Of all the characteristics defining the difference between online and real-life play, interface and access to information are both the most constant, and most ineffable. This means we can describe them, but not explain them, specifically identify or measure them -- nor avoid them.
Furthermore, some of these factors are self-equalizing -- that is, they affect both players the same, and thus make little real difference competitively; but a surprising number have the potential to not only define a very different experience overall, but also to affect opposing players unequally.
First, the obvious: ISC is a two-dimensional, virtual board with virtual tiles; in real life we play with three-dimensional boards, bags, clocks, tiles, etc. On ISC, our opponent is invisible and sometimes unknown; in real life the opponent is physically present, and we can read their mood, responses, 'tells,' etc.
Within the virtual environment, different users exhibit vastly different comfort levels and practices.
Marsh uses the command line almost exclusively, typing 'his mosaic' to view our history. John prefers to use the 'history' command in the drop-down contextual menu that appears when you click the mouse on the word 'mosaic.' Neither is better than the other, but illustrates differences in the way two persons' brains wire up to a virtual interface.
Marsh, too, is a practiced gamer, and playing MPG's like Diablo she has learned to stay aware simultaneously of the primary action, the world map, health levels, potions and weapons available, all whilst chatting with mission companions. No surprise that she is much more apt than John, during a game, to chuckle at some inanity in the #20 gossip channel. John develops tunnel vision on the board, and becomes blind to chat.
Shuffling tiles virtually is uncannily different from real life -- for some players. (Some players don't even shuffle tiles in real life.) How do these differences affect the ability of the brain to see anagram solutions? This question crosses unmeasurable perceptual factors with unmeasurable memory and learning factors, and is doubly unanswerable.
Might some association with study methods hold here? Is it possible that a player more used to Lexpert, Jumbletime, and video flashcards would favor problem-solving in the ISC interface; whereas a player more used to books, lists, and paper flashcards would favor physical shuffling of tiles?
Back in Marldoom days, there was at least one player who preferred longer games mainly because they set up a physical board beside their computer, and used it to work out their play each turn.
In recent decades psychologists have posited five, nine, and even more types of 'intelligences.' All of this suggests there are possibly radical -- and certainly significant -- inherent differences between an ISC player's performance and their corresponding real-life ability, and these differences can swing both ways.
Player A may feel a deep and organic connection with the 3-D game equipment, and manipulating the tiles and viewing the board from above in real space might trigger all the necessary mental cues for active spatial, verbal, and strategic problem solving and pattern matching; the same player might always see the virtual world of ISC through an unnoticed filter or a kind of double-processing, while the brain continually adapts or translates.
Player B may live and breathe very fluently in the virtual world, but be uncomfortable in the public setting of a club or tournament; they may be prone to nervousness, over-susceptible to in-person psychological ploys such as fast-bagging or aggressive demeanor, or may be prone to bombing in clutch games.
There could easily be a persistent 200-400 pt. ratings swing between Players A and B depending on venue, without recourse to any allegations of cheating.
The differences in information access and processing between ISC and real life also affect this equation. ISC provides perfect, instant scoring (even prior to making one's play), and perfect tracking. Consider a player who has not yet mastered physical tracking, or who can't add, and one who is perfect at these IRL -- ISC equalizes differences like these, that could have a material effect in a close game in a tournament.
Conclusion: If someone seems consistently better than their real-life record, don't jump to the conclusion they are cheating. It is only an indicator. And if your own performance online vacillates, or seems to lag behind your real-life experience, perhaps it's due to some of these interface factors. Wait for ISC on the holodeck :-)
Next: Tile Draw and Randomization