We all know this situation, don’t we? I’m chatting with someone online — maybe in text, maybe via avatar, maybe with video — and the pauses get awkward. We start talking over each other, then the silence grows while we wait for openings. In video, I’m not always sure if my friend has simply stopped moving, if there’s packet loss, or if the connection has dropped. In text or avatar chat, maybe it’s lag, maybe the other person has crashed but hasn’t been signed off yet, maybe there is something happening offline that is taking attention, or maybe the conversation is simply going poorly. Even when I know the other person well, this can lead to misunderstandings and confusion.
Research at the Technical University of Berlin that is published in the May issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies used artificial transmission delays to examine how strangers reacted to delays in video chat. From the summary of the study on Slate’s Future Tense blog today:
People feel they are being interrupted more often even if the person they are talking to didn’t intentionally speak out of turn. Sometimes both people just stop talking, and no one knows who should continue. The conversation gets confused, and people need to explicitly state whose turn it is to talk. It’s all very far from the way conversation flows in real life.
The awkwardness is heightened if people are unfamiliar to each other. They have no prior knowledge about the other person’s personality or how they normally speak. …
For transmission delays of 1.2 seconds, the interlocutor was rated as less attentive, friendly, and self-disciplined than if there was no delay. Our research has also shown that the initial interaction speed of a conversation is essential for how much people realize that there is a technical problem.
It’s not surprising to me that there would be negative consequences, but those are some nasty traits to be rated poorly if one is using video chat in a business context. It emphasizes the importance of controlling latency, as Philip Rosedale covered at the VWBPE conference, for VR to move to a mainstream form of interaction.