Summary: We tend to view communication using social media, online tools and web sites, IM, chat, SMS, and so literally. Messages have authors, what they seem to be saying is what they in fact mean to say, and so on. The reader is the interpreter of what's communicated. But the medium not only transmits and enables talk by capturing communication on web pages, in chat and IMs, in emails, blog posts, and comments. It also produces the author: as an appearance or effect of the medium. This is enough to go on in most cases, but it does have implications. We do not "exist" online any more than a Second Life avatar exists in the real world. These are media of production. Presence, talk, intent, motive, character, personality.... all these are manufactured by the social media that are their means of production. HCI and human factors research has a deep field of study in social media.
In face to face communication, an encounter is defined as an interaction among participants present to one another, and occurring over a period of time that is framed by a beginning and an ending. Mediate an encounter, however, and our definitions lose their grip. When does conversation on a discussion list end? Who, at any given time, are its participants? When is a chat finished? And what is a conversation carried out with text messaging? (A chat? A whisper? Codetalking?)
These issues are interesting because we rely on the context of an interaction to help us through it. In all of our social encounters, it is critical that we know "what is going on" so that we can know "how to proceed." As generic and trivial as that seems, getting there of course involves knowledge of sophisticated cultural codes and practices. If mediation makes it difficult to determine the beginning, ending, and even participants of an encounter, how does that affect our ability to engage in it? And how do mediated encounters, because they differ from face to face engagements, present us with new kinds of interaction? There are three key elements here: the identity of the talker, the talker's authority, and the identity of the animator (or who's actually saying the words).