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Is Modern E-Communication Meaningful Enough?

What is communication? Is it about information sharing? Is it about update notifications? In any case, we need a meaningful approach.

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What awaits electronic communication in the future? Will voice and video replace text one? Barely. Voice and video do not suit abstract and complex thoughts, references, or quotations. Voice and video do suit quick communication of ideas, which can be represented visually or in audio form. And there is another subtle factor pro text communication: written form is good to fix other people's statements both intellectually and legally. Maybe, then, there will be only social networks (which can combine text, video, and voice)? In the current form, no. Social networks mostly give no control over information, which we publish there, which is very critical for organizations and companies. Social networks do not allow complex formatting (mostly because they are restricted within boundaries of proprietary sites), though, ironically, they incarnated "personal home pages" for many people.

It is not a surprise that we still use email and will do in the near future. Email protocol is simple and open and email addresses are unique (unlike a combination of only first and last name). On the other hand, text communications have problems, which can be explained by the nature of text: it comes sequentially, lines by lines. A metaphor of a paper is efficient for editing, but only until the moment you need something more complex (like several topics or questions and answers per parts of a text).

As we can see, modern e-communication has flaws and shortcomings, which means it is to progress. We can try to guess in what direction this progress will come. What is communication about? It is information exchange with someone. Information cannot exist in the void; it is to be shared. It matters more and more not only how we communicate but also about what we communicate.

How do you interact with information in communication right now? You can write an email with your vision for some problem. Someone will reply with comments either to the entire email or with quotes throughout the email. Then, an email thread will swell from mini-threads inside the same email and you will lose tracks of what is discussed. Of course, you can write a document in an application, which supports document commenting, but then you will depend on this application. You can write a web page, publish it, and notify other people with an email, a chat, or in a social network, but the publishing of web pages is still not so simple in all situations.

Which web server to choose? Will it be available? Can I access it from all devices and browsers? Whereas, in the case of email, information is with us as soon as it is delivered in a mailbox.

There are a couple of problems in this (but they are not restricted to emails only):

  • We are attached to boundaries of emails as for content, whereas meaning may spread over many emails and the same email may include several meaning points.

  • We do a lot of copying and pasting to move information between different computer entities (which means information may be outdated, but pasted text won't be aware of it).

  • We spend a lot of time for classifying information, but with inappropriate tools and often duplicate effort.

  • A lot of communication is produced about information updates and because they are too repetitive, we often ignore them as receivers.

Imagine you work with an astronomical application that has an issue in a window for Jupiter chemistry. Say this application allows feedback for any data and the application crashed when you tried to apply own data file to correct data. Nowadays, in this situation:

  1. You will write an email with the "PlanetZ crashed" subject.

  2. In an email, you will describe the problem and will attach a file with data from the "C:\users\me\Documents\data\jupiter" folder.

  3. The email will be stored in the "planetz" folder at your side.

  4. The support will sort this issue into the "PlanetZ/crashes/Jupiter_chemistry" folder and/or add "crash", "Jupiter", "chemistry" tags.

  5. At the support side, the attached file will be saved in the "/home/sup/apps/planetz/jup/chem" folder.

  6. In a reply, you will be asked which version you use, what operating system you have, how you reproduce it, etc.

As you can see, email was classified four times (two file folders and two email folders) plus the email subject, which is a sort of classification too. If the further discussion will have a lot of questions and answers, soon it will be hard to figure out where one part starts and ends and all classifications might become misleading at all.

Now, imagine that meaning is supported by a meaningful environment. If the issue happens:

  1. On the opening of the Jupiter chemistry dialog, you will be in meaning scopes of "PlanetZ", "Jupiter chemistry", etc.

  2. A data file will be placed in the same or similar context beforehand because its meaning is about it.

  3. After the issue happens, the "crash of Jupiter chemistry dialog of PlanetZ application" scope can be created automatically or manually.

  4. In this scope, you can write your own notes how the crash occurred and add the file to it.

  5. You can send a notification about a meaning scope of the crash along with your notes and the file.

  6. The support will receive the update in a scope, which is similar to what you have, but if there are two types of similar crashes, they can send you an update for your context with, say, "import module crash of Jupiter chemistry dialog of PlanetZ application" (but you may not accept it and have your own simpler definition).

  7. The support may reply to the update with a question: "which operating system do you use?" You will get this question in the context of the crash, alternatively: "what operating system do you have?" The question may be answered automatically by your meaning space.

  8. If the support wants to discuss validity of data in the attached file (say, they claim it is old measurements but their application is up-to-date), then the communication may spawn a discussion in a different scope of "Jupiter chemistry measurements" (but all updates will be visible also in a generalizing scope of "Jupiter chemistry").

Differences between the meaningful approach and the old good one are as follows:

  • Information containers are transparent to meaning and adjusted with meaning scopes.

  • Copy-paste could be not required, as we work with information in a certain context and then just send an update about it.

  • Alternatively, copy-pastes might become smarter and keep track of their own source.

  • Classifying is slightly different as it is more or less similar for a sender and a receiver, meaning scopes work instead of file and email folders, subjects and titles, and tags.

  • Update handling is considered along with communication and is not so sporadic as it is now.

Why could the meaningful approach work better? At least because the meaning scope is a quite flexible thing; it is both meaning itself, and a scope, which may include files. It also is an identifier. Therefore, we can flexibly operate with it as we do with natural language identifiers. We can have the "Jupiter" scope, which includes the "Jupiter chemistry" scope, which includes the "Jupiter chemistry measurements" scope, which includes "Jupiter chemistry measurements done at Jun 1, 2050" scope, etc., until we have indivisible values. That is, by the combination of identifiers, we may increase or decrease a scope on the fly to match a target meaning.

Unlike file/email folders, scopes do not use hierarchies, so we have no problem of a choice between "Galaxy -> Solar System -> Jupiter", "Celestial bodies -> Gas giants -> Jupiter", or "Astronomical objects -> Planets -> Jupiter". Meaning scopes avoid problems of hierarchies (a) for which similarity rules are only implied (so we may only guess similarity criteria for grouping Jupiter with other planets or gas giants), and (b) which are arbitrary because anything can be grouped by similarity with too many different things. Namely, these problems lead to a situation in which we put information to a hierarchy but then forget a path to it because after some time we inclined to use different criteria of similarity.

Instead, meaning scope begins with identification and only after we can group meaning with another according to similarity rules. But we should not forget that identification itself implies applying of similarity rules, too. Thus, to discern "Jupiter" as a planet and "Jupiter" from mythology, we can use "Jupiter (planet)" and "Jupiter (mythology)" identifiers. But unlike hierarchies, even if we use both "Jupiter (planet)" and "Jupiter (solar system)" identifiers, both can be compared easier than file and email folders. Similarly, we can compare easier more complex identifiers, which consist of a sequence of identifiers linked with basic relations (like "is," "has," "of," etc.). In this case, we need to assume similar identifiers linked with similar basic relations are similar too. Say, "Jupiter chemistry" implies "chemistry {of} Jupiter", "Jupiter composition" implies "composition {of} Jupiter", so to compare them we need only to compare "chemistry" and "composition".

Though these two words taken separately are far from similar, applying their meaning to Jupiter is quite similar. Of course, we can barely establish all correspondences between all identifiers and feed them to algorithms. That's why it can be done manually at first (say, in the form of questions and answers in UI). Even so, this small step forward would allow more graceful information transfer (comparing with contemporary file sending and copying).

Finally, what is communication, then? Is it about information sharing? Is it about update notifications? It is not a coincidence that communication is more and more like information management and collaboration. We have more and more needs in the smarter tracking of information updates (including their notifications, aggregation, and visualizing), more tight integration with the meaning environment, and versatile means for collaboration (joint editing, message versioning, etc.). At the same time, it becomes more and more probably we will communicate not only with humans but also with intelligent agents.

In either case, we need a meaningful approach. In the case communication with humans, we need to express meaning more precisely than we do with natural language. In the case of communication with intelligent agents, we need a bridge between the meaning of natural language and computer entities. And the more persons or intelligent agents involved, the more volume of information, the more complexity of it, means the more importance of meaningful and collaborative communication.

Discover the warning signs of DevOps Dysfunction and learn how to get back on the right track, brought to you in partnership with CA Technologies.

Topics:
communication ,semantics ,email ,agile

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