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15/02/2006

Blogs are bad conversations, psychologist study suggests

Oh you didn't like that headline, did you? You disagree? Well let me listen to your point of view - I really care what you think.

Findings in a study by the University of Chicago indicates that written exchanges between people are very likely to be misunderstood. It's a truism beloved of presentation trainers that 80% of communication is non-verbal, so it's no surprise that when it comes to emails, IM and blog exchanges there is so much room for misunderstanding.

The focus of the study was email, but it has a lot of relevance for comment and trackback exchanges on blogs and message board strings.

According to the study, covered in a Wired magazine article and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people think that they correctly read the tone of an email message 90% of the time, whereas in reality they only have a 50% chance of doing so.

A lot of emails are fairly innocuous exchanges of information so this doesn't really matter most of the time. But most blog posts and comments are more often than not opinionated, so emotions can come into play easily and the temperature of debate can rise quickly, and sometimes unnecessarily.

It is very possible that this ambiguity in written communication is behind the reputation for bloggers being generally rabid and aggressive, an issue picked up in mainstream media frequently.

According to the Wired article:

The reason for this is egocentrism, or the difficulty some people have detaching themselves from their own perspective, says Epley. In other words, people aren't that good at imagining how a message might be understood from another person's perspective.

"E-mail is very easy to misinterpret, which not only triggers flame wars but lots of litigation," says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the e-Policy Institute and author of guidebooks E-Mail Rules and Instant Messaging Rules. Many companies battle workplace lawsuits triggered by employee e-mail, according to Flynn.

We haven’t seen any major legal battles as a result of a misunderstanding on blogs, but surely it can only be a matter of time?

I guess that as much as I sometimes think they are too cutesey, it shows why we need emoticons. ;-)

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