Modes of Communication

by  Sam C. Chan

First Published: May 14, 2000
Last Revised: November 2, 2005

Over the last 2 decades*, I have studied in and experimented with modes of communication extensively, both in the context of business operations and personal/social life. Each mode has its pros and cons. Optimal results are often achieved thru a sensible combination.

The purpose of this article is not to make you an expert in understanding the different modes. Rather, it's to give an overview and awareness of the issues and aspects, so that you can ask the right questions, as pertained to your goals and objectives.

* My own use of "online chat" started in 1981, in the era of CompuServe, The Source, and numerous BBSs. It became known as IM (instant messaging) a few years later. Implementing business IM was what prompted the writing of this piece. The focus here is not IM itself. Rather, it's the combination of modes, and contrast among them.

Different Modes
face-to-face, in-person meeting
video conference
landline phone (includes cordless)
wireless mobile phone
satellite phone
2-way radio (FRS, GMRS, Ham)
VoIP + POTS gateway (Vonage, etc.)
VoIP via Internet (commercial or self-op)
VoIP via LAN (as digital PBX plumbing)
VoIP via Wifi (as gateway to POTS)
voice mail
Weblog (blog)
Web Forum
Traditional Internet News Group
SharePoint Portal
Web Conference/Seminar
Webcast (streaming video/audio)
Dropbox & Upload Sites
SMS (text messenging)
FAX via phone line
FAX via Internet (POTS gateway)
Postal mail
shared whiteboard/apps
remote control session
sign language

Also: smoke signal, tin cans, semaphore, Morse code, telex

Aspects of Each Mode
interactive level
learning curve
ease of operation
geographic availability
passive/active checking
bulkiness of apparatus
popularity and ubiquity
general reliability
resilience under adverse conditions
versatility (1-tool, multi-purposes)
authenticity (source verification)
integrity/accuracy (content alteration)
irrefutability (accountability)
cost (fixed and variable)
"call" setup time
sustained latency
archiving: central/scattered


Comparison of Modes - with Overlapping Features

mobile phone/SMS/IM
wireless phone/2-radio
whiteboard/remote control
web portal/email
As you can see, the spectrum of criteria is vast. The various modes are scattered across the multi-dimensional space of features, functionalities and costs. Their respective uniqueness and purposes are largely self-explanatory. However, there are a few notable clusters of modes with overlapping characteristics, subtle distinctions, and warrant in-depth comparative analysis.

Goals of Communications

info transfer

Benefits of Instant Messaging (vs. email & phone):

  • Real time interaction (like phone).
  • Easily and accurately convey detailed technical info such as URLs and error messages (like email).
  • Simultaneous sessions with multiple participants feasible.
  • No long distance phone charges. Works globally.
  • Single uncluttered log per conversation, vs. threads of scattered email messages.
  • "Follow-me" accessibility, wherever the user signs-on.
  • Presence and status indicators.
  • Discreetly respond to simple but urgent matters, while in meetings, or while on phone.
  • In the presence of a visitor, staff can discretely communicate w/ back office to determine actions
  • Less intrusive/demanding than phone, accommodates slightly delayed responses.
  • Seamlessly switch between synchronous (instant) & asynchronous (delayed) interaction modes
  • Send sound, images and URL in collaboration.
  • IM accessible via mobile devices.

Email Advantages vs. Phone:

  • Non-intrusive. Minimize interruption.
  • Time I spent in thinking does not cost you!
  • Time you spent in formulating the question does not cost me.
  • Provides a trail of written records, it covers everyone, and is helpful from the technical point of view.
  • Facilitates full/partial delegation. I can have part or all of the research done on my behalf, with my supervision.
  • Can leverage previous work.
  • Forces you to structure & clarify the problem descriptions
  • Voice messages are error prone for detailed technical matters
  • Can include error messages and log files, etc.
  • I can work at 11:30pm California time and respond

Email Advantages vs. FAX:

  • No busy signals
  • No dedicated line or troublesome switches
  • Retrievable from hotel room when I travel
  • Much faster transmission
  • Physical space efficiency
  • Auto-file, keyword searchable
  • Editable content
  • Can include color pictures, sound & video
  • Can provide hot links
  • Far superior legibility

See also:

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