June 27, 2008

Twitter and "Desynchronous" Communication

In the quaint language of academia, "CMC" - computer-mediated communication - is the phrase typically used to identify person-to-person electronic communications. Oftentimes, CMC tools are classed as either synchronous or asynchronous and then plotted on this sort of matrix (e.g. Computer Mediated Instruction):


(Other dimensions you can add in are one-to-one communication, one-to-many, many-to-many and so on...)

But it seems to me that I increasingly use many asynchronous tools in a "near-synchronous" or "presynchronous" way, and potentially synchronous toos in an asynchronous ('desynchronous'?) way.

For example, twitter allows me to engage in one-to-one (private), one-to-one (cocktail party) and one-to-many way in near real time, or with an arbitrarily long gap between statement and response. Instant messaging allows me to engage in synchronous conversation or send message to people offline, knowing they'll be able to pick them up when they are online. (Ands others have noticed from their own perspective, (e.g. On Twitter), my IM usage has gone down since I started tweeting...)

Looking again at the above figure, it seems to me that twitter pretty much falls into every quadrant: for example, top right is the conference room backchannel, bottom right is the backchannel open to the world. Top left are asynchronous wrokplace tweets ("anyone for coffee"), and bottom right are end of day tweets that may not be picked up till tomorrow (if at all).

SMS has similar properties maybe, but requires a different access device and one that is maybe not so amenable to flow, when compared to an ever open or oft-looked at computer window?

Ramble, ramble, ramble; not sure what I meant to post about, really...

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Posted by ajh59 at June 27, 2008 04:07 PM

I think Twitter's resistance to classification using this "standard" CMC graph is a valuable observation. You've highlighted some of Twitter's broad appeal, and suggested that "Web 2.0" tools may be inherently different from the tools that have driven our descriptions of technology-mediated interactions.

Posted by: Jared Stein at June 27, 2008 05:58 PM

Yup, that's Twitter in a nutshell - deceptively simple on the surface, surprisingly multidimensional when you start to explore it. Consequently, very difficult to explain, because it looks like it doesn't need an explanation, and attempts to "teach" Twitter seem patronizing. The only way to learn Twitter is through experience. A bit like life, really.

Posted by: AJ Cann at June 27, 2008 06:16 PM

This is something I've talked about when discussing Twitter in the past... synchronous, asynchronous, near-synchronous, semi-synchronous, hybrid. Technically some other non-Twitterish tools can be wedged into a few of these categories, but Twitter so naturally weaves between them. It means something, but I'm not completely sure what...

Posted by: Chris Lott at June 27, 2008 06:56 PM