Visualizing Conversation


  • Judith Donath,

    Corresponding author
    1. Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where she is the director of the Sociable Media Group. Her research focuses on the social side of computing, synthesizing knowledge from fields such as graphic design, urban studies and cognitive science to create novel and intuitive mediated environments. She is the creator of numerous projects that address the problem of design for social interaction, such as “Visual Who” (a visualization of activity and affiliations in a virtual community),“Portraits in Cyberspace” (a participatory art show) and “The Electric Postcard” (a popular web/email amalgamation). She received her doctoral and master's degrees in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT, her bachelor's degree in History from Yale University, and has worked professionally as a designer and builder of educational software and experimental media.
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  • Karrie Karahalios,

    1. Graduate student in the Media Lab's Sociable Media Group. Her current work focuses on developing interfaces that examine the interaction of people and the social cues they perceive in networked electronic spaces. Previous work has included browsing large video banks as well as reconstructing three-dimensional spaces from multiple media sources. She holds an SB in electrical engineering, an ME in electrical engineering and computer science, and an SM in media arts and sciences from MIT.
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  • Fernanda Viégas

    1. Graduate student in the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Laboratory. Her current work explores the display of digital collections in the home environment. Past work includes the development of an abstract graphical environment for online conversation where history is graphically captured. Prior to joining the Media Lab, Viegas received her bachelor's degree in Graphic Design and Art History from the University of Kansas.
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Although the archive of text generated by a persistent conversation (i.e. newsgroup, mailing list, recorded chat, etc.) is searchable, it is not very expressive of the underlying social patterns. In this paper we will discuss the design of graphical interfaces that reveal the social structure of the conversation by visualizing patterns such as bursts of activity, the arrival of new members, or the evolution of conversational topics. Our focus is on two projects: Chat Circles, a graphical interface for synchronous conversation and Loom, a visualization of threaded discussion. Through these examples we will explore key issues in the generation, design and use of graphical interfaces for persistent conversations.