Name-Display Feature for Self-Disclosure in an Instant Messenger Program: A Qualitative Study in Taiwan
Chou, Pao-Nan, Chen, Wei-Fan, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology
Today, with high-speed network technology available, cyberspace has been a communication center in which people can distribute useful information, share valuable knowledge, receive training or education, conduct business transactions, build a social relationship, and so forth (Kang, 2007; Moore, 2005; Qian & Scott, 2007). Cyberspace yields dramatic impact on human beings' daily lives and plays an important role in the modern society (Cheuk, 2007).
In Taiwan, a survey (Yam Portal, 2005) showed that "instant messenger" (IM) usage has become the third most frequently accessed online activity following cyberspace's web surfing and e-mail. The report also indicated 66 percent of online users use at least one type of IM program to communicate with friends. Considering the types of IM, Windows Live Messenger (WLM) is the most popular software program (Yu, 2003). According to Microsoft Corporation[C] in Taiwan (MSN Network in Taiwan, 2006), the number of WLM users reached 7.5 million before the end of 2006. Taiwanese people who used WLM spent approximately 1.2 hours in the WLM system every day. Recently, in order to increase productivity, numerous business companies and government agencies prohibited employees from using WLM in their workplaces (Wu, 2007). For the situations described above, therefore, examining the phenomena of the IM usage can facilitate understanding on users' behaviors.
IMs, such as WLM, allow users to send real time messages to their online friends, who are listed on a friend list. Users add their friends' e-mail addresses to the list so that two correspondents can successfully chat via cyberspace. A name-display is one feature on an IM screen. Users can use it to self-define their nicknames which will be displayed in online friends' IM lists. For example, once one side defines the nickname, other side can see it appear in the IM's screen. Based on first-hand experiences, some users frequently change their nicknames which represent specific meaning; some others do not. Whether or not the chosen name-display reflects special psychological factors is worthy of exploration.
In the literature, the IM use has been applied to different activities. In the field of English education, for the purpose of enhancing students' learning outcomes, Tai (2007) integrated WLM into English learning curriculum. In the domain of forensic science, Van Dongena (2007) attempted to find crime evidence by analyzing various features of WLM. In the field of business, Cameron and Webster (2005) investigated IM's impact on employees' workplace performance. In the area of health education, Cheuk and Chan (2007) found that IM use affects students' academic performance. From the computer-mediated communication perspective, Leung (2004) reported that self-disclosure was significantly related to IM usage. However, of those studies focusing on IM, few adopted a qualitative methodology.
Compared to the application of IM use, the number of studies considering the name-display feature in the programs is sparse. Grinter and Palen (2002) reported that teen users changed their nicknames as a polite justification so that their online friends could easily identify their unavailability. Smale and Greenberg (2005) employed a specific program to record 444 users' nickname changes processed in three weeks. They found that most of participants frequently changed their nicknames and a relationship existed between age and the frequency of nickname changes. Furthermore, constantly changed nicknames fell into three categories: identification, information about self and broadcast message. However, for the previous two studies, the researchers did not explore the name-display feature from a psychological perspective.
A feature in the Bulletin Board System (BBS) is extremely similar to the name-display feature in the IM program. In addition to users' IDs, their self-defined nicknames also appear on the BBS. …