On Collaboration: How Do We Communicate with Thee?

Jim Ware and Charlie Grantham

      This article on collaborative technologies discusses three primary kinds of communication tools - voice, text, and video. The authors, Ware and Grantham, first distinguish qualitative communication aspects of the three media. About voice, they point out that telephone now offers multiple conversation access, faithfully communicates any language accurately and conveys sound accurately enough to reproduce distinguishing qualities of each speaker's voice. It spans the globe and can be accessed at fixed and competitive cost as a result of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service providers, which now connect to land lines also.

Ware and Grantham focus on the voice mail aspect of telephone service, along with email - both asynchronous communication tools - as tools considered by users to be more productive because they can be direct with less "chat", and often preferred by users because they can offer a moment of reflection before a response is required, unlike "real time" conversations. Concerning text-based messages in particular, the user can move among tasks, rather than stay on a fixed task, because asynchronous communication tools allow it. The negative side of the "asynchronous message mode" of voice mail is the amount of time spent listening and responding to voice messages, which must be done more or less in sequence.

Text message systems - email, text and instant messaging - though often faster paced, still allow for some reflection, review, and recomposition time. They differ in that they can be broadcast more widely. The authors cite the proliferation problem in saying that each email sent can elicit multiple responses and, collectively, they become a time consumer. They describe text as less able to convey emotion and more apt to result in mistaken messages and even mistaken recipients, but more able than voice media to support planned, organised composition.

As for video as a communications medium, Ware and Grantham ponder the question of why it has not found wide usage as a personal communications medium. Large businesses may use video conferencing systems to reduce travel, but, though inexpensive systems are available, they are not widely used - cost/quality ratio remaining a possible barrier and convenience/familiarity/habit remaining a barrier also. However, authors focus on YouTube as a technological phenomenon that may influence commercial marketing, product development, and other business processes because it is increasing familiarity and developing habits of utilisation of short video.

In short, telephone technology is a common and familiar collaborative tool; text is widely used for its "forethought" feature and for a possible "simultaneous" connection with a widespread work group or set of groups, and now, with wireless and cellphone technology, for its portability; and video is still less accepted, but facing growth possibilities. Given this overview, the authors conclude with the following recommendations:

Ask which medium fits the message.
An etiquette would help deal with the overload of asynchronous messages, particularly on the principle that more is not necessarily better.
Individuals need daily "think" time in which they are not available to anyone, in order to foster knowledge-related work.

The full article is available here

15th Nov 2007