Tom Erickson
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Discourse Architectures:
Designing and Visualizing Computer Mediated Conversation

A workshop at CHI 2002

Tom Erickson (
Susan Herring (
Warren Sack (


Last updated: June 13, 2002


The position papers are no longer available: Context Tom if you care...


About the Workshop

The goal of the workshop was to investigate the relationship between conversation and the design of CMC systems. Specifically, we proposed to examine conversational coherence from the perspective of graphical interfaces. Our approach was to invite researchers and designers of CMC systems to submit position papers that addressed how they dealt with the issue of conversational coherence in their work. For researchers this often involved theories of coherence, or analytical methods (grounded in some theoretical perspective) for examining ways in which coherence is achieved. For designers this involved approaches to designing systems that foster or encourage some form of coherence, or analyzing the ways in which coherence is achieved (or not) in existing systems. In both cases our focus was on the role played by graphical representations, either in support or illustrating analysis, or, in the context of CMC systems, in the way graphical representations served as a resource for the production and maintenance of coherence.

Sessions and Position Papers

Session 1: Introduction
Welcome, 30-sec round-the-table intros, structure and purpose, introductory remarks
Session 2: Social Coherence and Graphs
Howard D. White. Cross-Textual Cohesion and Coherence.
Caroline Haythornthwaite and Michael Twidale. Visualization of Conversationally Constructed Social Networks.
John C. Paolillo: Social Coherence in Computer-Mediated Communication.
Noriko Hara (discussant)
Warren Sack (discussant)
Session 3: Egocentric Relationships, Faces, and Clusters
1. Shelly Farnham.Visualizing Discourse Architectures with Automatically Generated Person-Centric Social Networks.
2. Carman Neustaedter & Saul Greenberg. Supporting Coherence with a 3D Instant Messenger Visualization.
3. Steve Whittaker, Quentin Jones, Loren Terveen. Using personal social networks to support communication.
Yvonne Rogers. Discussant
Wendy Kellogg. Discussant
Session 4: Threads, Intertextual Relations, Tables, and Trees
Christine Halverson. Building Coherence through Analysis ­ and Potential Design Implications: position paper not available
Kerstin Severinson Eklundh and Henrry Rodriguez. Exploring coherence relationships in online group discussions around Web documents
Paula S. Newman: Treetables for Reading Archived Discussions
Danyel Fisher. Discussant
Susan Herring. Discussant
Session 5: Participants, Topics, Circles, Boxes, and Pages
Judith Donath. Visualizing Conversational Coherence
Marc Smith
Greg Wolf. Visual Discourse: Explicitly constructing the visual representation of a conversation. position paper not available
Quentin Jones. Discussant
Tom Erickson. Discussant
Session 6: Synthesis and Wrap Up
Susan Herring. Discussant

Original Workshop Proposal

The goal of this workshop is to examine the issue of coherence in computer-mediated (text-based) conversation (CMC), and how it can be visualized graphically. Coherence, broadly defined, is that which in a discourse connects utterances with utterances, utterances with people, and people with other people. It is, in short, the "glue" of text and conversation. Coherence is manifested in and through patterns of message exchange (including turn-taking, threading, and cross-posting), citation and other forms of intertextual reference, and social networks. Visualizations of coherence phenomena take the form of graphical user interfaces and graphical representations produced by quantitative and/or qualitative analyses.

In this workshop, we will approach the issue of coherence from two perspectives: design and analysis. As designers of CMC systems, we often sense that computer-mediated conversation has a tendency towards drift, dissolution and chaos, and that participants in CMC have to do extra work to 'stay on course.' Therefore, we solicit approaches to designing CMC systems that aim to support participants in achieving coherence in their conversational interactions. We especially encourage reports of novel CMC system designs that support coherence, as well as analyses that visualize ways in which participants have developed practices that support the achievement of coherence in conventional CMC systems.

At the same time, as analysts, we recognize that computer-mediated conversations are often not as chaotic as they appear to the untrained eye. Coherence lurks below the surface, and we have developed a wide range of analytical techniques for uncovering and explicating it. Often these techniques involve diagrams or other graphical representations of structure (among utterances, persons, groups, or some combination of these). We solicit descriptions and demonstrations of analytical techniques for representing coherence in CMC.

We use the phrase 'Discourse Architectures' as a rubric for both of these perspectives. That is, we are interested both in the structure or architecture *of* discourse (the ways in which the utterances which form a conversation interrelate and build upon one another), and in architectures *for* discourse (the ways in which CMC systems can be designed to shape the conversation that takes place within them).

The basic premise underlying the workshop is that the understandings of coherence developed by designers and researchers can usefully inform one another. Analytical representations based on discourse research and/or theory might, suitably modified, serve as interface designs, and the interplay between graphical user interfaces and the achievement of coherence by users might advance research understandings.

A full length version of the proposal.


Tom Erickson

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