You’re chatting with someone over an instant messaging app, when this happens:

you: How can I help you?
foobar: I need some ideas for a Flash nav… Can you send me that link we saw last week?
(you then start typing a very long reply, only to see this next question pop up before you’re done typing your original response:)
foobar: Oh, and I need your URL right now, can you send that to me?.

Now what? How can you respond to the first request without confusing it with the second. What happens if foobar asks a third question before you’re done typing the answer to the first?

We all have our idiosyncratic ways of replying in these situations, for example by specifically identifying which questions each response is answering, or by adding sequential code numbers to each reply, or by cutting and pasting your in-progress response into a text/notepad temporarily so you can answer the most recent question first.

Maybe a better way would be to treat the chat window as a live collaborative editorial space, where either party can go back and use their cursor to insert comments and edits at any time, anywhere in the sequence, like a real-time wiki. The yellow fade technique, or something a little more persistent even, could be used to indicate each recent change so out-of-sequence changes can be easily detected.

Of course, does this make it no longer “chatting” but something a little too alien to successfully facilitating fluid, natural communication? Should the chatters have the ability to edit comments they’ve already made, or to remove them completely? Or to edit other people’s comments?

This could be a pretty interesting alternative to traditional chat, more like a collaborative scriptwriting session, where all parties participate in the creation of the transcript of a really interesting, scintillating, and flawless conversation — a conversation that never really happened.


2 responses to “Asynchronous Instant Messaging”

  1. That sounds like what SubEthaEdit does:

    You could set up a chat session in that. Of course that requires people to have the software, but might be useful to test the idea.

  2. Thanks, Chris. Yet another reason for me to consider switching.