Models of Communication

I had an interesting conversation this week with socialistgamer at oxtuttle about voice comms within games. It reminded me of my old communication studies A-level course many years ago, and of the classic formal models for communication. I promised to try and track them down, as they were very hazy memories, so here they are. These examples are all drawn from, who has made some useful notes on them, so I’m just providing links rather than using their diagrams.

The Shannon-Weaver Mathematical model from 1949 portrays a linear model of a single object of communication, showing the factors involved along the way. It nicely incorporates the concept of noise along the path of the message from sender to receiver, the factors that surround the message but are not part of what is intended to be sent.

Schramm’s Model of Communication from 1954 shows a more circular model of communication, with messages being sent between two sources at the same time. This is perhaps a more accurate model of the process, as in a conversation between two people, there often isn’t a clear back and forth, sometimes they will talk over each other, and throughout they will be sending messages via non-verbal communication, showing interest with their eyes for instance.

Both are basic classic models of the process, and indeed there are many more recent and complex models to explore. However I think they are both useful to remember when considering the process of communicating in areas such as gaming and social networks as a starting point. We were discussing the difficulties in playing multiplayer games when this thought came up, how in some cases playing at a LAN party was easier than playing online from your own home, and in some cases more difficult. The noise factors at a LAN party might be for one obviously more noise, more distractions from being in a room with several other people, playing in an unfamiliar place compared to your normal location. However also being able to see and speak in person to people, rather than through microphones and text chat, can make communication easier, reduce noise.

Similarly, noise can affect how a message may be received on say Twitter. How many people are each of your audience following, are you one of a few, very likely to be read, or are you one of many hundreds or thousands, part of a vast stream of information. Is the network solid, will your audience receive all your tweets, or is the network prone to going down, meaning they may miss it entirely even if they want to read it. Have you annoyed people with a lot of silly or spam messages, are they likely to ignore even a good useful message because of other things you’ve said previously? These and a multitude of other factors all can act as noise surrounding every single tweet you send.

Although both these models are over 50 years old now, they are still nice simple models to apply to communication to see how it works, and where the potential pitfalls lie.

Why I won’t buy an iPad yet

Thought I’d ponder this a little while, give the product and the chatter a little chance to sink in. The iPad looks gorgeous. Pretty much a few weeks after I’d bought my iPhone, I knew I wanted the same thing, but somewhat bigger. I’m not a genius on this front, I know many people felt exactly the same. And now it exists, it looks right, and as one would expect from Apple, there are a few little twists that make it better than I imagined. Getting properly into the ebook reader market is one, an Amazon that works like the iPhone store is perfect. Price is another, if as it seems it comes in around the £400 mark, that’s a lot cheaper than I’d have guessed.

So why not buy one? Well, for me, the iPad is going to be a device I’d use sat in front of the TV. I’ve got an iMac for doing my own work, and for serious surfing. I’ve got a proper laptop for work. For the sofa surfing, I’ve got my trusty Acer Aspire One netbook. Now, the netbook isn’t the iPad, isn’t as lovely. But it does fulfill the same task very adequately, and I just don’t think I can justify it to myself on the basis of loveliness. If it breaks, and can’t be fixed, then I’ll happily buy it as a replacement, but there isn’t any other reason to get it yet. It doesn’t doing anything else over and above a netbook to me, so I’ll happily wait. By the time I need an iPad, it may be in a second generation. It may be cheaper. Most importantly of all, I’ll have the need for it.

Home Fabbers a step closer

A recent tweet from Bruce Stirling pointed me in the direction of the kit for a new home fabber unit, the Cupcake CNC machine.

Makerbot Industries – Cupcake CNC from MakerBot Industries on Vimeo.

Fabbers (Fabrication Units) are essentially 3D printers, which can cut or form an object out of materials, normally plastic. In the case of the Cupcake CNC, it extrudes thin molten plastic precisely to form the object. There have been industrial versions for many years, but the idea of the home fabber is something I think I first heard mentioned about nine or ten years ago, quite possibly by Bruce Stirling.

This idea has interested me for some time. It’s the prospect of manufacturing in your own home, being able to download new designs for objects, make new ones yourself. Possibly being able to recycle plastics into new objects, making cups or plates when you need them, rather than having to buy them. It really is a device I can foresee being in most homes eventually. And devices like these are the transitional ones, just like the computer kits that Bill Gates and Clive Sinclair amongst many others sold in the 70s that quickly became the first commercial home computers, these are the first steps towards that idea becoming reality. I can’t wait!


It’s a little odd and great all at the same time that I can refer back to myself eight years in the past.

9 changes I wish to see promised by the next government of the UK

1) BBC4 to become BBC1. It should be on 24 hours a day, and just be more of the same. All the daytime stuff and indeed the night-time stuff is pointless, it just drags us down. I blame The One Show for the current economic climate, banking and big business was doing fine before it, then all of a sudden when the leaders of our economy came home and settled in for a nice quiet evening in front of the telly, they were being bombarded with a death ray of the banal, that shook their very faith and confidence in life. It isn’t a co-incidence that the last real recession followed the rise and fall of Nationwide.

So it should go, replaced with fine documentaries on motorways and synth-pop. The Thick of It can go back on there where it belongs. Any shortfalls can be filled up with James Burke documentaries and random episodes of Now Get Out of That.

2) Three brand-new sports to be invented in time for the London Olympics. We should do alright in terms of medals this time round. Is alright good enough though? I want to see an absolutely cracking medal haul, and I feel the way forwards on this is new sports. We’ve got a wonderful track record in creating sports, but we then let other countries have a go, and we really suffer as a result. So I propose we create these new sports, then keep it really quiet until the day before.

3) The blind fury of Daily Mail readers to be harnessed as a sustainable energy source.

4) A new cheese named after an imaginary county. Close friends will know of my passion for Lymeswold, a long-lost unsuccessful rival to the classic French soft cheeses that died on its arse in part due to its slightly burnt taste. I’ll give a lot more leeway than most people to a blue cheese, even one with a few design flaws. So I suggest we try again, same sort of cheese, less burning, and call it Northambria.

5) Repurposing of the Royal Mail. Sadly I can see few ways forwards for the Royal Mail in its present state. We’re simply going to stop sending cards and letters altogether over the next decade or so. However I love stamps, and the idea of this causes me a little sadness. I can remember the excitement when they showed a new commemorative stamp issue on Blue Peter (it was the 80s, I lived in Darlington, you took excitement where you could get it). So instead we need a Royal E Mail, lovely little banners designed by the artists of Britain, that can be pasted into the header of your emails for a month or so.

6) A commitment to improving computing and monetary literacy. My notes got a bit damaged in the rain the other day, so all I can make out of this concept, having previously considered it carefully in some depth, is the sentence “therefore unemployment benefit could be topped up with Zynga dollars for use in Mafia Wars on Facebook”

7) Becoming far closer to Europe. We’ve simply got better as a nation the more we have embraced our European friends, traveled there more frequently, learned about proper cooking from them, nicked their nice drinks. If we hadn’t joined the EEC, Masterchef would consist of people heating up Lean Cuisine microwave meals and drinking Blue Nun. So let’s move to the same timezone, replace all our pubs with bars and cafes, get even better at cycling, and follow all their practices with meats. I’m prepared to be flexible on this one, I will accept a few more local branches of Aldi and Lidl instead.

8 ) True proportional representation. Everyone gets a percentage of a single vote based on their mass.

9) The end of the 6 episodes per series sitcom model. This is just an outdated practice, and has held us back as a country of comedy. Everything should be at least 13 episodes long. Except My Family.

Regal to reopen?

A quick follow-up to my previous post What’s going on at the Regal?. The Oxford Times is reporting that it is due to reopen this week, as it has heard from a couple of sources that events have been confirmed as going ahead now.

I’m going to check for myself later in the week to see if this the case, and report back. I hope so, it really would be a shame to lose such a fine venue in Oxford so soon after its launch. These do look like positive signs, although an official comment from the owners on their site or to the Oxford Times would probably be a good idea.

Regal to reopen next week (From The Oxford Times)