Phatic Communication, or why the little things in social media really matter

I’m very pleased to say that my paper for The World Wide Web 2012 #WWW12 conference got accepted. It is on the phatic aspects of communication in an online sphere. Phatic communication expressions – a concept developed by the anthropologyst Malinowski and expanded on by the linguist Jakobson – denote brief, non dialogue and non-informational discussion or communication exchanges that can also be in the form of different types of signals. However, in the paper I am arguing that the stuff you think is pointless and does not have a practical information value – your posts on Facebook and Twitter, the likes, the pokes and the tweets about food, weather, the mundane brief status updates – all turn out to have a vital role and social value  that even merits a new phrase – “phatic-posts”  – which the paper coins. These phatic posts deliver values of staying up-to-date with a micro and macro world of events and news, flirting, chat and public expressions of everyday life and emotions among the participants. The paper explains multiple effects of phatic posts: social, validation, conflict-avoidance, and others. I won’t reveal everything now.

The paper will be published in the ACM SIG proceedings, and if you are curious this Wordle has a summary of

the key words of the paper. I will be presenting this April at WWW12 in Lyon (thanks to DejanSEO who are covering my travel). Check out the program for the conference, which includes a number of interesting events, keynotes, workshops, and discusssions. If you’re going to WWW12 please ping me as I would like to meet other researchers and authors (probably there will be 1500-2000 people and is hard to meet everyone and run from one track to the other) and it would be nice to meet up with other like-minded internet researchers, practitioners, academics, and business folks. [note: check updates on the #WWW12 conference and paper presentation]

11 thoughts on “Phatic Communication, or why the little things in social media really matter

  1. Pleased to see you’ve gotten into Roman Jakobson’s communications model! Jakobson’s definition of poetics [The projection of the principle of the paradigmatic axis onto the syntagmatic axis — alternately, the projection of the principle of selection onto the axis of combination] is one of the more wonderful insights of the old Russian formalist/structuralist school. That’s really what I mean whenever I speak of the figurative aspects of communication — not simply metaphor, but a broader conception, including meter and alliteration, which can be defined structurally in terms of how they manifest themselves syntactically. I regard the phatic aspects of communication Danica’s referring to as the more purely “gestural” parts of speech that are keyed to the channel itself, though generally people tend to use the term as meaning talking about the connection, as in “Is this mike on?” — I like to think of it so generally as the structural functions of communication are phatic in nature, though I doubt Jakobson normally meant it that way.

  2. @Seth That was one of the goals of the work, the paper describes those structural functions of (online) communication that Jakobson has developed through the concept of the phatic function.

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