Hopping Between Notetaking and Backchannel Conversations

One of the practices that is part of my daily routine in communities and teams which use phone calls for meetings, is to take notes in a chat environment. I am really good at capturing notes so I’m often one of the note takers. I find typing increases my attentiveness and listening. Otherwise I’m prone to multitasking (email, checking twitter, writing blog posts. Should I admit I started writing this post while on a telecon?)

What I’ve noticed is that I’ve started to use the chat as back channel for voicing my own input and thoughts. This is more like the “backchannel” used by techie communities, particularly during face to face events. It is another layer of conversation that enables more than one person to “talk” at the same time. It is also useful in web meetings. Back channel, of course, has it’s risks too — fractured attention and a channel for mocking etc — but it is different from the note taking practice. One is a record, the other is part of the conversation. One represents the voices of others, the other IS the voices.

When I mix the two, I start wondering, am I compromising the note taking with my comments and input? Or am I adding richness and voice to the proceedings? Am I strengthening the conversation by adding text input and not interrupting, or am I undermining the speaker? All these are possible. So how does this inform my choices in my practice?

This duality reminds me of this “two hatted” feeling I get when I am in a facilitator role. I often feel I am not fully devoting myself to facilitation if I put my participant hat on. When I do, I do it explicitly. I am wondering, should I do that when I shift in chat, or does that just add more noise to a fast flowing chat?

What do you think?

Photo by Salvor

7 thoughts on “Hopping Between Notetaking and Backchannel Conversations”

  1. Ha Nancy, I’ve the same! Often in telecons with many people the joint-note-taking-chat becomes a mix as people start using it as a collective back channel. We should have two different chat environments open, or two text colours in one chat!

  2. Hi Nancy,
    What type of telecons do you use that you have chat access? Where I am living the local folks seem to be stuck in the old fashioned mode of conference call with dial in numbers. I have tried for SKYPE but no takers at the regional level over here in the woods. It’s unfortunate as all my international work is SKYPE and I love it.
    If you have tips on how to get people from conference call mode to other modes, I would be interested.
    Thanks and perhaps a reply for KM4Dev?!. ,

  3. Hi Nancy

    Whenever I’m on back channel chat I’m reminded of movies that depict Elizabethan theatres where the audience bring food, talk among themselves, yell out at actors and generally has a riotous time. Is there a parallel do you think? There’s something quite deliciously uncivilised about it that I would hate to lose as we “evolve” our way into future practices and norms…

  4. Rose, I think this is why I distinguish between the purpose of the back channel. When a team is cranking on a project, meeting notes serve a very specific purpose. When a back channel at an event is open for kibbutzing, heckling, conversation etc, it is a very different context.

    So I agree, I would not want to stifle creativity and such. What I seek is some awareness of how I use a tool in which context and develop my practices to make the most of any situation. Including throwing food and yelling at actors. No no, make that eating food and yelling at actors!

    Right now going against the perceived norm of any particular back channel culture is also quite an act of rebellion. (HAving been stomped on before for doing that.)

  5. Hi, I noticed in one teleconference that it worked to get people ask questions. It really worked very well. I wonder whether it’s best to annouce it beforehand whether it’s for note-taking or additional comments. Notetaking could actually be done in a different chat?

  6. That’s how I have often seen/used chat in web meeting tools – as a question platform.

    I am trying to imagine how I’d manage participating in multiple chats AND listening. 😉

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