle-Andrew – Isabelle’s computer
Andrew souhaite avoir une conversation vidéo.
Andrew wants to have a video conversation.

répondre (ALT+C) refuser (ALT+D)
answer (ALT+C) refuse (ALT+D)

vous avez répondu à l’appel.
you have answered the call.
Raccrocher (ALT+Q)
hang up (ALT+Q)

  • 5 It should be noted that the formulaic or routine nature of the interaction here is imposed by the t (...)

13Interactionally, the exchange X souhaite avoir une conversation vidéo – Répondre/Refuser performs multiple actions. At its most basic level, it serves to establish the availability of the participants for an interaction. The first turn functions as a summons to get the attention of another participant in order to undertake further talk (Nofsinger 1975 ; Schegloff 1968, 1986, 2002). The response choices allow either a “go-ahead response,” by selecting Répondre or a “blocking” response by selecting Refuser (Liddicoat 2007). In this way, the fixed and formulaic5 communication here functions in identical ways to other summons-answer sequences, whether designed for co-present interaction (vocal tokens such as hey, naming, etc.) or for technologically mediated interaction (such as the ringing of a telephone).

14Selecting the Répondre option makes a further contribution by the summoner interactionally relevant – typically the summons-answer is a generic pre-sequence which by its nature projects further talk (Liddicoat 2007 ; Schegloff 2002). However, this is not what happens in the case of the online written component of this interaction. The additional text here is simply an indication of what has been done by the recipient of the summons Vous avez répondu à l’appel, which serves not so much to inform the participant about his/her actions but to indicate the status of the online communication. The possibility for interaction has been established and the opening of the channel is ratified for the participants – with the option now being only to close the channel (Raccrocher). In this case, the participants’ next action is not to produce further talk, but rather to undertake a series of actions to fine-tune the channel for their conversation by establishing and organising the visual and auditory channels for talk. In this case, the summons-answer sequence launches a series of interactionally relevant non-language tasks rather than occasioning a next turn at talk. The next turn at talk is produced only once these actions have taken place and, consequently, it is significantly delayed with reference to the summons-answer sequence.

15A written third turn in response to a completed summons-answer sequence is interactionally possible in this context, but is not typical, as once the connection has been made participants normally proceed to establishing the visual and auditory channels for conversation. A written third turn is found in the following interaction.

Extract (4) : Samira-Andrew – Samira’s computer

Samira dit
c’est à cause des protections de l’ENS
Samira says
it’s because of the ENS’ protections
Samira dit
je raccroche
Samira says
I’m hanging up
Andrew dit
Andrews says
Samira dit
Vassilis est là j’attends votre appel
Samira says
Vassilis is here I’ll wait for your call
Andrew dit
Andrews says
Andrew souhaite avoir une conversation vidéo.
Andrew wants to have a video conversation.
Répondre (ALT+C) Refuser (ALT+D)
Answer (ALT+C) Refuse (ALT+D)
Vous avez répondu à l’appel.
You have answered the call.
Raccrocher (ALT-Q)
ang up (ALT-Q)
Andrew a dit
Andrews says

16Here the computer-generated interaction has been terminated and restored following a technical problem. In this case Andrew provides a third turn assessment which expands the summons-answer sequence but does not proceed to a relevant next action – the third turn continues the current action but does not begin the projected next action. The participants then work to establish the channel fully before beginning the online video conversation. In the interaction below, a new sequence is launched after the completion of the summons-answer sequence.

Extract (5) : Andrew-Céline – Céline’s computer

Andrew souhaite avoir une conversation vidéo.
Andrew wants to have a video conversation.
Répondre (ALT+C) Refuser (ALT+D)
Answer (ALT+C) Refuse (ALT+D)
Vous avez répondu à l’appel.
You have answered the call.
Raccrocher (ALT-Q)
Hang up (ALT-Q)
Céline en hiver dit
elle a mis en route l’enregistrement ?
Céline en hiver says
has she started the recording
Andrew dit :
non pas encore
Andrew says
no not yet

17In this case also the participants do not move to interaction but rather check that the necessary pre-conditions for the interaction are in place – in this case the recording – prior to establishing the visual and auditory channels for the online communication. In neither case does the online written interaction proceed to a conversation.

18The computer-mediated summons-answer sequence achieves more than providing opportunities for interaction. The formula here differs from those found in face-to-face and telephone interactions in a number of ways and these differences enable the formula used to achieve a number of additional actions. The form of summons means that this turn not only provides for interaction to be established but also performs identity work through the naming of the summoner. This structure provides for a very different status for the summons from that which is normally performed by summons turns – such turns normally deal with the identity of the recipient of the summons (e.g., by naming), not with the identity of the summoner. Recognition of the summoner is normally accomplished following the successful completion of the summons-answer turn, as the result of recognitional work after the establishment of mutual eye gaze (Goffman 1963) or as the result of identity-oriented talk by the participants (Schegloff 1979). This means that the interactional work involved with confirming identity found in other interactive contexts is performed prior to establishing the spoken interaction, not during the interaction itself.

19The summons-answer sequence and the non-language actions it occasions produce a situation in which interactants become present and available for a conversational interaction. Mutually ratified participation in everyday conversations is typically established through greetings, which function as displays of availability for participation. These are made evident by non-verbal signals such as the ways the members of the group are physically positioned (proxemics, posture, eye gaze). These resources are not deployed – and in some cases not available to be deployed – in the online video conversations studied. Instead, it appears that the summons-answer and the resulting actions accomplish mutually ratified participation for this interaction (Goffman 1981), as it is through these sequences that participants’ engagement in the interaction is made open and official. In establishing the channel, participants in online video conversations become visually present to each other, and hence available for conversational interaction, before verbal communication becomes possible. Participants therefore achieve co-presence for conversation in the online interactional space through their actions. The process of establishing a connection works to establish participation through its overt commitment to interaction as the relevant social action in which participants are engaged, and the process of readying oneself for interaction therefore constitutes a ratification device (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2004).

20The construction of the talk following the establishment of the visual and auditory channels shows that participants orient to the computer-generated interaction used to establish the connection as a relevant part of the online video conversation. That is, they do not perform these tasks in spoken interaction mode. The conversation does not begin when participants are able to communicate orally via computer, but rather the interaction is a hybrid, mixed mode interaction in which the oral and written components are both equally relevant. As a result, conversational interactions do not need to be established as part of the spoken interaction because they have already been established through the written interaction and actions involved in establishing a connection. In this way, participants orient to the online nature of their interaction as being a relevant constituent part of that interaction, not simply as a facilitative channel for interaction.

4. Interruptions to the conversation

21The hybridity of online conversation also becomes apparent when the technology intervenes to create problems for the conversational component of the interaction. In a number of cases in the data, problems such as distortion of the spoken channel, machine generated static, etc. have to be dealt with by the interactants in order to pursue the interaction. These problems need to be dealt with by disconnecting and reconnecting – that is, by interrupting the conversation by temporarily closing the channel. When this is done, the actions of stopping and starting are accompanied by machine generated text communications. The form of these textual messages constructs the activity underway as ending a conversation and starting a new one. When the conversation is interrupted, the computer-generated message is :

Extract (6) : Isabelle-Céline – Céline’s computer
Vous avez annulé la conversation.
You have cancelled the conversation.

22Linguistically this message constructs an event as having been ended, not interrupted – the computer-generated language is not sensitive to context. The re-establishment of the conversation is done in the same way that a conversation is initiated, as discussed above. Technologically, the action is marked as ending one conversation and beginning another. Participants orient to this activity in quite a different way, however : they orient to the conversation underway and remain in conversation, in the sense of being in mutually ratified participation, even though the channel has been disrupted. Their talk orients to their status as being within conversation even during the interruptions, as in Extract (7).

Extract (7) : Isabelle-Céline – 14 : 46 – Céline’s computer

((Céline’s image appears))
((Isabelle’s image appears))
cél p !
cél ouais
isa .hhh okay.
isa hh. .hh
isa euhm je ne sais plus ce que je disai : s=oui si c’est possible en fait.
uhm I don’t know what I was saying anymore=yes if it’s possible in fact.
cél oui.

23In this extract, Céline begins talk once that the call has been re-established, that is, at the moment Isabelle’s image reappears on the screen. Her ouais here orients to the successful re-establishment of the connection, as does Isabelle’s okay. The talk here is potentially ambiguous as it appears to be designed as a “think aloud” (Schegloff 1988) in which internal thought processes are vocalised, without being specifically constructed as participation in a spoken exchange. This is most noticeably the case with Céline’s talk, which is produced before Isabelle attends to her interlocutor and while she is engaged in activities related to re-establishing the channel. Once this talk has been completed, the participants turn immediately to topic talk, and in this case, to reconnecting with the current state of talk at the moment at which the interaction was interrupted. The participants do not establish a new interaction, but orient to the re-establishment of an activity which is currently underway. Social participation is treated as already established ; it is only the technological channel which needs to be re-established.

24The interruption itself may also become a topic for talk after the connection has been re-established, as is the case in Extract (8).

Extract (8) : Isabelle-Céline – 6 : 49 – Céline’s computer

isa Oui
cél C’est mieu : x.
It’s better
isa T’avais le même bruit ?
Did you have the same sound ?
cél Ah oui, j’entendais peu. (0.4) euh-une espèce de martellement.
Ah yes, I heard little. (0.4) uh-a sort of hammering.
isa C’est clair
It’s clear
cél .
bon on continue.
Good let’s continue.

25Here, after talk related to the reconnection of the channel (oui, c’est mieux), Isabelle launches the disruption as a topic for talk. Her talk works to determine whether or not the problem – computer-generated static – was a mutual problem. This talk serves not only to launch the disruption as a discussable, but also provides a warrant for Isabelle’s action in having terminated the previous connection. The nature of the technology means that termination is a potentially unilateral act – either participant may select “raccrocher” and close the connection. This is what Isabelle has just done and her breaking of the connection was not negotiated by the participants prior to this, as the machine-generated noise prevented a spoken exchange at this point. Such unilateral closure of talk is potentially accountable (Button 1991) and the topic of noise therefore allows Isabelle to provide an account for her prior action once the connection has been re-established. Such accounts appear to be highly relevant where a conversation has been interrupted for the first time, but where there are repeated interruptions, as was the case in the conversation between Isabelle and Céline, subsequent interruptions are less likely to be accounted for. This can be seen in Extract (9), the second interruption to the conversation.

Extract (9) : Isabelle-Céline – 12 : 30 – Céline’s computer ((Isabelle’s image appears))

cél p !
isa oua[is.
cél [$Allô : .$
isa heh heh [.hh heh
cél [°heh heh°
isa Maintenant je ne sais plu : s
Now I don’t now anymore
cél .hh [euh
isa [(euh oui) je disai : s
(uh yes) I was saying
cél Non tu di- mais donc toi tu disais que tu préférais connaître des personnes (.) avec (.) qui tu (irais en vacances.)
No you were sa- but so you were saying that you preferred to know the people (.) with (.) whom you went on vacation.
isa Ouais.

26In this case, once the connection has been re-established there is no talk about the problem which occasioned the interruption. In fact, this is dealt with only through the allô token and ratifying laughter. The conversation then moves immediately to re-establishing the prior talk. An even more reduced trajectory is found in Extract (7).

27In most cases, exchanges around the interruption were conducted through the spoken channel, but in one case, the written chat mode was used to deal with issues relevant to the interruption itself.

Extract (10) : Isabelle-Céline – Céline’s computer

céline en hiver dit :
céline en hiver says
quand je réponds répondre il dit que j’ai répondu raccrocher !
when I answer answer it says I answered hang up !
Zaz dit :
Zaz says
appelle-moi toi
you call me
céline en hiver dit :
céline en hiver says
  • 6 In this conversation, owing to ongoing technological problems with the spoken channel, the particip (...)

28In this case, Isabelle has broken the connection and has sent a message to restart it. Céline clicks on “répondre” but does not launch the connection. Isabelle then retries, with the same result. When this happens, Céline uses chat to account for the lack of response from her in establishing the connection and the written medium serves as the communication channel for resolving the problem.6

29In all of these interruptions to the spoken communication, the participants engage written language as a component of the online interaction. Written language, whether computer-generated language or chat, is a parallel channel which is always present and always potentially available even if it is not used. Chat can also be used for functions such as summarising the main points of a discussion in which case it does effectively operate in parallel with spoken interaction. However, in most cases it appears that participants use written modes when the spoken mode is not available rather than as an adjunct to the spoken mode. Although the use of written mode seems to be selective, it is nonetheless the case that participants orient to and engage with the multimodality of online interactions at relevant points.

5. Closing online conversation

30A further place in which the hybrid nature of online spoken interactions is at play is the closing of the interaction, as can be seen in Extract (11).

ISA Voilà : .
That’s it.
AND Bon.
ISA °Ben c’est bon. °Heh heh
Well it’s good.
AND On a fini¿
We’ve finished
ISA Oka : y.
AND Mhm.
ISA Voilà :
That’s it.

Extract (11) : Isabelle-Andrew – 26 : 56 – Isabelle’s computer

Extract (11) : Isabelle-Andrew – 26 : 56 – Isabelle’s computer
ISA B- a : h à [tout de suite] .h heh heh
Ah see you soon]
AND Ben à tout de suite
Okay see you soon
AND Merci
Thank you
ISA Merci à toi
Thanks to you

31In Extract (11), Andrew and Isabelle end their online spoken interaction using a relatively common format found in spoken interactions (see Button 1991), which involves negotiating the possibility of closure over a series of turns at talk. Here, Andrew begins by proposing closure, on a fini¿. He thereby orients to the completion of the task, and this is ratified by Isabelle’s oka : y. The proposal comes immediately after a sequence-closing sequence (Liddicoat 2007, Schegloff 2007) in which the previous long stretch of topic talk is closed down. This sequence-closing sequence creates a context in which the conversation can be seen as potentially over, and closing can be relevantly commenced. The participants then produce a pair of preclosing components, with limited semantic content – Andrew’s mhm and Isabelle’s voilà – each of which functions to pass up an opportunity to introduce new mentionables into the conversation. At this point, spoken interactions would typically move to an exchange of terminal components (good-bye tokens), but instead of this, there is a long pause. Isabelle fills this pause non-verbally ; she lowers her gaze to the bottom left of the screen and then moves her gaze from left to right, and at the same time her mouse pointer moves across the screen from left to right. During this pause, she has withdrawn her gaze from her interlocutor and is attending to tasks relevant to closing the channel. The gaze movement is available to Andrew, even though the mouse pointer is not (see Cosnier and Develotte, this volume), and his silence seems to orient to the filled nature of Isabelle’s pause. During this entire pause, Andrew maintains the same posture and gaze position, which are those he has used when speaking during the sequence. Isabelle then interrupts her moving of the mouse, raises her gaze back to Andrew, and initiates a terminal adjacency pair with à tout de suite, which is reciprocated by Andrew.

  • 7 It is probable that the possibilities for talk in the “post-closure” position are highly restricted (...)

32At this point, the participants have mutually ratified the closure of their conversation, and the two are now no longer relevantly in conversation. However, although closure has been accomplished interactionally, the channel is still open and the participants are still co-present in the sense that the image of each remains available to the other and the spoken channel is still available. Isabelle again withdraws her gaze from Andrew and the mouse pointer moves from the bottom right of the screen to the “close” icon at the top right in preparation to break the channel. During this time, Andrew has continued to maintain the same posture and appears to be orienting to the continued co-presence of Isabelle. During the space between the exchange of terminal components and the breaking of the connection, Andrew introduces further talk in the form of an appreciation and receives a response from Isabelle. During this exchange, Isabelle pauses in her move to close the active window. She only closes the window (and thus the connection) once the exchange has been completed and, after finishing her appreciation, she moves her body backwards, withdrawing physically from her “in conversation” posture (Goodwin 1979, Schegloff 1998). Exchanges of appreciations during closing sequences typically constitute a movement out of closing (Button 1987) and return the participants to conversation, after which closing needs to be re-established. This, however, is not what happens here. Instead, the conversation is terminated with the appreciation. Moreover, this exchange does not lead to a change in Isabelle’s eye gaze, which remains focused to the right of the computer screen. The appreciations appear to be produced in a post-closure position in which a conversation has been interactionally closed, but in which further talk can be produced without changing the status of the conversation as relevantly concluded.7

33It appears that the disarticulation of interactionally-accomplished closure and technologically-accomplished closure creates an interactional problem for the participants. They have closed the conversation, but they are in ongoing co-presence. The result is silent co-presence, which poses its own interactional problems (Jefferson 1989). This creates a space in which further talk can be generated to cover the silence and make the continuing co-presence less interactionally difficult.

6. Conclusion

34The analysis here demonstrates that online video conversations are not simply spoken interactions mediated by technology. Rather the technology is a constituent part of these interactions and participants orient to and engage with the multimodal constituents of the channel in constructing, understanding, and enacting their participation. At its most minimal, online conversation involves a multimodal accomplishment of opening and closing. Conversations are opened in written mode using computer-generated text. This is not simply a technological act of establishing a channel, but rather also performs salient interactional work, which is oriented to as already accomplished from the beginning of the spoken interaction. These conversations are closed in a staged way, in which conversation must be first interactionally closed and then technologically closed. This causes a dislocation between socially accomplished and actual closing, produced by the ongoing transmission of participants’ images beyond interactional closure. In addition to these boundary events, the multimodality also becomes a resource for dealing with problems caused by the technology itself. Technological failure can require movement out of online talk, or supplementation of online talk with online text, with possibilities for moving between talk and text. The analysis of online conversations is therefore not simply the analysis of computer-mediated talk ; rather it is the analysis of technologically situated interaction, which needs to focus on not only what is said, but also how the interaction is accomplished as a technologically situated interaction.

Transcription conventions

35See Liddicoat (2007) for a fuller discussion.

word. falling intonation
word, slight rising intonation
word¿ rising intonation, weaker than that indicated by a question mark
word ? strongly rising intonation
wor talk is cut off
>word< talk is faster than surrounding talk
<word> talk is slower than surrounding talk
WORD talk is louder than surrounding talk
°word° talk is quieter than surrounding talk
↑ or ↓ marked rising or falling shifts in pitch
wo : : rd lengthening of a sound or syllable
word emphasis
[] simultaneous/overlapping talk or action
(word) transcriber uncertainty
(1), (0.3) timed intervals (silence), in seconds and tenths of seconds
(.) short untimed pause, less than 0.2 of a second
|- (0.2) -| duration of action during silence
.hh audible inhalations
hh audible exhalations
heh heh laughter
$ smile voice


1 The data on which this paper is based is recorded through a computer which shows only one participant’s perspective ; all examples will therefore indicate which computer perspective has been used.

2 The discussion here is based on openings in English ; however the format described appears to be quite robust across cultures and has been described for other languages, including French (Hopper and Doany 1989).

3 “How are you” questions are the most culturally variable components of the opening. Such questions are found in both English and French (Hopper and Doany 1989) but are not found in all cultures. However, some form of question which potentially opens opportunities for topical talk appears to be found across cultures (see for example Hopper and Doany 1989 ; So’o and Liddicoat 2000).

4 Openings in face-to-face interaction in French follow a similar trajectory (see Traverso 1996).

5 It should be noted that the formulaic or routine nature of the interaction here is imposed by the technology rather than achieved by the participants (see Schegloff 1986). The turns which constitute the summons-answer sequence consist of a fixed format with a slot into which participants’ identifications are inserted.

6 In this conversation, owing to ongoing technological problems with the spoken channel, the participants eventually move to written chat as the sole medium for communication.

7 It is probable that the possibilities for talk in the “post-closure” position are highly restricted. Button (1987) argues that appreciations, especially appreciations for the interaction itself, are minor instances of moving out of closure, which are less disruptive to closing sequences than other types of moving out. As such, these moves are probably also least disruptive to actually established closure than other types of talk may be.

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Titre Extract (11) : Isabelle-Andrew – 26 : 56 – Isabelle’s computer
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Research Centre for Languages and Cultures, University
Of South Australia (Australie)

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