This paper presents this system, then focuses on an experimental field study of 4 groups of 6 – 8 friends, family, and co-workers who used the system, and for comparison, an identical system limited to one-to-one messaging, over a 2 – 3 week period.
1.1 Mobile Messaging
Text messaging (texting) is a significant form of communication worldwide, particularly among younger generations, used largely for leisure purposes such as chatting (Grinter and Eldridge 2003). Among other uses, studies highlight the role of texting in “microcoordination” (Ling and Yttri 2002) and for creating a critical private connection for teens wishing to keep communications out of earshot of parents (Grinter and Eldridge 2001), particularly in cultures where teens have relatively little private physical space (Ito 2005). Preferable payment plans in many parts of the world also contribute to the significant use of texting.
In thinking about group-based messaging, it is worthwhile to consider some of the different purposes for which text messaging is used today. Grinter and Eldridge (2001) identified three broad categories of uses for text messages, all of which play a role in day-to-day leisure activities: chatting, communication coordinations, and planning activities. How would these uses be impacted within the social context of a group? Because group-based messaging expands the reach of the conversation, we expect that the amount of chatting would increase simply because conversations in the presence of a group are read and may be expanded on by any member of the group. Communication coordinations (i.e., planning a future communication) are likely more suited to a one-to-one communication context and thus would drop off in a group messaging environment. Messages for planning and coordinating are likely to increase as a direct reflection of increased social communication and awareness. For example, just knowing that someone is free on a Friday night increases the likelihood that others will include her in an outing or get together of some kind and the corresponding pre-event coordination.
How would the more intimate mobile messaging practices, such as gift giving (Taylor and Harper 2002) and teasing (Kurvinen 2003) fare in the group context? We might expect intimate exchanges to drop off given the somewhat less appropriate communication context of the group. Additionally, there might be less obligation of reciprocity in a group context when messages are not addressed to a specific individual, contributing to a case of diffusion of responsibility (Darley and Latane 1968). Regarding teasing, the group context may better lend itself to a related form of communication: joking. In their frequency analysis of text message types, Grinter and Eldridge coded a fairly small percentage of messages as jokes (joking was part of an “Other” category totaling only 12% of all messages). This percentage may increase in a group-based messaging environment as group members riff off one another.