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02 February 2006

LIFT06: Stefana Broadbent, 'SMS is to tell you I miss you'

Stefana leads the User Observatory at Swisscom. She presented findings from her team's ethnographic research into different communication channels. It was a great talk - and probably useful to many - so I'm posting my rapidly-jotted notes...

People are extremely sophisticated in their communication choices, and usually choose the best channel for each situation.

Fixed phone - collective channel
Mobile voice - micro coordination channel
SMS - intimate channel
Email - administrative channel
IM (and, increasingly, VOIP) - continuous channel with a few people
Blogging - networking channel

Fixed phone - collective channel
Most fixed phone conversations are done in public - 75% from public space in home, only 25% from bedroom or study. The exchanges that are done on fixed phones have relevance for all members of the household. It's economical to be overheard, so not so much about privacy.

Mobile voice - personal, micro coordination channel
80% of exchanges are with just 4 people. Regular communication with the most intimate sphere of friends and family. Content analysis - micro coordination accounts for more than 50% of exchanges.

SMS - intimate channel
Emotion, efficiency. Only the most intimate sphere of friends and family. 'Grooming' messages - thank you, endearments... - keep relationships alive. A form of communication that has found its realisation in SMS. Over 50% of grooming communications happen through SMS.

Email - administrative channel
(Studied residential usage, not business.) Support to online activities - travel and shopping preparation. Coordination with extended social group (clubs, friends, services). Main channel for sending content (attachments) - mostly pictures and jokes - within close social network. Collective communication - sending message to multiple recipients. People are mostly communicating with acquaintances and service providers. Impersonal relationships are maintained with email.

IM (and, increasingly, VOIP) - continuous channel with a few people
Open a communication channel for the day and then just step in and out of a conversation. IM allows people to keep an open channel in the background while they do other activities (multi-tasking). People aren't talking with everyone on Skype. And not just because their social network isn't on Skype but because it supports certain kinds of communications, very similar to instant messaging. Completely different from short and instantaneous type of communication in other channels.

Blogging - networking channel
Focus on users of Myspace and cyworld, rather than blogs. Here, people have one-to-many conversations. Form of communication that allows (mostly young) people to hugely extend the number of communication partners. People use it as a hub of communication. Movement away from email and towards these blogs because they provide a space to chat that doesn't have the admin characteristics of email.

Important to note that new forms - SMS, IM, VOIP, blogging - not substitutional. There is a constant evolution. Each new channel that appears slowly redefines the uses of older media. IM redefines use of SMS, blogging redefines the use of email, VOIP changes some uses of fixed phones. Maybe the longer conversations that fixed phone has been for will go on VOIP channel.

A pattern of communication emerges slowly, stabilises for a period and then changes again when new communication channels are introduced.

Need to stress how sophisticated people are in their choices and how subtle these things are. Find exactly the strengths and limitations of each channel. E.g. SMS character limitation - so you use it with people you know very well. When I finish this talk I'll send my husband a message ('went well') and he will know the context. That's what makes it such an intimate space.

Responses to questions:
- Not all about cost, that's just one factor. People using mobile phones at home, for example.
- Main users of fixed phones are women, because they're the ones who mostly handle social organisational activities.

Map position of technology in home.
Record timelines and schedules (TV, PC, Judo, etc).
Communication diaries - annotate every exchange they have, e.g. voice call, email (who, where, content).
Relatively small, ethnographic study but validated by others. (100 people kept a diary for 4-5 days, 3,000 interactions.)

Posted at 05:27 PM in Social software | Permalink


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Very very interesting - the kinds of stuff a telco *should* know...! I wonder how these patterns vary by culture and gender?

Posted by: Imran at 3 Feb 2006 13:33:00

thats ma addy

Posted by: craig allan at 11 Feb 2006 14:09:59

Hi! I'm researching brazilian types of users of smartphones, blackberry's, pocket pc's, palm's. I would like to know more about this research you've made. Please, contact me. Thanks. [ ]'s

Posted by: Anne at 19 Feb 2007 00:10:11