If You Had to Choose One Form of Digital Communication, What Would It Be?


Via Mark Hillary on Flickr

That’s a funny question isn’t it? It is something of a parlour game question. Yet it’s a marvelous way to analyze the features of different communication modes, and to think about what we really need from our communications.

The inspiration for this blog post was a discussion with Chris White and others over on FriendFeed. The discussion centered around the merits of email, Twitter and other forms of communication. In the middle of the discussion, Chris asked:

If you had to choose one medium of digital communication, which one would you choose?

Well that, of course, got a good round of arguments. And it’s a good question.

Here are some modes that come to mind. I’m going to hold off on including mobile phones in the discussion. We’ll take voice as a given.

  • Email
  • Instant messaging
  • SMS text
  • Twitter
  • Social networks (i.e. Facebook)
  • FriendFeed

The table below covers several considerations for these different communication modes:


The characteristics listed above are those that came to mind in considering digital communications. They’re not tech-geek stuff (like bandwidth, architectural factors, etc.). More a list of things that lay people would experience.

A few notes about the table before I pick my communication mode:

Email is both persistent and searchable. Those are valuable characteristics, as Joelle Nebbe notes during the FriendFeed discussion. But they have to be in your in-box to be accessible, because they are private.

IM and SMS text are pretty similar. One happens on a phone, the other happens on PC client. Or both happen on the phone, I suppose. LOL kthxbai!

Twitter can be both private (DMs) and public (default). The 140 character limit is genius to some people, frustrating to others.

Social Networks are private? Doesn’t that fly in the face of all the media about embarrassing pix on Facebook? I know information can leak out, but that’s not the default setting. For instance, see if you can find the most recent blog post I wrote on Facebook Notes about my kids. Unless you’re my friend there, you can’t access it. It’s private.

Social Networks are private in terms of their in-site messaging. Like Twitter DMs.

FriendFeed is public or private. Privacy can be a setting for all of your stream, or you may live in a Room with restricted access. It’s one-to-many only. No way to reach out talk to a specific user directly.

My Own Selection

As I wrote in the discussion on FriendFeed, if pressed I’d have to select Twitter. Why?

  • DM allows private one-to-one conversations (unless you’re Robert Scoble)
  • @reply acts as an in-box for public tweets
  • Searchability is very important and valuable
  • Public tweets are a different form of communication, one that I’m increasingly valuing as a way to cast a larger net for information and feedback

On the FriendFeed discussion, Chris White noted that email supports file attachments, while Twitter doesn’t. But as I wrote in yesterday’s post about the Atlassian Confluence wiki, I could live with my documents being in a centralized web space. I’d just tweet (Yammer?) a link to the document. It’s not perfect. There are times you need to get a document to someone who may not have access to a private web space. That would be a pain. But the other advantages of Twitter are enough for me to live with the pain.

A word about FriendFeed. If they ever decide to support direct messaging and something similar to the @reply tab of Twitter, then they would become my communication mode of choice. There is so much more that can be done there via different media types, along with Rooms and Lists.

Those are my thoughts. How about you? Email has survived this long, and has a lot of well-designed features. Maybe that would be yours? Did I miss some key points about the various modes? Gloss over a deficiency too easily? Maybe there’s another form of digital communication I missed?

Take a second and say which communication mode you would choose in the poll below (RSS reader – click over quickly to select one).


See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22If+You+Had+to+Choose+One+Form+of+Digital+Communication%2C+What+Would+It+Be%3F%22&who=everyone


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

14 Responses to If You Had to Choose One Form of Digital Communication, What Would It Be?

  1. “If they ever decide to support direct messaging and something similar to the @reply tab of Twitter, then they would become my communication mode of choice.” I second that. For now, I had to choose e-mail, especially for exchange of attachments.

  2. spolastre says:

    I’m sticking with email. I can’t live without it.

  3. Bora – yeah, FriendFeed could be the ultimate communication mode. There’s a lot of content that passes through. They already allow you to load pix. Maybe files?

  4. To me it’s IM, hands down. I really dislike e-mail. I’m all about the immediacy and intimacy that IM provides. I always am delighted when I get the chance to move notifications from e-mail to IM. FriendFeed and Laconica providing service over XMPP is the greatest thing since slice bread. If I had my way I’d replace all e-mail with IM.

  5. Brian Bufalo says:

    I hope and pray when FF becomes the one and all platform. It is so well thought out. But for now, I wouldn’t be able to function without email. That is my number one choice! Great article. ****

  6. Pingback: Pages tagged "persistent"

  7. GeekLad says:

    Google Talk does allow you to save your chat history within your Gmail. So in that sense, IM can be searchable and persistent as well.

  8. I personally would have to say social network first, then SMS/Twitter (I consider those one in the same). But, over all those I would have to say phone. I don’t mind communicating over the web, but if I really need to talk to someone I would rather do so over the phone then any other way.

  9. spolastre – I know what you mean re: email, and not being able to live without it. Persoanlly, all of my communications seem to happen on FriendFeed, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

  10. Bjorn – nice! You’re an IM fan. I’m glad you weighed in. I wasn’t sure whether anyone would pick that.

    I agree about the value of immediacy. It’s a key driver for a lot of our experiences online.

  11. GeekLad – good call on Google Talk retaining IM chat archives. Not surprising that Google enables that.

  12. Mathew – social networks are great for communication. I do have a lot of conversations on Facebook. Makes sense.

  13. Barce says:

    I would choose social networks because really good social networks like Facebook have all the other forms of social communication within them.

    If I had to choose only one, then I would choose the one most facile for meta-communication. Friendfeed is the best meta-communicator.

  14. Pingback: FriendFeed adds file attachments. Next up, Google Wave? « I’m Not Actually a Geek

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