How to compare communication methods?
January 15, 2011 3:08 AM   Subscribe

In terms of bandwidth, how might we compare, various mediums?

I'm not really asking for maximum throughput, more a relative comparison of the fidelity of various methods of communications.

SMS, IM, Email, low quality voice, high quality voice, low quality video, high quality video, telepresence, in person.

Seems to me that text based comms, would be 'similar', in terms of nuance and error.

Voice would be much better than text, but not a huge difference between low quality voice and high quality voice.

Video leaps forward again over voice, by adding all the non verbal information, but again, quality probably doesn;t make that much difference.

telepresence is better imo, it really does remove the 'tele' part quite effectively.

but nothing beats an in person meeting, for high bandwidth, high fidelity, nuance rich communication.

..thinking about doing a visualisation, not sure how to scale them all.

any ideas?
posted by matholio to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
google media richness theory.
posted by k8t at 3:30 AM on January 15, 2011

Each one of those things has a huge variance. For example, you can get decent voice (not music) reproduction using 2-4 kbit/s Speex, while EFR (GSM phones) encodes voice at 12.2 kbit/s, while SILK (Skype 4) has a variable bitrate of between 6 - 40 kbit/s. Same thing with video -- with a high efficiency codec like h.264 you can have workable low resolution video at 300 kbit/s while the scene standard bitrate for 720p x264 encodes is about 3200 kbit/s, and typical broadcast bitrates for 1080i television are around 12-15 Mbit/s MPEG-2.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:57 AM on January 15, 2011

Information Theory deals with intelligence transfer. Claude Shannon is a name you will find associated with it.

The stuff you are communicating is called 'intelligence'. The medium is called 'carrier'. There are limits to the amount of intelligence you can put on a carrier in a fixed amount of time, and that's what we call bandwidth, more or less.

If you are willing to wait, of course, the intelligence can be conveyed slowly. The trick in most communications is to get the intelligence presented in a period that matches the perceiver's limits, at which point it looks instantaneous. There are many, many tradeoffs between bandwidth and ergonomics and technologies, not to mention economics.

I am sure someone, somewhere has compared the bandwidths (or an analogue) of various media in simple terms, but I don't know of one off hand. If I were doing such a chart, I'd be endlessly stuck in categorizing communications and deciding which to include and which to ignore.
posted by FauxScot at 4:09 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is largley unanswerable because it depends on the message being communicated, expectations of whats being communicated, intent, etc. Some examples:

1. I want to tell my grandma a funny story. - phone.
2. I want to show my grandma a Monet painting - a jpeg.
3. I want to tell someone quickly to get milk - SMS.
4. I want to show someone a powerpoint presentation - webcast video + voice.
5. I want to show someone a video presentation - full video + voice
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2011

I also disagree that voice will always be better than text. Its easier to parse text than voice and voice over these low-bitrate cell phone and VoIP codecs can be very difficult to understand. Not to mention you won't be able to get proper spellings without asking, easily search the conversation later, etc.

I guess you could come up with some reference communication like an old man telling a story about fishing but humans communicate in many ways other than gestured storytelling. Teleprescense isn't good for all applications.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:38 AM on January 15, 2011

And don't forget that sometimes it's better to use a more limited medium. As in, I want to exchange information without the time involved for f2f interactions. No small talk, no pleasantries, no nuance... just the info. I'm not being anti-social here, just conveying that not all improvements to the transfer improve the experience.
posted by wkearney99 at 10:33 AM on January 15, 2011

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