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 SHKaminski.com, 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.

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