Global and Cultural Perspectives on Web-Based Chatting: an Exploratory Study

ABSTRACT - The World Wide Web has the potential to change much about human behavior and human interactions. Web-based chatting behavior is one example, and it is the focus of our study. Using content analysis of a multi-cultural data set of 1,348 chatters, we explore several critical factors associated with online chat behavior. We collected data from 64 different countries, but the majority of chatters come from the U.S. and Japan. In this study, we provide an illustrative description of chatters, and we explore cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan.



Citation:

Hyokjin Kwak, George M. Zinkhan, and Leyland F. Pitt (2001) ,"Global and Cultural Perspectives on Web-Based Chatting: an Exploratory Study", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 243-250.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 243-250

GLOBAL AND CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON WEB-BASED CHATTING: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY

Hyokjin Kwak, University of Georgia, U.S.A.

George M. Zinkhan, University of Georgia, U.S.A.

Leyland F. Pitt, Curtin University of Technology, Australia

ABSTRACT -

The World Wide Web has the potential to change much about human behavior and human interactions. Web-based chatting behavior is one example, and it is the focus of our study. Using content analysis of a multi-cultural data set of 1,348 chatters, we explore several critical factors associated with online chat behavior. We collected data from 64 different countries, but the majority of chatters come from the U.S. and Japan. In this study, we provide an illustrative description of chatters, and we explore cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan.

INTRODUCTION

"Chatting ranks third behind information searchers ... on the Internet and 24-26 percent of all time spent on the Internet is spent on chat rooms."

Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in New York (Business Wire 1998b)

The Internet provides both firms and consumers ith new methods for communication. For instance, the Internet provides consumers with access to rich new information sources and with the potential to make better-informed decisions. According to Nielsen Media Research and CommerceNet (1999), worldwide Internet users exceed 120 million. The value of electronic commerce transactions was approximately US $9 billion in 1997. Indeed, the Internet is moving from a static computer world to a space for human interactions.

To date, academic researchers have examined: online consumer behavior (Geissler and Zinkhan 1998), Internet advertising strategy (Leong, Huang, and Stanners 1998), elctronic matketing strategy (Quelch and Klein 1996), and the economics of the Internet (Bakos 1997). An important, yet often neglected aspect of academic research is how consumers use the Internet as a communication means. Web-based chatting is one such medium. American Online (AOL), the US-based biggest Internet service provider estimates that 10 million consumers spend approximately 25% of their online time in web-based chatting in one of 18,000 chat rooms (Marsh 1997).

In this study, we explore several aspects of consumers’ chatting behaviors, using Microsoft’s NetMeeting (MNM), one of the popular multimedia-based chatting servers that is used around the world. Chat room users exist in two basic states: chatting or not chatting. Here, we identify the factors that are associated with active chatting. That is, we explore the factors (e.g., sexual content) that are associated with successful chatting behavior rather than just waiting on the system to find a chatting partner. Other issues that we explore include: the language used by chatters (i.e., jargon; English versus other alternatives); and the role of interactive, multimedia functions (e.g., the role of video cameras). Since online chatting is a worldwide phenomenon, we are interested in cultural differences in chatting behaviors as well. Specifically, we contrast the US and Japan. We chose to study these nations for two reasons. First, the US and Japan traditionally represent a Western and an Eastern culture. Second, these two cultures represent the two biggest Internet populations in the world (CommerceNet 1999).

BACKGROUND

Chatting and the Internet Marketplaces

As a medium, one of the distinguishing features of the Internet lies in its interactive ability. The Internet is all about connections between more than two objects. In many cases, marketing efforts depend upon two-way communications in Internet marketplaces. For instance, Internet advertising (e.g., banner advertising) requires consumer reaction to it. Without a click (connection) on the advertising, nothing happens.

Web-based chat provides fully interactive communication. This type of online chat uses real-time communication beyond the traditional Internet relay chat. Currently, chat applications range from simple text-based chat to entirely virtual chat spaces. Today, chat is an essential component of many commercial Web sites and even public ones.For example, for the sake of public welfare, the US government runs its own chat rooms (USA Today 1999).

Chat rooms are used in relationship marketing. For instance, the US-based floral firm, www.1800FLOWERS.com, has been successfully using web chat functions in order to provide customer service. Unlike the general solution to customer service on the Web (e.g., e-mail correspondence), the firm allows consumers to talk live with one of its customer representatives for any problems and questions. Thus, consumers from the US or even Africa can solve problems immediately without telephone bills or delays (especially for international consumers) through the Internet chat.

Online chat is also used in enhacing the recognition of products and services. For example, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) provides its audience wit free chatting services. Fans of NBC television shows like Friends and ER can come together for an unlimited time to talk about the shows. Once they participate in the chatting rooms, they can exchange ideas and thoughts about one of NBC programs. Banner advertisements appear in the chat room. According to a Business Week/Harris Poll research, installation of chat programs on a Web site can increase consumers’ visits by 50% and keep them on the Internet site 30% longer. In addition, the availability of chat on a Web site can also increase online purchase by 41 percent (Business Wire 1998a).

Chatting and Personal Ads

"(via chatting) I meet and talk with friends.. (and) get an idea of what life is like in other places and let them know what life is like here."

Smith (1997)

Virtual communities are pervasive and multi-cultural with the advent of a number of web-based chat servers and applications. More than 50,000 online chatters on hundreds of servers around the world get together each night to talk their interests (Smith 1997). For example, 28 million users around the world have downloaded the software for the ICQ (read: "I seek you"), one of the most distributed chat applications worldwide, and there are an estimated 12 million people each month and 6 million people per day engaged in chatting with ICQ. Not surprisingly, ICQers are international, with many European and Asian users. Only 35% of ICQers are from the US (Cheng 1999). In brief, ICQ provides a technology to support text-based chatting.

One attractive feature of Web-based chatting is that people can advertise personal information on a Web chat server. Similarly, they can talk with someone who has similar interests based on their comments (i.e., their personal ads). Personal ads provide US $300 million of revenue for the newspaper industry (Sprout 1997; Stein 1997). Disappointed by some restrictions (e.g., limited lines, sexual context) imposed by the print media, people are now moving to Web-based classified ads (e.g., AOL) and chatting servers (e.g., MNM). Most online chat servers recommend registering chatters’ information such as name, birth date, age, gender, hobby and comments.

Computer technology makes it easy to find people with the same or similar interests. For example, many online chat services offer databases of chatter-created profiles, searchable by scrolling computer screen or clicking on key words for common interests. These profiles can be anonymous which, in turn, may be an attractive component for people to be in Web chatting.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

In this study, we focus on four major research questions. These include: 1) What are the factors associated with language use? 2) What are the factors associated with the multimedia use? 3) What are the factors associated with current chatting? and 4) What are the main differences between the US chatters and Japanese chatters? We test all four questions using logistic regression analysis. Question 1 is interesting because of the cross-cultural nature of our sample. Among these global consumers, what languages predominate? To what extent do hybrid languages emerge?

Question 2 is important because it examines the technological side of the Web. Question 3 seeks to determine the factors that are associated with successful chatting (rather than just waiting on the system in an attempt to locate a chatting partner). Question 4 focuses on cultural differences. Here, we look at chatters from two countries (i.e., the US and Japan), and we apply Hofstede’s (1991) theory of cultural values to try and understand differences between chatters in these two nations.

CONTENT ANALYSIS

A content analysis was conducted to find out more about Web chatters. In order to explore how people around the world chat on the Internet, one of the more popular and worldwide chatting servers, Microsoft NetMeeting (MNM), is employed. A content analysis is conducted using the personal ads from the chatters of the MNM.

Selection of the Target Chatting Program

Microsoft's NetMeeting (version 2. 11) was selected for several reasons. First, the server allows the researchers to investigate people's unrestricted personal ads for themselves. Unlike the MNM, for instance, AOL requires all members in its chatting rooms to follow its "terms of services," which basically bans uttering obscenities or harassing or disruptive behavior. AOL users are encouraged to report a violation of its rule. In some cases, chatting environments are censored by a chatting service provider (i.e., Talk City (www.talkcity.com)),

Second, the MNM enables people to talk with multimediabased tools (i.e., availability of using voice and video communicatios). Thus, a variety of people utilize MNM, from those interested in traditional text chatting to those who utilize the most advanced methods (i.e., using real-time video chat). Finally, the program provides a variety of information about users (e.g., email address, status of having audio or video equipment, current chatting status, country).

Data Collection

There are nine servers to which chatters can log on, and these servers are open 24 hours a day. For our sample, we examine all of the chatters who logged on during one of two time periods: a) at 12 noon and b) at midnight on a Saturday in May 1999. This sampling procedure resulted in a sample size of 1348 chatters. The MNM allows its users to display their personal ads, along with other information (e.g., name, email address, city/state, country). User's comment in the MNM can be viewed as a kind of "personal ad" to attract fellow chatters. Also, the MNM reports status of whether its users are currently in chatting or not, and whether or not they have voice or video communication equipment. The contents of the MNM status report represent the variables for our study.

Coding Procedure

Coding was conducted in two ways. Since email address, country and status of current chatting and having audio or video function are objective contents, one graduate student coded the items: a) email address (EML): 1 (displaying correct e-mail address) and 2 (displaying incorrect email address), b) country (CTR), c) status of having voice function (MIC): 1 (have) and 2 (don't have), d) status of having video function (CAM): 1 (have) and 2 (don't have) and finally, whether the chatters are currently in chatting or not (CHA): I (in chatting) and 2 (not in chatting).

The section of "comments" in the MNM provides a form of personal ad. The comment section provides a way for consumers to introduce themselves. Many different expressions are used in the comment section, so two coders were used to interpret and code this content. We developed twelve coding items: a) whether or not personal comments are included (PAD), b) language used (LGG), c) whether or not the comments are cryptic (CRT), d) whether or not a specific gender is requested (GDS), e) whether or not a specific ethnic group is requested (ETN), f) whether or not a specific age group is requested (AGS), g) whether or not self identification is offered (SID), h) status of displaying sexual context (SXC), i) ) whether or not camera- to-camera chatting is specified (CMR), j) whether or not a gay chatting partner is specified (GAY), k) ) whether or not "cleaii chat" is required (CLN), and finally, 1) ) whether or not an "already known" person is specified (KNP).

Reliability

Levels of agreement between the two coders were assessed for the content of the personal ads. Traditionally, Holsti's (1969) reliability estimate, in terms of percentage of agreement, has been widely used in consumer research (Kang et al. 1993). For the present study Cohen's Kappa (Cohen 1960) is used, with the percentage index, since Hoslti's index does not well capture some coder agreements by chance (Wimmer and Dominick 1997).

Table 1 illustrates reliability evaluations for the twelve items that are evaluated by the two coders (based upon the chatters' personal comments). Overall, the results suggest acceptable reliability range for both indexes (Kassarjian 1977; Wimmer and Dominick 1997).

Descriptive Illustrations

As can be seen on Table 2, the chatters on the server come from 64 different countries. The majority of users are in the US (547 of 1348, 40.6%), while Japanese consumers represent the next biggest chatting group (102 Of 1348, 7.6%).

TABLE 1

INTER-CODER AGREEMENT AND RELIABILITY

TABLE 2

BASIC PROFILES ABOUT WEB-BASED CHATTERS

TABLE 3

ANTECEDENTS OF LANGUAGE USAGE (LGG)

Multimedia- equipped chatters are attracted to this web-based chatting room. Of the chatters, 91.1% (1,228) have microphones at least, and 44.5% (598) own both microphones and videophones. As will be discussed later, the role of multi-media functions may play important role in their chatting. Approximately, one of three users (366, 27.2%) was currently in chatting and 67.2% (906) of the users provide comments, which serve as a kind of personal ad.

Global Perspectives

Here, we explore several features associated with Web-based chatting: factors associated with the use of multi-media, language usage and current chatting status. Using maximum likelihood estimation, a series of categorical logistic regression analyses are conducted.

What Are the Factors Associated with Language Use? Language may be one barrier that inhibits people getting together in chat rooms. For this analysis, our dependent variable is the language used by the chatters. In our sample, there are three large groups; a) 71.6% use English, b) 23.2% use non-English, and c) 5.2% use a mixture of English and other languages. We use logistic regression analysis to identify significant predictors of language used. Our final model is shown in Table 3. The three significant predictors (p<.05) are iog-on time, ethnic group specified and gay chatting partners specified.

The overall model fit is satisfactory (X2=12.16, pia.27). NonEnglish users were more likely to want to talk with the same ethnic group. However, English-language chatters do not follow this pattern. Chatters who access the M1,4M at noon by the US EST were more likely to be non-English users and vise versa. In our sample, non-English users come mostly from Asian cultures (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, Korean). One interesting result is that preference of talking with gay users is significantly related to language usage. We find that non-English users were more likely to want to talk with gay chatters. This notion is discussed in more detail in the cultural perspectives section.

What Are the Factors Associated with the Multimedia Use? To create an index of technology, two variables (e.g., MIC and CAM) were combined into one variable to represent the degree of multimedia use (MUL). This variable contains three categories: 1) having both microphone and desktop video camera, 2) having either of them, and 3) having none of them. MUL is our dependent variable in this analysis.

Unlike local chatting situations (e.g., Bulletin Board Service using text communication), Web chatters may be more interested in talking with someone using more advanced Internet technology (i.e., availability of video communications). In this respect, multi-media functions in a personal computer or a network might enhance people's chatting. Our results support the idea that chatters using advanced media rather than traditional text-based tool were likely to engage in current chatting. There were only 117 chatters who do not have multimedia tools (e.g., voice and video functions), and only 2.6% of them were in current chatting whereas more than 14% of chatters having both functions and 12% of chatters equipped by either of them were engaged in current chatting.

The results also indicate that the current chatters are more likely not to reveal their correct e-mail address than are those waiting to chat. In the MNM, a person can not access or send an email to person B who has an incorrect or incomplete e-mail address (e-g., ...@ ... ). This finding suggests that active chatters may have negative experiences in providing their correct e-mail address (i.e., any offended message, sexual harassment or solicitation). Additional evidence that multi-media users are more likely to be active in Web-based chatting than are non-multimedia users is the significant relationship between the degree of mutimedia use and gender specified for chatting. Only 6.1 % of non-multimedia users specified particular gender (i.e., male or female) whereas more than 34.3% having both audio and video functions and 20.2% having either of them mentioned a specific gender group.

Some chatters specify "clean chat" in their personal ads. However, clean chatters were much likely to be a non-multimedia users. Table 4 represents the outcomes about antecedents of the use of multi-media in web-based chatting, and the model fit is acceptable (X2=10.85, p=E.29)

What Are the Factors Associated with Current Chatting Chatters' ultimate purpose is to engage in chatting, not to wait endlessly in a chatting room hoping to locate a partner. Thus, we investigated the factors that influence successful online chatting. The overall results are presented in Table 5, and the model fits the data well (72=5.09, p=5.53).

The findings suggest that Non-English users (LGG) are more likely to be in current chatting. Midnight US EST is a more active time frame to communicate with each other. Multimedia chatters (32.4%) were more likely to be in actual chatting than were text-based chatters (2.6%). Chatters who included sexually-oriented comments were likely to be chatting with one another. Thus, visual communication may increase sexual communications, which, in turn, derive more successful on-chatting records.

The results indicate that incomplete e-mail addresses play a role in enhancing actual chatting. Although this finding is somewhat vague at first glance because incorrect e-mail address ban chatters from trying to communicate with each other, it becomes clear when a particular factor is considered. That is, our results suggest that chatters in actual chatting were more likely to want to talk with a person who is already known to them (e.g., friends and family members) than were users in a waiting list. If chatters want to talk with acquainted individuals, their friends or family members may already know each other's e-mail address. These in-groups may not want to be interrupted by unknown persons. A related finding is that chatters who specify the same ethnic group were more likely to chat than were those who did not specify an ethnic group. Thus, although the MNM is designed for everyone around the world and there were 64 nations represented in our study, real communication environments may be local.

TABLE 4

ANTECEDENTS OF THE USE OF MULTI-MEDIA (MUL)

TABLE 5

ANTECEDENTS OF CURRENT CHATTING (CHA)

What Are the Main Differences Between the US Chatters And Japanese Chatters?

Web-based chatting is the aggregation of various cultures. Here, we investigate cultural differences between the US and Japanese chatters. These two cultures mirror distinct behavioral perspectives. Hofstede (1991) argues that Americans are more likely to be individualistic than are Japanese. Japanese are more likely to avoid uncertain situation than are Americans. To examine cultural differences, we conducted simple chi-square tests, categorical logistic regression analyses and correspondence analyses. General findings are provided in Table 6 and Figure 1.

Language Used (LGG) As can be anticipated, Japanese are more likely to use non-English language than are the US chatters. 60% of Japanese used only their own language and 16.5% of them mixed English and Japanese in their personal ads whereas 23.5 % of them used English. However, the majority of the US (97%) expressed themselves using English. This finding is also significant in a simple 2x3 chi-square test (X2=271.17, p>.05).

Correct E-ma il Address Provided (EML) The US chatters are more likely to provide correct email address than are Japanese. In this study, 61.8% of the US offered complete e-mail address while there were 42.1% of Japanese displaying their correct e-mail address. Using Mantel-Haenszel's 2x2 chi-square test, the linear relationship between CTR and EML was also found (X2=13.65, p>.05).

Log-On Time (LOT) LOT was significantly different in the two cultures. Negative parameter estimate reveals that Japanese are more likely to log on the MNM at noon by the US EST than are the US. That is, 82 of 102 (80.4%) in Japan logged on at noon while 392 of 547 (71.7%) accessed the server at midnight (X2= 100.49, p>.05). However, this finding implies that both two cultures prefer chatting at night time rather than during the day time. Noon EST is equivalent to one a.m. in Japan.

Ethnic Group Specified (ETN) Japanese are more likely to specify a preference for linking up with a Japanese chatter. Americans are more likely to talk with chatters from other cultures. 29.4% of Japanese pointed out only Japanese for chatting, whereas only 3% of the US specified a preference for ethnic groups (X2=43.61, p>.05). The Japanese chatters who requested a specific ethnic group asked for Japanese. 54.5% of American chatters who pointed out specific ethnic group wanted to talk with a different ethnic group (e.g., Asian, French).

TABLE 6

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE US AND JAPAN

FIGURE 1

PERCEPTUAL MAP FOR CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN COMMENTS: THE US AND JAPAN

Gay Chatting Partner Specified (GAY) Japanese are more likely to request a gay chatting partner than are Americans. 39.4% of Japanese mentioned that they wanted to talk only with gays whereas 5.5% of Americans did. Some American chatters (1.6%) particularly specified "No Gays" in their comments. Web-based chatting provides the gay community with opportunities to communicate, especially in Japan. That is, the gay community is not as public and visible as it is in the US. Thus, the Web provides a popular communication outlet.

Figure 1 presents a perceptual map to describe cultural differences between the US and Japan. The variables in the model separate the two cultures well. For Japanese chatters, the distances from the use of Non-English language, specific ethnic group (e.g., Japanese) and gay group are shortest, suggesting that those variables are key cultural separators from the US. The US culture is different from the Japanese culture by the following 5 varaibles: a) no ethnic group specified, b) the use of English, c) no gay group specified, d) correct email address provided and e) log-on time at midnight.

DISCUSSION

We explored Web-based chatting behaviors using the Microsoft NetMeeting server. Several important themes emerge.

"Welcome Anyone"

We found chatters from many different countries, but three main groups of chatters emerged: 1) the US and Canada, 2) Europe and 3) Asia. This pattern is the same as the report of the Internet population worldwide conducted by Nielson Media Research and CommerceNet (CommerceNet 1999).

One possible obstacle formulti-cultural chatting is the different languages. Our results suggest that people who do not use English were more likely to want to talk with their own ethnic group than are English-user group. Chatters overcome some barriers by building their own multi-cultural language. The "Chatter's Jargon Dictionary" and "Chatiquette" (www.stevegrossman.com/j argon. htm) include more than 300 entries that represent chatters' jargon.

"I love hot chat", "Gay please"

Many chatters display sexually-oriented personal ads. Those who display sexual comments were more likely to be engaged in chatting. That is, the inclusion of sexual comments leads to more chances to talk. This finding raises an important social issue, especially for teens. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, 81 percent of youngsters use the Internet and chatting is the number one activity that they engage in (Brown 1999; Porterfield 1999). Future research may want to consider this topic from a social welfare perspective. In brief, sexual content is rarely discussed in academic work about the Internet. However, sexual content is a very pervasive activity in this medium.

"C2C only"

Third, we found that multimedia functions lead to current and active chatting. To date, Microsoft NetMeeting is one of few chatting servers offering video communications. Most chat sites are essentially based on text conversation while a few provide 3D graphical chat (e.g., avatar-based chat). In the future, Web-based chat environments can be expected to develop rapidly with more advanced chatting technology.

"Only for Japanese (from a Japanese chatter)"

Fourth and finally, we tested cultural differences. Hofstede (1991) reports that the Japanese are more likely to avoid uncertain situations than are Americans. We find evidence to support Hofstede's theory of cultural values. The results suggest that Japanese chatters are more likely to talk with the same ethnic group than are chatters from the US. They may want to avoid risky communication when they are confronted with others who speak different languages and thoughts, since they were much likely to offer incorrect e-mail addresses so that unknown people can not try to communicate with them. Another interesting finding was that Japanese were more likely to talk with gays than are Americans. As of 1995, there are only 6 homosexual magazines in Japan, only one of which is for females (Sato 1995). A collectivistic society such as Japan may not particularly welcome for gays. Thus, they might find the Web a more comfortable outlet for pursuing their activities.

A Final Note on Technology

The Internet and its multi-media component (the World Wide Web) are rapidly developing. In the end, it is consumers who decide how technologies will be used and which technologies will be successful. At the same time, technology has the potential to shape and mold human behavior. Here, we take some first steps toward understanding how consumers interact in virtual reality.

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----------------------------------------

Authors

Hyokjin Kwak, University of Georgia, U.S.A.
George M. Zinkhan, University of Georgia, U.S.A.
Leyland F. Pitt, Curtin University of Technology, Australia



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001



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