This was a very interesting post Michael Arrington put up on TechCrunch yesterday. I myself am guilty of a one of the sins: I have a two-sentence limit on my IMs before I hit enter and continue…but I’ll explain myself at the end. The points he makes are very good and not just for Skype, so please check the link. (However, I suggest ignoring the bit about Skype’s screenshare, which I find abominable.)
Two things to remember when deciding how to use chat vs. video vs. phone vs. email are intimacy and immediacy. Video, being both intimate and timely, is often the last link in a chain of communication. Chat, on the other hand, being potentially asynchronous and less intimate, is often a stepping stone—the links that join other links in that chain. Or it can be the conversation itself. Email, by nature, is neither synchronous nor intimate; the recipient can respond whenever at arm’s length…or possibly filter it into their spam folder. Chat is great for moving in either direction. IM conversations can indicate needing to move a conversation to a more direct medium (video/phone) or a less direct one (email). Email can accomplish the same thing, albeit in a slower manner.
Regardless, Michael’s ideas can easily be summed up: Don’t harass. If the conversation is already engaged, ask if the other party is willing to escalate or pull-back on the conversation. Ask yourself what level of intimacy and immediacy is appropriate to the communication and the person in general. And remember, just because the communication is in an intimate form, don’t assume the environment of the recipient is. (Remember the example of the Skype call during a presentation?)
Since I promised to say why I often hit ‘enter’ after roughly two sentences: I sometimes get impatient when I’m involved in a mostly synchronous chat and after an overly-long period of time I receive War and Peace as an IM. Then the other person has to wait for me to finish reading this masterwork of American literature before I can craft a response. Assuming my chat partners feel the same, I serialize my great American novel rather than send it in one chunk. Unlike Michael’s ‘friend’, though, I at least try and get a couple sentences out…and I always read what they type back!!!