When to use communication modes

Dave Pollard has nice, clear, useful, but non-definitive guide for when to use different communication media.

Tool or Medium Some Unique Advantages
Face-to-face Conveys body language, allows sidebar conversations,
builds trust, coordinates multiple communication media best
Telephone Fast iteration of a few people’s ideas and knowledge
, conveys tone
E-mail, Letter, Memo (anyone remember memos?) Makes the organization of complex ideas visible
and easy to grasp, leaves a trail, can be saved
V-mail Conveys tone, can be saved
IM, Chat Immediate access, fast iteration of a few people’s
ideas and knowledge
Weblog Provides context of communicator’s other work,
categorizable, allows comments back, can be saved
Newsletter, Newspaper Brief, immediate, categorizable
Radio, TV, multimedia Compelling, reach
Videoconference (room) Visual, inexpensive
Videoconference (P-to-P) Next best thing to being there
Forum, Collaboration Tool (project, team) Egalitarian, leaves a trail
Wiki Openness, multiple voices
Format Unique Advantage
Conversation Iterative, flexible
Interview Structured
Presentation Can use multiple media

Some of these items are subject to debate:

  • Implies that you’d use a weblog as a last resort if there isn’t another more appropriate medium.
  • Implies that voicemail is better than email for short messages — without taking into the account that email is easier to archive.
  • Implies that wiki is the tool to use if you *don’t* need fancy formatting; vs. being the tool to use if you want to focus on collaboration on content *prior to* formatting.
  • Also, it doesn’t distinguish between forum discussions, which are suitable for exploring, brainstorming, and other open-ended pursuits, and weblogs, which are conducive to converging on a result.

Despite these quibbles, the article makes the right underlying assumption. There isn’t one best communications medium; each mode has its strenghts and weaknesses; different modes should be used in different situations.

“hypertext cycles” and decision-making

Peter Merholz writes about a pattern he observed, back when he was in Epinions, about the way people decided what digital camera to buy.

We assumed that, given the task of finding an appropriate digital camera, people would whittle down the attributes such as price, megapixel count, and brand, and arrive at the few options best suited to them. If they had questions along the way, they could read helpful guides that would define terms, suggest comparison strategies, etc.
Again and again in our observations, that didn’t happen. People who knew little about digital cameras made no attempt to bone up. Instead they’d barrel through the taxonomy, usually beginning with a familiar brand, and get to a product page as quick as possible. It was only then, when looking at a specific item, and seeing what it’s basic specifications were, did they pause, sit back, and think, “Hmmm. This has 2 megapixels. I wonder how many I want?” Some would look for glossaries or guides, others would read reviews, and some just guessed by comparing the various products.
They would go through this cycle — looking at a product, reflect on their needs, understand concepts, look at another product, reflect again, etc. — a few times. Todd and I came up with a conceptual model, where the user is something like a bouncing ball, falling straight onto a product, then bouncing up, getting a lay of the land, falling onto another product, bouncing up again, but not as high since they’re starting to figure it out, falling onto another product, and repeating until they’ve found the right one.

Makes total sense. People need concrete examples in order to start to understand the conceptual space of digital camera features.
More good decision-making references in the comments to peterme’s post.

Ben Franklin’s pseudonyms

Last week, I read The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.
Given recent discussions about identity and anonymity on the internet, it was Franklin’s often wrote social and political commentary under pseudonyms.
He began writing under assumed names as a teenager, when he wrote letters to the editor in the guise of an older woman. Richard Sauders, the nominal author of Poor Richard’s Almanac, was a pseudonym.
That sort of pseudonymity would be harder to pull off today. It caused an uproar when a novel about Bill Clinton’s political campaign was published by an author who was obviously a campaign insider. Some of Franklin’s pseudonymous writing would be considered unethical hoaxes by today’s standard.
Franklin was a businessman, then a politician and diplomat. It was unwise to insult customers and political allies under his own name. He used pseudonyms to write words sharper than he was willing to sign.

New tools, new user experience

Mena Trott: Interop is essential for blogging tools; we say yes to everything our users ask for; also things they want but haven’t asked for. We provide import to and export from Movable Type. Our customers are webloggers; they don’t want lock-in, so we gave them import/export. That kept us on our toes for the last two years. It hasn’t hurt us.
The death of HTML
Cory: “can Macromedia overcome the web’s limits without destroying what makes the web the web”
Kevin Lynch, Macromedia: HTML for documents, Flash for applications. URI not good for data; conflict between application model and page model.
RJ Pittman also describes the death of HTML. Applications will be inherently connected… breaking the page barrier. Self-adusting user interfaces (what does this simplify to?)
Mena: Moving away from the web browser, moving toward the device.
(HTML has been dying every year since it started.)
Merrill Brown at Real; mass consumer media, small professional media, large professional media. “Premium content” = major league baseball. Very undecentralized. (for example, I want to comment on a baseball game with my friends, but the licensing scheme doesn’t allow it; the images are copyrighted)
A lawyer in the audience disagrees with the appliance theory; likes MT because it is modular. Mena says that they’re building TypePad which is easier but less flexible.
Cory on DRM: of course there’s demand for something that lets you do less with your music.

J.C. Herz

The trouble with online social network systems: When someone introduces people to each other, they get social capital from the interaction. The value is in the process of linking. When you publish your rolodex, you don’t get that social credit.
We’re monkey’s with keyboards; the important thing is the social fabric.

Clay Shirky

Our minitel is twisted pair — the pairs of copper wires that go into your home or business. Circuit-switched, metered, voice optimized networks are obsolete.
We’ve laid enough fiber to get to neptune and back but none of it has gotten to my basement.
We have a dumbell internet – high-band at the center and in the home, and narrow in the middle — with the telco.
IP is voice revenue eroding; you can’t protect the incumbents and get more bandwidth to the home. Protecting the incumbents /is/ what dampens innovation.
If phone companies started to account for their network at replacement value on Monday, they would be bankrupt by Friday.
The phone company is like the family farm. We let shoestores fail, but not phone companies.
QOTD: You can call french fries “freedom fries”, but the freedom fries are still sold in a restaurant, and listed on a “menu”