Online Conversations

Conversation is interactive, communication between two or more people. The development of conversational skills and etiquette is an important part of socialization. The development of conversational skills in a new language is a frequent focus of language teaching and learning. Conversation analysis is a branch of sociology which studies the structure and organization of human interaction, with a more specific focus on conversational interaction.

Online chat may refer to any kind of communication over the Internet that offers a real-time transmission of text messages from sender to receiver. Chat messages are generally short in order to enable other participants to respond quickly. Thereby, a feeling similar to a spoken conversation is created, which distinguishes chatting from other text-based online communication forms such as Internet forums and email. Online chat may address point-to-point communications as well as multicastcommunications from one sender to many receivers and voice and video chat, or may be a feature of a web conferencingservice.

Online chat in a less stringent definition may be primarily any direct text-based or video-based (webcams), one-on-one chat or one-to-many group chat (formally also known as synchronous conferencing), using tools such as instant messengers, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), talkers and possibly MUDs. The expression online chat comes from the word chat which means “informal conversation”. Online chat includes web-based applications that allow communication – often directly addressed, but anonymous between users in a multi-user environment. Web conferencing is a more specific online service, that is often sold as a service, hosted on a web server controlled by the vendor.

No generally accepted definition of conversation exists, beyond the fact that a conversation involves at least two people talking together. Consequently, the term is often defined by what it is not. A ritualized exchange such as a mutual greeting is not a conversation, and an interaction that includes a marked status differential (such as a boss giving orders) is also not a conversation. An interaction with a tightly focused topic or purpose is also generally not considered a conversation. Summarizing these properties, one authority writes that “Conversation is the kind of speech that happens informally, symmetrically, and for the purposes of establishing and maintaining social ties.”

From a less technical perspective, a writer on etiquette in the early 20th century defined conversation as the polite give and take of subjects thought of by people talking with each other for company.

Conversations follow rules of etiquette because conversations are social interactions, and therefore depend on social convention. Specific rules for conversation arise from the cooperative principle. Failure to adhere to these rules causes the conversation to deteriorate or eventually to end. Contributions to a conversation are responses to what has previously been said.

Conversations may be the optimal form of communication, depending on the participants’ intended ends. Conversations may be ideal when, for example, each party desires a relatively equal exchange of information, or when the parties desire to build social ties. On the other hand, if permanency or the ability to review such information is important, written communication may be ideal. Or if time-efficient communication is most important, a speech may be preferable.

Conversation involves a lot more nuanced and implied context that lies beneath just the words.

How to Start a Conversation Online

  1. Stop thinking so much about it. If you’re trying to get to know someone (and, perhaps, to woo them), the goal of these first few online conversations is to help them understand who you are as a person. You want to be yourself, and a script will only get you so far.
  • Striking up a conversation online is hard for almost everyone. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.
  • Worst case, it’ll be a learning experience. Best case, you’ll connect with somebody in a deep way. Neither case applies until you try.

2. Pick a convenient time. Try to message the person when they’re online. It may be easier to get a conversation going in real-time than to count on someone to respond later on.

  • Pick a time when you don’t have anywhere to be. You don’t want to be stressed-out, and you want to give the conversation a chance to grow.

3. Start small. Send the person a short message and ask them how they’re doing. A “Hey. How’s it going?” will do. You may find that you feel much looser once you get the conversation going–there’s no turning back now!

  • They will likely respond with how they’re doing, then ask you how you’re doing. Be prepared to say how you’re doing.
  • Avoid dead-end answers like “I’m good.” Anyone can be “good”. Respond with something that tells your conversation partner about who you are, such as “I’m good! My friend and I explored this abandoned house up in the hills today. It was really cool but super spooky” or “My dance team just made it to nationals. I’m so excited!”
  • Mention things that make you seem interesting, but avoid bragging.

4. Ask about a common interest. This is a classic, tried-and-true conversation opener. If you’re in a class together, ask what the homework assignment is. If you’re in a club together, ask about an upcoming club event. This can break the ice in a very natural way, opening the gates to a deeper talk.

  • Try something like this: “Hey- I completely blanked and forgot to write down the homework for English today. Did you happen to get it?”
  • Or this: “Hey, do you know when our next track meet is? I must have tuned out when coach announced it during practice today…”

5. Compliment the person. If a person does something worthy of praise, it’s natural to compliment them. This can be another great way to break the ice and make the person feel appreciated. Don’t overdo it–be sparing with your compliments, or they may come across as flattery.

  • If you’re in a class together: “You did a great job on your presentation today! I never thought I’d learn so much about Ulysses S. Grant!”
  • If you’re on a team together: “Nice work in the 100-yard sprint at the meet today. You really put the team on your back”

6. Ask a question. If you’ve met someone on a dating site like OKCupid or a dating app like Tinder, then you probably don’t have any real-life connections to talk about. Ask the person an open-ended question about themselves. Take your inspiration from their profile.

  • For example: “I see you’re into hip hop. Been to any good shows lately?”
  • Or: “I dig your beard. How long have you been growing that sucker?”

7. Be careful with stock pickup lines. Pickup lines can backfire: they work on some people, but they turn off others. These lines can come across as cheesy or manipulative, especially if they aren’t something that you thought of yourself. Try to come across as genuine, and if that includes a pickup line–then you do you!