Typing indicators are terrorism

· 4min

I've been chatting electronically for a very long time. If I remember the year we got a computer on the internet, which I think it was Christmas of 1994. Positively stone age now. I missed the BBS age, stumbled into AOL chat rooms, migrated on eventually to IRC, then the age of instant messengers came around with AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and even a bit further with BBM (Blackberry's, so cool) and SMS.

I don't remember which app got it first, but I know where I first realized I had great power.


All of the rest of these apps, at least in the earlier incarnations, were very simple. You had a text box, you sent a message and you anxiously awaited for a message to come back. You knew that it might never come, but also, if it was truly important, you would pick up a phone or otherwise escalate your request. It was an unwritten agreement, at least to the sane people, that an instant message was typically not an emergency pager system that you would sit and watch like the bat phone waiting for the mayor to get informed about the hijinx that the pengin was up to moments ago.

You never knew if that person was ignoring you, himming and hawing over a response, or possibly dead.

But then someone had this great idea. What if you could know when someone was typing to you? That would be great, right? You could get a re-assurance that the person at the other end of the line saw your plee and is working on a deep and well thought out response. Or, taking a real long time to tap out 'lol'.

Typing indicators were meant as a type of comfort noise to give you re-assurance that you weren't always talking into a void.

But, as I said, great power and Slack.

I don't always use the Slack app and instead usually opt for a text based client. It keeps my chats looking like IRC from the way back days but it's a style I prefer. The way the data is presented, it also has some advantages of where it's placed.

The Slack app only gives you a typing indicator when you are in a channel with someone and it's on top. If there's another thread somewhere else, they are sending that status but you aren't seeing it. This is where the weechat (my text client) plugin for slack comes in.

It doesn't put the indicator in a particular buffer, it's just out there. When your boss starts typing a long message and you happen to glance over, you can definitely set them off balance with a 'hey X, what's up?' and they wonder how you know they are messaging you. You can tell them, or not, but either way, it's absolutely getting inside their head.

Whether or not they press the enter button is very much like whether or not you decide to say the thing you just thought of in your head.

I never really thought much of it until I switched jobs and found some people who put a lot of thought into their messages and come out with walls of text. That indicator blips on and off for 20 minutes while they get all their ducks in a row. For a certain type of personality, you may want to preempt them and say HIT ENTER ALREADY, WHATS GOING ON?

Don't forge that phones do this now for messages. After that first date when you say 'I had a great time' and your face lights up when

| is typing

Then they stop typing ... but there's no text. Uh oh.

| is typing

And then it stops. Shit. What do you do?

| is typing

And 10 gut-wrenching minutes later, you finally get that message. Was it worth knowing about?

So, I ask. Are typing indicators actually useful? In this context, I'm learning towards 'ignorance is bliss.' Turn them off, save some bits, return some sanity, and drop the anxiousness and wonder of 'what are they about to say?' and 'what's taking them so long?'

And I'd also stop being an accidental terrorist.