Preservation And Instant Messaging


The Web 2.0 environment has a strong emphasis on communications between individuals and not just one-way publishing. This pattern of usage places additional challenges for institutions wishing to ensure that records are kept of the dialogue which takes place. And these challenges may well need to be addressed within the context of policies on the preservation of Web resources as increasingly digital communications technologies will have Web interfaces.

We will be publishing a series of posts looking at different aspects of Web 2.0. In this initial post we will provide a brief case study on use of instant messaging to support communications between two institutions. The case study will attempt to draw out some of the general policy issues which should be applicable more widely.

Use of IM for the QA Focus Project

This example describes the approaches taken to use of instant messaging to support communications between the project partners for the JISC-funded QA Focus project which was launched in January 2002. The project partners were UKOLN (based at the University of Bath) and, initially, ILRT, University of Bristol. However after the end of the first year of the project ILRT withdrew form the project and were replaced by AHDS, who were based in London.

In order to minimise the amount of travel and to help to provide closely integrated working across the project partners it was agreed to make use of instant messaging technologies. As well as enabling the team members to have speedy contact with each other it was also recognised that official project meetings could be held using the technology. It was appreciated that in this context there was a need to have a slightly formal protocol for managing the meetings, to compensate for the limitations of online meetings. And in addition to the best practices for managing the online meetings it was also agreed that a record of the transcript would be kept, and that this record would be copied across to the Intranet along with other formal documents.

After AHDS replaced by ILRT as project partners we decided to change our IM client from Yahoo Messenger to MSN Messenger. It was either during this change of IM tools or whilst making use of another IM client (I can’t recollect the exact details) that we noticed that different IM applications work in slightly different ways. This includes whether a transcript of dialogue is kept automatically and whether new participants to a group chat will see only new discussions or discussions which have taken place previously (which has the potential to cause embarrassments at the least).

The experiences we gained in use of IM led the project partners to develop a policy on use of IM (which covered issues such as the possible dangers of interruptions, as well as keeping records of formal meetings held on IM). The policy also clarified use of IM in an informal context, with their being no guarantee that records would be kept.

The policy stated that:

  • IM software may be used for formal scheduled meetings. In such cases standard conventions for running meetings should be used. For example an agenda should be produced, actions clearly defined, changes of topics flagged and a record of the meeting kept.
  • IM software may be used for direct communications between individual team members. For example it may be used for working on particular tasks, to clarify issues when working on collaborative tasks and to support team working. IM may be particularly suited for short term tasks for which no archive is needed and other team members need not be involved – for example, arranging a meeting place.
  • Highly confidential information will not be sent using IM, due to the lack of strong encryption.

General Issues

The general issues arising from this case study include:

  • The need to ensure that the users of the IM technologies and those involved in developing policies related to its use have a good understanding of how the technologies work together with an understanding of the differences between different IM systems.
  • The need for simple documented policy statements

1 thought on “Preservation And Instant Messaging

  1. Richard M. Davis

    “Policy” once again sounds key, and this sounds like a good start and example. Interesting though that no mention was made of using the logging features of IM client software, or suggestion as to how these might be used effectively.

    Unedited chat logs can make painful, occasionally hilarious reading, of course – something much riffed on, from The Guardian to Pelevin – but as the basis for edited minutes of formal meetings, they knock spots off audio transcription, shorthand systems, etc.

    BTW, are all text-based, synchronous internet chat systems now subsumed in Web 2.0? Some of them predate “Web 1.0”.

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