IM tool bridges conversational knowledge gap

Conversations between groups of laypeople and experts can suffer because of the difference in knowledge levels between them. The expert may use jargon and buzzwords or simply assume a level of understanding of basic principles that is lacking in the layperson.

For conversations taking place in the digital realm, via instant messaging (IM) for instance, researchers in Japan believe they have developed a solution to the problem.

Fumio Hattori and colleagues at Ritsumeikan University have developed a tool that works in parallel with the IM protocols for carrying text chat back and forth between connected IM programs on the internet.

They have extended the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) so that it not only carries the data for IM to allow users to communicate, but can carry additional information at the same time.

The additional information is driven by an extra software agent that rides ’piggyback’ on the XMPP and controls which users see additional glossary information when particular terms are typed. The users’ level of expertise is assigned and the agent then decides during the IM session what extra information any given user needs to allow them to gain the most from the IM.

To prove that the approach worked, the team used it in an English composition class in which a teacher and students regularly undertook IM chats. They mapped a glossary, or ontology, of the teacher’s knowledge, keywords and expertise to a similar glossary with simplified terminology for the students. This allowed the students to see an explanation of a particular term the teacher used, without having to ask the teacher to explain it each time.