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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal


2.2.2 Concepts

Moving beyond the underlying assumptions, a set of key concepts underpin all Kaufer and Carley's discussion of written communication, whether proximate or at a distance. These building blocks are relative similarity , mental models , communications , fixity , signature , reach , concurrency and distance .

Relative similarity is defined as "the ratio comparing (a) the degree to which one individual is similar to another; to (b) the degree to which that same individual is similar to everyone in the social system" [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 121]. An example of interaction based on relative similarity is the tendency for scholars to form what Crane called 'invisible colleges', based on the degree of fit between their interests [Crane, 1972]. Such informal networks often form the basis of research collaboration and preprint exchanges.

Mental models are defined as "the internal systems through which individuals are able to represent language, meanings, and histories to themselves" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 20]. Kaufer and Carley argue that mental models are a feature of cognitive agents and that the human mind is a collection of relatively invariant mental models [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 119]. They suggest that such an understanding is an argument against strongly technologically determinist views that the change from oral to print communication altered the human cognitive system. Rather, they argue, "communication technologies affect human behaviour ... by altering the content and rate of information supplying an agent's mental models, not by changing the architecture of the mental models themselves" [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 119].

Communications are the externalised aspects of mental models carried through some medium [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 21]. Kaufer and Carley distinguish communications from codes (the physical reality of a semantic representation fixed in some medium) and messages (information that is stabilised by an authority outside the speaker).

Fixity is "the degree to which communication technology enables the communication to be retransmitted without change" [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 100]. Print is an example of a medium that is inherently highly fixed. Electronic text is much less highly fixed (unless stored on a read-only device).

A signature is an abstract idea that "links an individual's unique mental model with an external artefact, including a communication ... that the mental model is responsible for producing" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 22]. Signatures can be explicitly conveyed through a handle , typically a proper name. They can also be implicitly conveyed through the communicator's style - manner, gesture, distinctive vocabulary, choice of phrase or other mannerism.

Reach for an individual can be defined as the number of people whose mental model is affected by a signatured communication from that individual [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 125], [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 25]. The reach of a particular communication at a particular point in time can be characterised as lying somewhere on a number of orthogonal axes: impact (immediate to ultimate), potential (actual to expected), and cognitive comprehensiveness [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 128]. Reach is closely allied to the idea of diffusion , "the process by which a communication is transmitted and received" [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 125]. The difference is that diffusion is a property of a communication; reach is a property of an individual.

Concurrency simply says that within a community, multiple interactions can occur in parallel at about the same time. Concurrency implies that "the interactions of one set of individuals may have consequences for others who are not directly involved" [Kaufer&Carley1993, p. 153].

While wide-ranging, these key concepts do not of themselves sufficiently delineate the "distancing assumptions of written (as well as print and electronic) communication" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 12]. Both [Kaufer&Carley1993] and [Kaufer&Carley1994] regard this distinction between distant and proximate communication as being central to any discussion of written communication. Distance "indicates the writer's separation from a reader in space, time, culture or some mix thereof" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 8]. Recall that reach is a property of the individual. Distance is "a measure of the difference between communication partners" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 32]. In extending the potential distance between originator and receiver, communication technologies can extend an author's reach. Technology extends distance through asynchronicity , durability and multiplicity .

Asynchronicity removes the requirement that partners in a communicative transaction have to be coexistent in time (and by implication, in space).

Durability is "the length of time the content of a communication is available for interaction" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 34] and is a property of the medium. Durable texts diffuse more widely and for longer and thus increase the author's reach.

Multiplicity is "the number of communication partners that can be communicated with at the same time" [Kaufer&Carley1994, p. 35]. Multiplicity implies greater distance and greater speed in spreading information. Network technologies provide for the largest potential asynchronicity, durability and multiplicity of any communications technologies to date.



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© Andrew Treloar, 2001. * http://andrew.treloar.net/ * andrew.treloar@its.monash.edu.au