Tom Erickson
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Persistent Conversation: Home Page

The Persistent Conversation minitrack and workshop was a yearly gathering of people who design and study systems that support computer-mediated communication. Persistent conversation is not limited to asynchronous textual communication: It includes instant messaging and voice chat and other 'ephemeral' media. Nor do we limit our focus to systems explicitly designed to support conversation: We are interested in conversational exchanges as manifested in applications like blogs, annotation systems, and in sites oriented around the use of photos and video.


We're sorry to say that we are discontinuing the Persistent Conversation minitrack and workshop. We've greatly enjoyed it, but ten years (eleven for the minitrack) is a long time, and it is time to move on to other things.

Do check out the Persistent Conversation history page to see the (very impressive) list of authors who have participated, and the set of 89 papers produced during the minitrack's tenure. We're grateful for the support we've received – from our authors, reviewers and the administration of HICSS – and wish everyone the best in their future endeavors.

-- Tom Erickson and Susan Herring, January 2010



About the Minitrack

This interdisciplinary minitrack and workshop brings designers and researchers together to explore persistent conversation, the transposition of ordinarily ephemeral conversation into the potentially persistent digital medium. Persistent conversations occur via instant messaging, text and voice chat, email, blogs, web boards, MOOs, graphical and 3D virtual environments, gaming systems, video sharing sites, document annotation systems, mobile phone texting, etc. Such communication is persistent in that it leaves a digital trace, and the trace in turn affords new uses. It permits conversations to be saved, visualized, browsed, searched, replayed, and restructured. Persistence also means that conversations need not be synchronous: they can be asynchronous (stretching out over hours or days) or supersynchronous (with multiple parties 'talking' at the same time). Finally, the creation of persistent and potentially permanent records from what was once an ephemeral process raises a variety of social and ethical issues.

The particular aim of the minitrack and workshop is to bring together researchers who analyze existing computer-mediated conversational practices and sites, with designers who propose, implement, or deploy new types of conversational systems. By bringing together participants from such diverse areas as anthropology, computer-mediated communication, HCI, interaction design, linguistics, management, psychology, rhetoric, sociology, and the like, we hope that the work of each may inform the others, suggesting new questions, methods, perspectives, and design approaches.

About Paper Topics

We are seeking papers that address one or both of the following two general areas:
  • Understanding Practice. The burgeoning popularity of the internet (and intranets) provides an opportunity to study and characterize new forms of conversational practice. Questions of interest range from how various features of conversations (e.g., turn-taking, topic organization, expression of paralinguistic information) have adapted in response to the digital medium, to new roles played by persistent conversation in domains such as education, business, and entertainment.
  • Design. Digital systems do not currently support conversation well: it is difficult to converse with grace, clarity, depth and coherence over networks. But this need not remain the case. Toward this end, we welcome analyses of existing systems as well as designs for new systems which better support conversation. Also of interest are inquiries into how participants design their own conversations within the digital medium -- that is, how they make use of system features to create, structure, and regulate their discourse.
Examples of appropriate topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Turn-taking, threading and other structural features of CMC
  • The dynamics of large scale conversation systems (e.g. blog networks)
  • Methods for summarizing or visualizing conversation archives
  • Studies of virtual communities or other sites of digital conversation
  • The roles of mediated conversation in knowledge management
  • Studies of the use of instant messaging in large organizations
  • Novel designs for computer-mediated conversation systems
  • Analyses of or designs for distance learning systems
  • For other examples of appropriate topics see the list of previous years' papers:

    Instructions for Abstract Submission

    1. Submit a 300 word abstract of your proposed paper via email to the chairs: Tom Erickson (snowfall at acm dot org), Susan Herring (herring at indiana dot edu) by the deadline noted above.
    2. We will send you feedback on the suitability of your abstract by the deadline noted above.

    Instructions for Paper Submission

    1. HICSS papers must contain original material not previously published, or currently submitted elsewhere. All papers will be submitted in double column publication format and limited to 10 pages including diagrams and references. Papers undergo a double-blind review.
    2. Do not submit the manuscript to more than one Minitrack Chair. If unsure which Minitrack is appropriate, submit the abstract to the Track Chair for guidance.
    3. Submit your full paper according to detailed instructions found at

    The Workshop

    The minitrack is preceded by a half-day workshop the first day of HICSS. This workshop sets the stage for the minitrack, and is intended to promote dialog between those who design persistent conversation systems, and those who study them. Iin late November we select a CMC site that each workshop member will be asked to analyze, critique, redesign, or otherwise examine using their disciplinary tools and techniques before the workshop convenes. The workshop will include presentations and discussions of the participants' examinations of the site and its content.

    The workshop is open to anyone willing to do the pre-workshop activity. Typically it includes all minitrack authors, as well as to those who will form the core audience for the minitrack. To participate in the workshop you need to either check that option when registering for HICSS, or contact Tom Erickson (snowfall at acm dot org) and Susan Herring (herring at indiana dot edu).



    Thomas Erickson is a Research Staff Member and an interaction designer and researcher at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in New York. He is interested in understanding how large groups of people interact via networks, and in designing systems that support deep, productive, coherent, network-mediated conversation. Originally trained as a cognitive psychologist, Erickson has evolved into an interaction designer and researcher via work at a start up, Apple Computer, and IBM Research. Erickson is co-editor of HCI Remixed: Essays on Works that have Influenced the HCI Community (MIT Press, 2008).

    Susan Herring is a Professor of Information Science and Linguistics at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research applies language-focused methods of analysis to digital conversations in order to identify their recurrent properties and social effects. She is the editor of Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Benjamins, 1996), Computer-Mediated Conversation (Hampton, in press), co-editor of The Multicultural Internet: Language, Culture, and Communication Online (Oxford, 2007), and Editor of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.

    For More Information


    What the Minitrack is like

     The Persistent Conversation minitrack at HICSS is halfway been a conference and a workshop. The minitrack includes a broad range of papers, and makes an effort to bring together researchers and designers from many disciplinary backgrounds. Authors and a core of interested participants from multiple disciplines spend a day together presenting and discussing papers on the topic of persistent conversation.

    Papers range from those that describe innovative system designs to analyses of existing systems and practices. The pictures below provide a glimpse of the minitrack.


    Fernanda Viegas presents "Newsgroup Crowds and AuthorLines: Visualizing the Activity of Individuals in Conversational Cyberspaces..." by Ferndana Viegas (MIT Media Lab) and Marc Smith (Microsoft Research).

    Sheri Condon presents"Temporal Properties of Turn-Taking and Turn-Packaging in Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication" by Claude Cech (University of Louisianna at Lafayette) and Sherri Condon (The MITRE Corporation).

    Picture of presentation

    David McDonald (Univeristy of Washington) challenges his audience to "analyze this" in his presentation of his paper "Visual Conversation Styles in Web Communities."


    HICSS also strives to provide time for quality discussion, with a format that reserves plenty of time for discussion. The conference also provides ample opportunities and beautiful settings in which to continue discussions after the sessions.


    Below, minitrack authors Lori Kendall (University of Illinois), Stephanie Woerner (MIT) and Therese Örnberg Berglund (Umeå University) talk at a reception.

    Discussion at reception


    Tom Erickson

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