The Structure of Communication

The Structure of Communication

Temporal Structure

Synchronous (real time)

Synchronous Communication transpires in real time. In other words, it transpires when two parties are present in relation to each other in such a manner that that enables them to initiate a communicative act that is apprehended essentially instantaneously by the other party(ies) involved in the communicative act.

Examples of this is include face to face conversations, telephone conversations and instant messaging.


Asynchronous Communication, in contrast to synchronous communication transpires when two parties are not present in relation to each other in such a manner that enables them to initiative a communicative act that is apprehended essentially instantaneously by the other party(ies) involved in the communicative act.

Examples of this include letters and email.

Distributive Structure


One-to–One communication when one individual initiates a communicative act intended for another individual.

Examples of this include letters, emails from one person to another person (not a group!), instant messenger, telephone calls between two parties (not conference calls!), video conferencing


One-to-many communication when one individual initiates a communicative act intended for more than one other individual.

Examples of this include group email distribution, mail drops (letters sent to a whole postal code, form example), voice messages sent from a single source to a large number of mobile recipients.


Many-to-Many communication transpires when many people are in the presence of each other and therefore a communicative act can be initiated by a number of different individuals in such a manner that enables the communication to be received by a number of different individuals.

Examples of this include face to face group interaction (meetings), conference calls and video conferences.

Intentional Structure


Private communication transpires when the intention of the communicator is such that what is communicated is intended for a precisely defined recipient or recipients.

Examples of private communications are letters, emails and telephone calls.


Public communication transpires when the intention of the communicator is such that what is communicated is not intended only for a precisely defined recipient or recipients. In other words, it is the intention of the communicator that what is communicated might be received/apprehended by anyone.

Examples of public communication include advertising, magazine and newspaper publication and postings in public forums (internet discussion threads etc.).

It should be noted that what makes a communicative act public is the fact that a representation of what is communicated and archived.

Presence Structure


Unmediated communication transpires when the parties to the communication are present in space in relation to each other in a manner that enables them to apprehend each other through the use of all of their senses.

Examples of unmediated communication include face-to-face conversations, meetings (in a room, not online…)

It is important to note that associated with unmediated communication is the consciousness those that are party to the communication have of their spatial proximity to each other. This consciousness has evolved due to the obvious fact that, to date, it is not been possible to interact in an unmediated fashion in the absence of temporal proximity. However, there is no theoretical impediment to the possibility that unmediated communication might be non-spatially proximal. At this point this might be science fiction, but we might be able to imagine the possibility of technology advancing to the point where we can experience others through all of our senses in a precisely analogous manner to how we currently experience those that are in our immediate presence, yet where it is such that the other person is in a physically different location.


Mediated communication transpires when the parties to the communication are not present in space in relation to each other in a manner that enables them to apprehend each other through the use of their senses.

Examples of mediated communication include letters, telephone calls and emails.

The nature of how communications are mediated needs to be analyzed in terms of the modes of sensory stimulation that are activated in the interaction. Hence, we can extend our taxonomy as follows;

Textual Mediation:  it is the written word that provides the essential mode of communication.

An example of this is the letter.

Auditory Mediation: it is the auditory sensory process that is essential to the mode of communication.

An example of this is the telephone.

Visual and Auditory Mediation: Both the visual and auditory sensory process are essential to this form of communication.

An example of this is a video conference.

Persistence Structure

Persistent: A persistent form of communication is one where the idea that constitutes the communication persists in time. In other words there is a record of the communication that can be viewed at a later time.

Impersistent: In contrast an impersistent form of communication is one where the idea that constitutes the communication does not persist in time. There is no record of the communication other than what resides in the mind of those that are party to the communication.

Implicit Potential

Reflects the extent to which a particular form of communication makes possible implicit communication.

Communications Taxonomy

Empirical Types Temporal Structure Distributive Structure Intentional Structure Presence Structure Persistence Implicit Potential
Face-to-face Conversations Synchronous One-to-One Private Unmediated Impersistent Very Strong
One-to-One telephone ccnversations Synchronous One-to-One Private Auditory Mediation Impersistent Moderate
Conference Calls Synchronous Many-to-Many Private Auditory Mediation Impersistent Moderate
Instant Messaging Synchronous One-to-One Private Textual Mediation Impersistent Weak/Moderate
Chat Rooms Synchronous Many-to-Many Public Textual Mediation Impersistent Wea/Moderate
Discussion Boards Asynchronous Many-to-Many Public Textual Mediation Persistent Weak
Letters Asynchronous One-to-One Private Textual Mediation Persistent Weak

‘Mail Drops’

Asynchronous One-to-Many Public Textual Mediation Persistent Weak
One-to-One Email Asynchronous One-to-One Private Textual Mediation Persistent Weak/Low
One-to-One video conferencing/web camera Synchronous One-to-One Private Visual and Auditory Mediation Impersistent Strong
Many-to-Many video conferencing Synchronous Many-to-Many Private Visual and Auditory Mediation Impersistent Strong
Group Emails Asynchronous One-to-Many Public Textual Mediation Persistent Weak

Next Generation Communication

We are most interested in forms of communication that satisfy the following conditions: are synchronous, many-to-many, public, visual and auditorily mediated, and persistent.

Transitions In The Possibility For Communication: summary[b1]

Transitions in the possibility of communication in respect to time, and its relationship to group formation can be briefly summarized as follows:

Basic Verbal Communication (limited communication form): Talking and shouting represent this form of communication. The ability to communicate is limited to the number of people who can hear you when you shout!

Basic Written Communication (limited communication form): Writing represents this communication form. The ability to communicate is limited in the sense that the pace of distribution of information is a function of how quickly one can distribute written material – books, flyers etc.

First Generation Electronic Communication (one to one communication): This form of communication is represented by the telegraph, telephone etc. These methods can be considered linear communication forms in that they represent communication from one party to another. With the exception of recent advancements that are not used widely (conference calls, for example), most electronic communication easily supports only one to one communication. Second Generation Electronic Communication (one to many communication): This form of communication is represented by email, the use of which is growing at an explosive pace. Email allows for the easy management of lists and groups, as well as control over how one communicates. It allows for easy communication to groups, and represents a recent evolution in group communication process

Third Generation Electronic Communication (real time many to many communication): This form of communication is represented by Instant Messaging: As a result of bandwith increases, and the proliferation of the internet as a medium for communication, we are seeing an explosion the use of Instant Messaging, which allows for real time communication between many participants simultaneously.

The Next Generation in Communication: (organized and mediated [SF2] real time many to many communication): The next generation of communication and interaction will include the ability to effectively organize, collaborate and work in real time dynamic groups on the Internet. Key components of this will be:

  • Organizational systems that facilitate the coordination of virtual teams and virtual projects; integrated collaborative tool systems.
  • Your ability to have your relationship with the internet mediated by Intelligent Agents that provide the capability to customize the nature of your interaction with the exponentially increasing volumes of data that are out there.
  • Your ability to interact in real time with members of your group if you wish.

Group Communication

Communication needs to be understood in four different ways:

Intentional: the act of communicating something where there is an intention to communicate. In other words a person means to communicate something to someone specific, or to some specific group.

Non-Intentional: the act of communicating something when there is no intention to communicate anything specific to anyone in particular. Note that you can communicate non-intentionally by creating the conditions that make communication possible.

Explicit: the act of communicating something that is crystallized in some way – written, verbal, a picture etc.

Implicit: the act of communicating something that is not crystallized – best understood, for example, as body language, tone, inflection etc.

The distinction between non-intentional and implicit communication is subtle and rests on the fact that implicit communication is part of an intentional communicative act. As per the example above, in the case of a someone that is having a conversation with someone else, we note that a component of what is intentionally communicated in this communicative act will be implicit – it will be the grounds for the sorts of inferences that are made by the other party in the conversation in relation to one of voice, inflection, gesture etc. We note, however, that this must be distinguished from non intentional communication since it is part of a communicative act that is fundamentally explicit.

[b1]Needs to be reworked

[SF2] Need to expand on nature an implications of mediation

Moving Forward!

It’s been a long time since my last blog entry. Much has changed in my life and this will be reflected in the blog as I move forward. Those of you that take the time to read some of my previous entries will note that the focus was highly abstract and theoretical.

As we move forward you can expect the content to be more balanced. Most of it will reflect what I am thinking about and working. Even so, due to the fact that there are some deep intuitions that underlie my opinions, one can expect the content to maintain a bit of a philosophical feel.

One easy way to get things going is to reference several documents that I have written in the last few months. These documents provide a good overview of what I am thinking about and working on:

Climate Change Collaboration Platform: A description of a platform and processes that could be used to develop collaborative processes within the climate change space. See:

Open System Mobilization Platform: This is the very large vision for a platform that would enable very large numbers of people to collaborate in real time! See:

Ecosystem Collaboration Platform: This is a powerpoint presentation that contains a visual representation of the sort of platform that I think would make collaboration between organizations much more effective. You will need to download it from:

Social Venture Investment Bank: This is a position paper exploring the viability of the creation of an investment bank in Canada, the purpose of which would be to finance social ventures.  You will need to download it from

Let me know if you have any questions regarding any of these documents.

As we proceed, I’ll talk more about what I am doing to advance the ideas that are introduced in these documents.

Suresh Fernando

On Utilizing Technology To Connect People On Different Continents

As many of you know, I am greatly interested in the way that technology can be utilized to connect people across across the world – to make the constraints imposed by geography less relevant.

Since I am a musician, one particular angle on this that I am pursuing is using music at the centrepiece of this process. In other words using technology to broadcast music globally, and to use this process to engage people on issues of social change. The following is evidence that others are thinking along the same lines…

If this concept interests you, please let me know as I am working on putting a team together to explore potential projects in this area.


We Got Skillz is bringing together basketball, music, fashion and dance to host an annual event to be held in Kampala, Uganda that will use these four areas to advocate for social change. This event has the potential to unify, empower and cultivate the importance of international cooperation in an exciting new way. Musicians such as Boys II Men, Joe Thomas, Tanya Stevens and Tanto Mentro & Devonte will be coming to perform. Other performers from in and around East Africa will be hosting workshops for young people in Uganda prior to the event. International dance crews, fashion designers and basketball players will also be coming to contribute to the workshops and the event.

The objective of the event is to showcase the local talent within Uganda and provide a platform for young people to maximize their potential. We believe that positive messages can only be received when they are delivered in a way that distinguishes them from other negative messages. That is why we have chosen to utilize what has already proven to be one of the most influential tools on the planet: hip hop culture. (According to Radiotron, Hip Hop School of Arts in Los Angeles CA, “Hip hop has proven itself to be a solution, an alternative, and a way out of poverty, crime, gang life, drug abuse, violence, vandalism, and negativity…Hip hop has saved and transformed the lives of thousands of people. It has become a vehicle through which young people can join forces together and empower themselves through the arts to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities.”)

Both the workshops and the event will be multicast around the world. The interactive multimedia communication technology provide and supported by Asita Informatica Inc. This event will launch the WGS Global Voice bridging the digital divide project that will be starting immediately preceding the event. Schools from all corners of the globe will be invited to connect through an online platform, allowing young people from various cultures and backgrounds to interactively learn about the lives of the other young people that they are sharing

Technology and Massive Dialogue

There has been much discussion on this blog about the changing nature of space; the way that we can extend the environments that we are in in order to bridge geographic boundaries.

Another theme that is related, and that I will expand further on in due course, is the idea that technology allows you to extend the range and scope of the conversations that we have. We can include more people in the conversations that we have, and to the extent that we do that, we can get to know others that are located at  distance from us, develop a consensus on how to deal with problems with these people and so on.

The following is a great example of what is happening.


Okay, we finally have a venue set for the Mass Dialogue session on Dec. 10th. It will held in the IRMACS theatre (ASB 10905, from 9 to 11 am.

Here’s a spiel from Amber to get you started, and below that is my own synopsis of what I think will happen, based on the larger pdf document that I’ve attached below. The documents below put together by Amber provide a good about of background (helped me a lot!). Please send info as far and as wide as you can, and ask them to RSVP to

On December 10, 2008 join youth from across BC as they connect with the youth delegation at the United Nations Climate Change Meetings, COP 14, in Poznan, Poland.
Young people across the province will gather together at schools and municipal buildings to hear an update of the international negotiations from youth working on the ground in Poland, to have their questions answered, and to find out how BC youth can help make a difference to the outcomes of COP 14. Youth unable to gather at the hubs throughout BC will be able to join the live videoconference through their home computers. This event is part of the Mass Dialogues, a program that will see 35,000 young people around the world connecting with youth at COP 14 to engage on the issue of climate change and create positive change.

The format will be something like this:
9am – we make the connection with the Poznan people and establish communication.
9-9:05 am – People arrive.
9-9:30 – participants learn how the question process is going to work.
9:28 am – 2 minute warning from Poznan
9:30 am – Moderator introduces and welcomes attendees, we have a brief video of ourselves shown worldwide (It will be a few seconds).
9:35 – Moderator introduces the session and the panelists in Poznan.
9:45 – Panel discussions begin – moderator poses his/her own questions to the panel of judges. During this time, SFU participants (and people around the world) write their questions on paper and give them to the SFU moderator, who types them into the Poznan moderator, who selects questions for the next section.
10:15 – Moderator begins to ask questions selected from Mass Dialogue participants. If you question is selected, you come up to our microphone and when ask it live.
10:45 – Thanks yous and session ends.

Who is a youth? Someone under 30.
Do I have to be an expert on climate change? NO. You have to be a youth. Prepare if you want, or just come and learn.
Will I be on camera? The whole group will be for a few seconds at the beginning. But if your question is selected your voice will be heard.

On Massive Social Change (MSC!!)

I posted the following on the Technology and Social Change wiki that I am developing at:

So what is this wiki all about? This wiki is for those that believe that the internet can be used for socially beneficial purposes!

What makes this particular wiki unique?
Simply that it has a very specific focus – to aggregate information and ideas that lie at the intersection technological innovation and Massive Social Change (MSC!!)?

What is Massive Social Change
(MSC!!)? Good question! The idea that technology, and most specifically the internet, contributes to social change is not news. Obviously it is transforming our environment in immeasurable ways. What is not being discussed is the role that the internet can play in creating the sort of change that can positively transform the world on a massive scale – the sort of social change that is revolutionary in nature.

That sounds grand, but why bother with Massive Social Change? Well, are you concerned about issues like climate change, poverty, famine, war etc? If those sorts of Global Problems are to be resolved, they will require Massive Social Change.

Do you seriously believe that those sorts of problems can be resolved? Yes I do. I do not believe that it is intrinsic to our nature that we must kill each other, destroy our environment and so on.

If it is not intrinsic to our nature, then why is conflict and misery the story of human history? Things have been as they are due to the fact that the human race has evolved in a very specific way – with specific groups evolving in isolation from each other.

What does the particular pattern of the evolution of human history have to do with the current state of affairs in the world?
It is simply a fact that, for example, the hunter-gather tribes in Africa evolved separately from other hunter gather tribes in the Northern hemisphere. As a result of this, they evolved different value systems, customs etc. What is important to note is that the value systems and norms that they evolved were unique to their particular community. The point is that different communities evolved because people were spread out in different parts of the world and therefore had no contact with each other.

So even if it is true that different communities evolved because, historically, people were geographically dispersed across the globe, what does that have to do with the current problems in the world? It is my view that conflict, and the inability to develop solutions that account for all people, is due to perceived differences between communities, people etc. Perceived differences, in turn, are the result of the fact that communities have evolved independently and therefore have formed their own values, customs, religious paradigms and so on. It is this sort of heterogeneity that is an impediment to the formation of the sorts of consensus that are necessary for the resolution of global problems.

If, for example, we want to come together to address the issue of climate change, the underlying ethos must the our commonality not our differences. We must see each other as brothers.

A good example of this idea is played out in science fiction movies like Independence Day, where the threat of annihilation by an alien species causes the world to come together to ward off the enemy. What is interesting in this sort of narrative is there is a collective consciousness of our commonality in the face of something that clearly stands distinct from us. Furthermore, with the collective consciousness of our commonality we are able to do great things!

My contention (at least my hope) is that external threats are not necessary for us to have the sense of our commonality. What is necessary is that we recognize that the differences that we perceive are contingent realities that are the result of the evolution of the species and could have been different. For example, we can certainly imagine that the world consisted of only one small tribe in one location that expanded over time. We can reasonably assume that, if this were the case, we may only speak one language, have one religion etc. I fully recognize that this is an oversimplification, but the overall idea should be clear.

OK, so what does the internet have to do with solving the sorts of problems that you say are the result of the evolution of human history, but could have been otherwise? The answer has been hinted at in the conversation that we have been having. To the extent that the problems are the result of perceived differences, and perceived differences are the result of the formation of different communities, the answer lies in the formation of a singular Global Community.

The idea of a Global Village is not new, but it does not seem to be contributing to the solution. Many people would argue that globalization is part of the problem. It’s important to understand that the notion of a global village is still in its infancy. Keep in mind that the birth of the internet as we know it is less than two decades in the making!! What we need to do is to be able to think outside the box and envision how, as the technological infrastructure evolves, the changes that take place will fundamentally impact our lives. We must look further into the future to understand the sorts of things that are possible and then once we can envision the possibilities, we must work towards making them a reality.

So, give me an example of something that we should be thinking about that is not getting the attention that it deserves. Consider the utilization of social networks like Facebook. In most major North American cities and, in particular, in universities, the penetration rates are very high – ranging in some cases to the 75% range. Currently Facebook is used largely to keep in touch with friends, to organize social calendars, to exchange information about music interests and so on. In short, it is used to manage our social processes. The reason that Facebook has exploded in the way that it has is because it provides the best architecture and user experience for those that want to manage their social processes (there is more to be said about this and I have said more in The Concept of Facebook).

The important point is that what is important for the younger generation are their social processes, therefore the success of Facebook can, at least in part, be attributed to solving an important problem for those that are in high school and university. The point is that, for those, that are roughly 15 – 30 years old, there is nothing that a technology platform can do that is more important for them than to provide them with a means to meet people, keep in touch with friends, express themselves to friends etc.

Therefore, first and foremost, the success of social networks is that they solve the problem that people have regarding social contact.

The question that I believe needs to reflected on is: what happens when the user base of social networks gets older, they have families, have careers etc. and making more friends is not their first priority. What then?

Will social networks like Facebook evolve to account for the fact that peoples’ priorities in life change?

Will social networks evolve to provide applications that will assist people in making a contribution to their communities when contributing to their communities is more important than making more friends?

This is all very interesting, but it seems that we are digressing. We were talking about the creation of a Global Village for the purpose of resolving global problems. How does the internet contribute to this? In short, the internet changes three things; the Space between each other, the Patterns of Communication between each other, and the structure of Knowledge. It is in understanding these ideas and their interdependence that the solution will reveal itself.

It is not the place to go into this in detail, but if you are interested in more details, please visit my personal blog at I will, however, give you a few thoughts on these ideas:

Space and Presence: We can think about Space intuitively. If we are both sitting in the same room, then we are both sitting in the same space. But what is it that makes it the same space? The fact that we are Present in relation to each other, where to be present in relation to each other means that there exists the possibility for us to be conscious of each other as a result of the sensory stimuli that we receive from each other. In short we can see and hear each other. In the olden days, in order to be present in relation to each other, we needed to be physically in the same space with each other. Nowadays, presence applications like Twitter make it possible to be present in relation to each other differently and therefore the nature of the space that exists between each other is changing.

The important point is that our presence in relation to each other is now not dependent upon physical proximity!

Communication: Communications technology is introducing a whole new range of possibilities for how we communicate with each other. Traditionally, the most common form of communication happened face to face, which is synchronous (exchange). Once could also send letters, which is an asynchronous exchange. In both cases, we were limited to communicating either to a single person or to a larger group that was confined to a space of restricted size (say a large hall). It is now possible, in theory, to communicate simultaneously with millions of people! It should be apparent that this has implications for the possibility of Massive Mobilization (MM!!).

The important point is that the scope for communication is now not limited by physical constraints.

Knowledge: The evolution of databasing technology, search engines, RSS, spiders etc. have had a huge impact on our capacity to interact with and form knowledge. What is important to note is that, historically, knowledge was something that was created either in isolation, or in small groups. For example, Mozart worked on his compositions alone. At best a team of a few scientists might have worked together on a project. It is now possible to create knowledge collectively like never before and what we must consider are the possibilities for community formation that arise from collective knowledge formation. In other words, we can now create projects that involve millions of people. Consider the implications that this has for bringing people together!!

The important point is that collective enterprise is not limited by physical (or geographic) or temporal constraints.

It is the constraints that I have identified (and that the internet mitigates) that have, over the course of the evolution of history, contributed to the development of community specific ideologies and therefore to the perception of difference.

Well, this is all very interesting and I wish you the best of luck in mobilizing people and resources around this project!!

Thanks very much!! Please circulate information about this project to anyone that you think might be interested.

On Massive Mobilization (MM!!)

What is Massive Mobilization? Real social change requires Massive Mobilization, which, simply put, is the deployment of a massive amount of resources around single projects. By massive amounts of resources I refer to primarily to labour and intellectual capital.

A brief examination of critical points in history where meaningful social change has taken place will reveal that this social change was the result of the collective will of many people. This is what a revolution is! It is only if there is a collective will towards change that change will take place?

But isn’t there a collective will to solve global problems like poverty, climate, famine etc? You raise an interesting point… I would say that there is a certainly a will to resolve global problems of the sort that you mention and that will (or intention is a better word) is held by many people. What is missing is the collective part. What is missing is the mechanism to bring people together in a manner that will force the sorts of change that many people want, and that are necessary.

Why is financial capital not just as important? It is not that financial capital is unimportant, it is only that there is no shortage of financial capital, nor is there a shortage of those with financial capital that are in search of worthy projects. Once the underlying organizational and mobilization mechanisms are in place the financial capital will follow. Those with the money are shrewd and wise. This is why they have the money! Once they see that there capital will be directly responsible for making the world a better place, they will support the projects.

So what is missing? If you spend as much time online as I do, it will be clear to you that there are many different organizations with good intentions. There are organizations that are focused on particular issues, say youth or poverty. There are those that are more regionally focused; say on Africa or South Asia. There are those that are very small, those that are somewhat larger and so on. There is no shortage of people making an effort to make change.

What is missing is the fact that all of this positive energy is not being effectively deployed. There is a strength in numbers and it just does not make sense for there to be hundreds of small organizations working on alleviating poverty in Africa, for example. Of course, each of those organizations that is working on alleviating poverty is making a positive contribution, but if all of these groups worked together on certain projects, the results would be much more dramatic.

Would the effects of collaboration simply be increases in efficiency? A central part of the message that I want to communicate is that the process of large scale collaboration is more than just about improving process efficiency. Of course, processes would be improved as certain redundancies would be removed. Personnel and volunteer management, for example, could be centralized.

More importantly, large scale collaboration changes the community within which people participate. It extends the community and makes peoples’ activities part of a much larger enterprise. Wouldn’t you prefer to be working for a team of 10,000 people that are focused on solving poverty issues in Africa? Wouldn’t your confidence that meaningful change can actually take place be increased?

What cannot be forgotten is the human element in the social change process. People involve themselves in projects and their community for a number of reasons, and an important one is to be a part of a community that has a purpose. This is what provides them with purpose. Hence creating a community that has real purpose and a sense of collective momentum will improve the lives of those that are participating in it and this, in turn, will serve to generate further momentum.

This is what will make the sorts of change that we dream about a possibility!

So what has to happen to make this vision a reality? It is advances in technology, and the internet specifically, that will make this possible.

How and why this is so is not something that I can explain in detail in a paragraph or two, but is the purpose of this blog (and the wiki that I just started at http:///

I can give you a glimpse of what needs to happen and what will happen as the technology infrastructure evolves and user patterns evolve over time. In the previous entries I have introduced the notion of space and suggested that we need to think deeply about the nature of space and they way that it is changing in the modern world.

My contention is that as the nature of space evolves, it will be possible to extend the dynamics of small group interaction to a larger scale. Small group interaction is typically conducted face to face and in real time. This is what takes place in meetings etc. What technology makes possible is to extend some of the patterns that are at play in these sorts of interactions across physical boundaries.

I will say no more on this topic at the moment, but will treat it in great depth in due course.