Fernanda Viégas
Sociable Media Group
MIT Media Laboratory

© MIT 1999-2005


enter chatroom

 people & history


Chat Circles
Fernanda Viégas
Judith Donath.
CHI 1999

Visualizing Conversations
Judith Donath
Karrie Karahalios
Fernanda Viégas
JCMC, 1999

The chat circles series: explorations in designing abstract graphical communication interfaces 
Judith Donath
 Fernanda Viégas
DIS, 2002

Chat Circles is a graphical chat room that has been publicly running since 1999.

Whereas other graphical chat rooms use graphics in more realistic ways - backgrounds look like city streets and parks while avatars usually resemble people, cartoon characters, and animals - Chat Circles uses abstract shapes to convey identity and activity. Our aim is to use graphics to convey the dynamics of conversation as well as to unveil the patterns of activity that emerge through the interaction among users. We employ simple 2D graphics that change in shape, size and color to communicate the rhythm of conversations. Each participant is represented by a colored circle on the screen in which his or her words appear. The circles grow and brighten with each message, and they fade and diminish in periods of silence, though they do not disappear completely so long as the participant is connected to the chat.

Graphical Log

In Chat Circles, the log interface can be thought of as a two-dimensional (2D) model of the conversation, with the y axis representing time. Just like in the conversational interface, each user here is represented by a different color (users keep the same colors they had during the conversation for graphical consistency). The temporal sequence results in colored threads on the screen that, when viewed together, reveal the interaction patterns within a conversation. Each participant's thread displays individual postings as horizontal bars crossing the vertical time line.
Users can read individual postings by mousing over the horizontal bars, causing the corresponding text to appear.

Traces and Graffiti

Participants in Chat Circles have the ability to affect the way the chat room looks by leaving their mark in the space. Some of the pictures in the background of the room function as "bulletin boards" allowing users to post persistent messages.

Users leave
ephemeral traces when they move their circles in the room.

Learn more about the Chat Circles features.