Designing Computer Mediated Communication through Alternatives: Digital Ephemerality, Content De-emphasis and Their Implications

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Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has long been a key theme in computer-supported collaborative work, human-computer interaction, communication, psychology, linguistics, and other fields. Much CMC design research has focused on recreating features of face-to-face interaction or in capturing and transmitting rich information. In this thesis, I argue that a focus on rich interaction and rich information transmission overlooks many interesting situations and design choices when rich information is not necessarily beneficial. More specifically, I explore how ephemeral media, which illuminate the alternative dimension of temporal preservation, particularly on the question of how long to retain content, and how a medium that de-emphasizes content, which highlights interaction rather than information, respectively influence the ways people interact with these tools. These explorations help inform a design space that includes other interesting dimensions such as the message materiality, interaction flow and system fidelity for CMC tools that designers have yet to fully explore. My approach to exploring this alternative design space is three-pronged. First, I think critically about the normative designs of CMC tools and consider alternatives to these designs, particularly digital ephemerality and content de-emphasis, as valuable sources for highlighting alternative purposes and goals users aim to achieve. Second, I conduct qualitative studies of users of a conventional CMC tool (Snapchat) and research prototype I have built (BubbleQ) to understand how these designs influence users’ communicative practices. Third, I do iterative designs and evaluation of the prototype I built to advance designs from both my critical thinking and my study findings. The first study showed that Snapchat’s ephemerality benefited communication by encouraging mundane interactions that support relationship maintenance between closer relations, reduce consciousness in self-presentation, and mitigate privacy violation issues in content saving and sharing. The second study shows that BubbleQ’s content de-emphasis design highlighted interaction rather than contents in messaging, leading to an alternative conversational flow that encouraged mundane and lightweight talk for social connection and helped highlight meanings in messages without explicit contents. I use my findings to explore my two focal dimensions (temporal preservation and the focus on interaction rather than contents) more deeply. I also discuss the implications of formatively designing alternatives by assessing the materiality of digital messages, interaction flows that define the rhythm and speed of communication processes, and alternative levels of fidelity that violate the conventional emphasis on accuracy and genuineness of contents.

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Information science; Design; Computer Mediated Communication; Design Research; Digital Ephemerality; Ephemeral Communication; Messaging; Communication


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Union Local


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Committee Chair

Cosley, Daniel R.

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Fussell, Susan R.
Bazarova, Natalya N.

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Information Science

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Ph. D., Information Science

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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