CMC CUES ENRICH LEAN ONLINE COMMUNICATION: THE CASE OF LETTER AND PUNCTUATION MARK REPETITIONS
Decades of IS literature focus on the relationships between the use of lean forms of online communication, and various task and outcome variables. This paper suggests the need to examine the underlying assumption which classifies text-based media as inferior and lacking in social, relational and affective richness relative to traditional forms of communication. We review the evidence for this from the computer-mediated communication (CMC) literature, and point to the extensive evidence that lean media conveys these socio-emotional cues. We then focus on the lack of research on the mechanisms which facilitate this transmission of complex cues using only keyboard strokes. We review several descriptive studies which attempted to classify these cues, and suggest the term “CMC cues” to describe them. We suggest that in order to understand the mechanisms by which CMC cues operate, we must explore large, ecologically-valid and diverse samples of unobtrusively collected messages. We then focus on a single category of cues: character repetitions. These include repetitions of letters and repetitions of punctuation marks, cues which could emulate some of the characteristics of spoken nonverbal communication. These repetitions are studied in the Enron Corpus, a large collection (~500,000) of e-mail messages sent by and to employees of the Enron Corporation. Findings on the usage of this cue are discussed, and the findings are compared to findings on character repetitions in blogs and in Twitter micro-blogs. We conclude that letter repetitions often emulate spoken nonverbal cues, and that the frequency of character repetitions in CMC is highly variable and context dependent. A framework for further systematic research of CMC cues is presented.