August, 2008


10
Aug 08

A Taxonomy of Computer Mediated Communication aka Social Software

Path: mv.asterisco.pt!mvalente
From: mvale…@ruido-visual.pt (Mario Valente)
Newsgroups: mv
Subject: A Taxonomy of Computer Mediated Communication aka Social Software
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 08 17:51:21 GMT

As part of my research/work on my masters thesis [1] and as
a result of my “40 year old” extendend spring cleaning, I got
to sort of re-read the cult bible for computer/network hacking
geezers: John Quarterman’s “The Matrix” [2]

[1] http://mv.asterisco.pt/Files/MV%20Master%20Thesis%20Proposal%20Social%20Software.pdf
[2] http://www.amazon.com/Matrix-Computer-Networks-Conferencing-Worldwide/dp/1555580335

Just in case you’re wondering, that is indeed the book where
the Wachowski brothers got the name for the 1999 movie, although
John Quarterman got the title from what the worlwide network was
referred to in Fidonet circles [3]. The Internet was just a chapter
(a large one :) on the book which did get to become one of the
holy books of the telecoms world (although largely unknown, as it
should be with all holy books) [4].

[3] http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/M/Matrix.html
[4] http://cgi.gjhost.com/~cgi/mt/netweaverarchive/000245.html

In “The Matrix” John Quarterman has an early attempt at
creating a taxonomy of what he calls “computer mediated
communication” (mainly email, news, etc, at the time), a
classification scheme for what today we’d call social software.

This got me to go out and look for other taxonomy/classification
schemes for CMC/socialsoftware and I’ve found few though very
interesting sources and drawn some potentially interesting ideas
or conclusions (interesting not only in an academic terms but also
in a business kind of way :-)

Chris Jay makes a very simple classification scheme, taking
into account the synchronicity and the privacy of the communication:

http://chrisfjay.blogspot.com/2007/11/web-communication.html

I think that the synchronicity aspect is definitely a facet to
take into account but I’m a bit more skeptic about the private/public
aspect. Not that I think its not important; its just that privacy
is orthogonal to the other aspects (ie. you can have a public CMC
system and make it private by adding authorization/authentication)

Tim Bray also uses the synchronicity aspect (he calls it immediacy)
and brings in a couple of aditional aspects, lifespan and audience:

http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2007/11/23/Communication

These I believe are of utmost importance in understanding the
different CMC systems out there. More than that, in understanding
past CMC systems, current evolvements and potential future
developments in CMC and social software. Below I will use these
aspects in a slightly different way.
Like Tim says right at the bottom of his article, using these
facets and “if you draw the right graph, maybe you’ll see the gaping
hole in it, the Next Big Thing.”

Finally, Susan Herring’s more complete and academic paper uses
a *lot* of different aspects for classification, including
classification not only for the medium (the system/software in
this case) but also for the situation (the use being made of
the system/software):

http://www.languageatinternet.de/articles/2007/761

Once again the sychronicity aspect shows up, as well as the
persistence (Bray) and the privacy (Jay), along with a few
others. The “audience” aspect (number of participants) shows
up not in the medium classification factors but in the
situation factors. I personally feel that this should not be
the case, since either the medium (ie. the software or system)
allows for it or not and thus its a medium facet.

So here is my take on all of this: I believe that the
synchronicity or immediacy aspect is definitely one to take
into account; the audience or participation structure is also
very important, but I will refer to it as arity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arity

The third aspect that I will use is different from the 3 past
classification schemes and is, I think, an agregator for some
of the facets used in those.
I will use only 3 dimensions because that is all I can deal with
both mentally and in written form; one can draw a cube or two matrices,
more than that and its quantum physics :-)

I think that the facets referred to as private/public by Jay, as
lifespan by Bray and as persistence by Herring can be best addressed
as a “publishing method” issue: whether the information that you
intend to communicate is “published”/”pushed” to the intended
audience or if the intended audience “subscribes”/”pulls” the message
or information. Indeed if the publishing mode is different, namely
“pull”, the information or messages will have to be stored for later
retrieval, thus addressing the lifespan/persistence facet. The “pull”
would also have to be subjected to some kind of public/private
authorization scheme. Thus I believe that understanding CMC and social
software from this point of view does not preclude these other
facets, instead it subsumes them.

(While writing this last paragraph an article on TechCrunh just
showed up in my newsreader that addresses the matter of “audience”
and that ties in nicely to my analysis…)

http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/10/why-twitter-hasnt-failed-the-power-of-audience/

Up until recently the usual publishing method has been the “push”
or “publish” mode. By this I mean that the emitter creates some
piece of information (a message) and addresses it in some way
(a person or a group); the message is then delivered to some point
(a mailbox or a folder) to be retrieved by the message receptors; the
key point in this mode is that message delivery is initiated by the
emitter and the message is “pushed” as close as possible to the
receptor; the receptor doesnt have much choice on “receiving” the
message (other than ignoring, deleting or blocking).
Assuming this method of publication, lets analyse current CMC and
social software systems using a 2×2 matrix with arity on one axis and
synchronicity on the other:

Synchronicity

                        Sync                        Async
               +--------------------------+--------------------------+
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |          Chat            |                          |
               |    Instant Messaging     |          Email           |
               |         Phone            |          SMS             |
         1:1   |          F2F             |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
   A           |                          |                          |
   r           |                          |                          |
   i           |                          |                          |
   t           |                          |                          |
   y           |                          |                          |
               +--------------------------+--------------------------+
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |        Room Chat         |       Usenet news        |
               |          IRC             |                          |
               |                          |                          |
         1:N   |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               +--------------------------+--------------------------+

In recent years we have seen a surge on the “subscribe”/”pull” mode
of publication. In this mode the emitter creates some piece of info
or some message but this is kept as close as possible to the source,
with the receptor having to explicitly subscribe or pull the message
from the source. There is usually no special need to address the
message to a particular receptor (or receptors) and the receptors
have a lot more say on who and what messages they want to read.
Assuming this method of publication, lets see which “new” pieces
of social software fit in the matrix quadrants:

Synchronicity

                        Sync                        Async
               +--------------------------+--------------------------+
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |          ?               |           ?              |
               |                          |                          |
         1:1   |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
   A           |                          |                          |
   r           |                          |                          |
   i           |                          |                          |
   t           |                          |                          |
   y           |                          |                          |
               +--------------------------+--------------------------+
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |        Twitter           |         Blogs            |
               |                          |         Wikis            |
               |                          |         Feeds            |
         1:N   |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               |                          |                          |
               +--------------------------+--------------------------+

(Please feel free to send me some email if you think that I have
misplaced some of the technologies or if I’m forgetting a relevant
one; I would appreciate some inputs….)

Now, given the above matrix it is, at least for me and for now,
easy to draw two conclusions:

– its easy to see why Twitter is so successfull; just like blogs
have replaced Usenet as the 1:N/Async tool of choice in the
“subscribe” world, so has Twitter replaced IRC and crappy group IM
as the 1:N/Sync tool of choice in the new world.

– its easy to see the “gaping hole, the next big thing”; what will
replace email/IM/phone as the 1:1/Sync and 1:1/Async tools of choice
in the “pull”/”subscribe” world? And, in the case of email, could
it/this be the definitive solution to the “spam” problem?

Food for thought and, paraphrasing Paul Graham, things that would
definitely invest in ;-)…..

— MV