MAS 964  ·  Techno-Identity  ·  Spring 2005

design for signaling

Marc Hauser, in The Evolution of Communication, points out that a communication system consists of a sender, a reciver, and their environment. The sender's abilities, both physical and cogntive, are one element. Speaking words requires the cognitive ability to learn a language and the vocal equipment with which to produce the sound. The receiver must have the requisite abilites to perceive and understand the sender's message: my cat can hear my words, but for the most part does not comprehend them. A deaf person could comprehend, but is physically unable to hear them. The environment acts as a filter on the communication. If you are gesturing, and I have good eyesight, but you are behind a wall or it is pitch dark, your message will not go through.

In mediated communications, the communication channel greatly affects the communication. It may mean that all i can see of you is typed letters - and that those letters persist indefinitely. It may mean I see you only as an anonymous being, inseparable from other nameless, faceless, identityless participants - or that i see you in the context of detaled evaluations from every other person in the space you have ever dealt with. We can evaluate and understand the significance of these features by placeing them in the framework of signaling - how do they effect the costs and benefits of interpreting message.



Golder and Donath Hiding and revealing in online poker
Viegas & Donath    Chat Circles

and paper

Kurlander, Skelly and Salesin    Comic Chat

and paper

Raffle and Hayes-Aminzade   fuzzmail
Chang et al comTouch


  1. Read the papers and/or explore the programs. (For Chat Circles, do both; for Comic Chat, read the paper - I have included a link for obtaining the software and you are welcome to try it, though I have not been able to get it to work successfully). You should also find two additional communication technologies to explore - these can be novel interfaces, as in the examples I gave you, or commonly used ones, such as the telephone or email.
  2. The poker paper directly addresses the issue of how changing the interface changes the relationship between signal and quality. Write a paragraph or two discussing these issues: In this domain (playing poker), what are the qualities that the players want to know about each other? What do they want to reveal? To hide? What are the cues and signals (in face to face poker, avatar online poker, our online poker) that indicate these qualities? Are they reliable? Why?
  3. Evaluate the other technologies (chat circles, comic chat, fuzzmail, comTouch, and two of your own choosing). Think about them in comparison to face to face communication. What can be seen/heard/felt of the sender - i.e. what are the sensory constraints on signaling? How does this affect the reliability of the message? Is there a particular type of message that the medium is especially well (or badly) suited for sending?  How ambiguous are the signals - do you expect the sender and receiver to mean the same thing? Are there particular costs associated with the medium? Are they simply added costs or do they contribute to reliability?  What modifications would you want to make to these interfaces to make them more or less reliable?

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