Instant Messaging for Collaboration:
A Case Study of a High-Tech Firm

Authors

  • Anabel Quan-Haase,

    Corresponding author
    1. A professor at the University of Western Ontario in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and the Department of Sociology. Her research investigates social networks, community, communication technology, and social change. She has been a Fellow of the Knowledge Media Design Institute and the McLuhan Programme in Culture and Technology. Her articles on Internet-related social and organizational change have been published in journals such as American Behavioral Scientist, Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, and Analyse and Kritik.
    • Address: Sociology, Social Science Center, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario 6A 5C2, Canada

      Address: BTC, 635 N. Fifth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 USA

      Address: Centre for Urban & Community Studies, University of Toronto, 455 Spadina Avenue, Toronto M5S 2G8, Canada

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  • Joseph Cothrel,

    Corresponding author
    1. (M.A., University of Michigan) is the president of BTC, a consultancy specializing in collaborative technology. He has spoken at many conferences on the subject of computer-mediated communication, including Communities & Technologies, the International Conference on Virtual Communities, Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, and Vircomm. His articles have appeared in such publications as MIT Sloan Management Review, IBM's Knowledge Directions, Strategy & Leadership, and the Journal of Knowledge Management.
    • Address: Sociology, Social Science Center, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario 6A 5C2, Canada

      Address: BTC, 635 N. Fifth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 USA

      Address: Centre for Urban & Community Studies, University of Toronto, 455 Spadina Avenue, Toronto M5S 2G8, Canada

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  • Barry Wellman

    Corresponding author
    1. Professor of Sociology and director of NetLab at the University of Toronto's Centre. He is author or (co-)editor of more than 200 articles and three books:Social Structures: A Network Approach, Networks in the Global Village, and The Internet in Everyday Life. Prof. Wellman is Chair of the Communications and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association, Chair Emeritus of the ASA's Community and Urban Sociology section, Founder Emeritus of the International Network for Social Network Analysis, and President of the Sociological Research Association. His current research looks at how the Internet is affecting the “connected lives” of people at work, at home and in the community.
    • Address: Sociology, Social Science Center, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario 6A 5C2, Canada

      Address: BTC, 635 N. Fifth Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 USA

      Address: Centre for Urban & Community Studies, University of Toronto, 455 Spadina Avenue, Toronto M5S 2G8, Canada

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Abstract

This article examines uses of instant messaging (IM) in a high-tech firm to illustrate how knowledge workers use this new work tool to collaborate with co-workers. The objectives are 1) to identify the collaborative practices of individuals in mediated work environments by looking at uses of IM; 2) to discern what social processes are reflected in employees' use of IM; and 3) to investigate how three factors proposed by Erickson and Kellogg (2000) to support social processes—visibility, awareness and accountability—are used in an IM system. Questionnaire and interview data show that while IM leads to higher connectivity and new forms of collaboration, it also creates distance: employees use the mediated environment as a shield, distancing themselves from superiors. We use Erickson & Kellogg's ‘social translucence of technology’ framework to discuss the social consequences of working in a computer-mediated work environment.

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