Derik Whittaker

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How poor IM communication killed the Developer

In most development shops today, a large percentage of communication happens over IM.  In fact at my current gig about 80+% happens over IM.

So, why is it that it's harder and harder to get clear information out of people over IM.  I am not talking about 'IM speak' or 'IM spelling', I am talking about clear, coherent thoughts.

See the problem with IM (and email for that fact) is this, there is NO context to be able to infer meaning from the message.  All you have to go by is the exact words someone just sent over.  Too many times I have spent way too much time trying to determine what the hell the other person just IM'ed me.  Most of time this is an issue when you receive a message out of the blue.  I am not specially referring to messages that are sent as part of an ongoing conversation.

Here are a few classic IM's I have received in the past that have no clear meaning without context. 

  1. Its Broken...
    This type of IM means nothing to me.  What the hell is 'Its'.  Save me the energy and tell me something like 'Hey, that xyz process/code that just changed is broken'.  Because this gives me context to your message and I can respond in a meaningful manner
  2. Do you have a list?
    List of what?  Of code I am working on?  Of places to grab lunch?  Please tell me what type of list you are looking for.
  3. Site is down
    What site, add the extra few words and say 'the dev site is down'.  Because I am going to have to ask you what site anyway.  Save me the hassle.

My overall point to this post is 2 fold.

  1. I got my frustrations off my chest about this issue
  2. IM is no different then spoken chat.  Do not assume that someone can infer what you are speaking about.  Be clear, be to the point and for god sakes, make sense.

Till next time,


Posted 03-05-2008 10:14 AM by Derik Whittaker
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Comments

Chris Patterson wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-05-2008 12:25 PM

Or get off your ass and walk to the cube next door to ask the question directly and leave the IM for notifications that it is lunch time.

High-bandwidth voice communication, preferably in person, will always be superior to:

OMG teh class OhMyClass is teh sukh.

Neil Weber wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-05-2008 1:15 PM

I think the problem is that the sender is deep into their task and doesn't remember that they need to bring the receiver up to speed.  I encounter this frequently too when somebody comes to my cube and asks a question.  I have to stop them and ask for the context.

Sergio Pereira wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-05-2008 2:53 PM

Even face-to-face I have worked with a lot of people that have a hard time explaining the context of the problem. It's not IM, it's the people, unfortunately.

Steve Campbell wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-05-2008 4:32 PM

I'm with Sergio on this one.  Its the people.  

Kyle Baley wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-05-2008 8:07 PM

Reminds me of Marathon Man: Is it safe?

Reflective Perspective - Chris Alcock » 2008 » March » 06 wrote Reflective Perspective - Chris Alcock » 2008 » March » 06
on 03-06-2008 2:36 AM

Pingback from  Reflective Perspective - Chris Alcock  » 2008 » March » 06

BlogReader wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-08-2008 9:16 AM

Same thing happens in email with the subject lines of "Error" "Help" "<Person name>" (last one: are they leaving the company?  Dying?  promoted?)

Some people are just clueless and IM just brings it more into your face as it interrupts you.

I've given up trying to educate people in proper IM etiquette and just ignore requests on there that don't include enough context.

OJ wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-09-2008 6:17 PM

This kind of thing happens on forums all the time too. People just throw down questions or thoughts and hit "submit" without making sure that they've given enough context for people to be able to help them.

For some reason they always seem to assume that the reader knows what's going on inside their heads.  I've had a <a href="rant.blackapache.net/.../">whinge about this on my blog if ya feel like having a look</a>.

In short: I feel your pain. This kind of thing drives me nuts! :)

OJ wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-09-2008 6:19 PM

Whoops! Sorry for messing up the markup! Link is: rant.blackapache.net/.../help-me-help-you

Cheers!

PartialClass wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-10-2008 2:44 AM

lol.. nice post

Chinh Do wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 03-10-2008 10:05 PM

I'd like to add...

Unless you haven't talked for a long time, do away with "Hello", "Hi <name>", "Are you there?", etc. Just ask the question or say what you need to say.

Dave Schinkel wrote re: How poor IM communication killed the Developer
on 10-04-2008 3:50 PM

I actually hate when people use acronyms that I don't have a clue wtf they mean when they are not standard acronyms or I'm just not up to date with the latest cool acronyms.  Just spell it out.

and honestly I also hate "lol" sounds like a stupid teenager response.

:P

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on 02-22-2009 10:52 PM

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