High Quality Communications

In October 1872 in Baltimore Maryland, the architect of Montreal’s Windsor Station and his wife Josephine gave birth to their only daughter, Emily.  She was educated at the finest schools and raised in privilege. Years later, in 1922, she published her book, “Etiquette”. Soon after, the phrase, “according to Emily Post” became the final word on social conduct.
The introduction to this seminal work on manners in society begins with Richard Duffy discussing the history of the word “Etiquette” – its origin in the commonplace familiar warning—”Keep off the grass.” It happened in the reign of Louis XIV, when the gardens of Versailles were being laid out, that the master gardener, an old Scotsman, was sorely tried because his newly seeded lawns were being continually trampled upon. To keep trespassers off, he put up warning signs or tickets—etiquettes—on which was indicated the path along which to pass. But the courtiers paid no attention to these directions and so the determined Scot complained to the King in such convincing manner that His Majesty issued an edict commanding everyone at Court to “keep within the etiquettes.”

As we enter this second decade of this new millennial, the technological support for our ability to communicate is unprecedented in human history. As these advances continue, what IS digital equivalent of a “Keep Off the Grass” sign?     Is it HTTP_403?  Here’s a demo to help you judge. Our digital security is better than that of Louis XIV – and it’s much easier to be anonymous today – but the problem persists. There are basic human mores and values that we aspire to – and communication is the primary vehicle through which society advances – but we might feel like we’re unprepared for the pace and the scope of change as technology improves  Whether these are ‘etiquettes’ placed in the grass – or if they are server log files, social norms, training classes, 403 messages, or discussions in our courts of law – we want, as a society –  to put up guardrails to help us self-monitor our own behavior and communicate to others our views of the behaviors we expect and those we value. As society progresses with the assistance of digital communications technology, people are re-visiting these laws, mores, and values.  As examples – Do I really want to be on a web chat with my boss at 7AM when I haven’t done my hair or makeup?  Should I fire off a quick reprimand to 100 people when it’s late and I’m tired?   Will it hurt my career if I dial in to a weekly meeting instead of being there in person? If it’s convenient for me to send an IM, should I be offended if I don’t get an immediate reply? These are real social issues exposed by advances in our technology – and are impacted by the quality of our tools.
In chapter XXVII of her book, Emily Post describes the importance of the quality of the communication:

The letter you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character.

With all this in mind, we wanted to introduce some of our challenges we have in the Office Communicator Test Team. As Communicator continues to expand in popularity, people’s reliance on our software to deliver their message grows. The quality of our software plays an important role in the ability of people to deliver (and receive) a high quality message.

WikiHow defines communication as “the process of transferring signals/messages between a sender and a receiver through various methods (written words, nonverbal cues, spoken words). It is also the mechanism we use to establish and modify relationships.”

As technologies converge in the unified communications space, people can easily flow between voice, video, and text communications. The authenticity and integrity of the message – and the success rate of its delivery – is based on the ability of the software tools to connect sender and receiver.
Our team focuses on the quality of the experience – whether that’s voice, the delivery of the IM, or the ability to join a conference.  Communication is important. From infancy, we literally cried to get help, and that kick-started our learning of the power of effective communication.  As a society, we are moving into a new era — the digital augmentation of our ability to communicate as humans. We don’t have to grunt to our fellow cave dweller – we don’t have to send smoke signals to connect with our neighboring clan – we have a new reality – think Steve Austin, the Bionic man –  (note: check out the new Fast Company article on bionics)  and with these powerful new communication tools and capabilities, we are greater, stronger, faster – but as a provider,  we think that it’s important for these tools are transparent and “just work” to enable sender and receiver to focus on the message.  
The game of Chinese Whispers, or Telephone/Stille Post/Whisper-Down-the-Lane, teaches us about the danger of low quality communications. Real time communication across the globe is the reality now, and while we are excited about the potential impact to society, we recognize our role in ensuring the integrity and quality of the experience.  We also have to consider things like security, privacy, and the power of the medium.  How can we build our tools to offer safeguards to the sender to self-monitor and self-assess as the size of their audience increases? We are exploring alternative techniques and focusing on building trust in our organization in hopes that it teaches us how to build trustworthy products that support trustworthy communications.

Often, the sender has the biggest influence on – and goals for – the quality of the message – and can we help them help themselves. How can we learn defect prevention techniques from things like the Outlook Forgotten Attachment Detector?  
Philip B. Corbett posts a regular blog on the New York Times site called “After Deadlines” that it calls “a weekly newsroom critique of grammar, usage and style in The Times” 

With that in mind, our goal in this blog communication is to learn from you about the areas where we can focus our quality improvement efforts to make your experience with Office Communicator the best it can be. We feel privileged to have an opportunity to influence the future of digital communication, and would enjoy working with you to improve our quality and your experience with our product.
We’d love to hear your views and get your guidance on areas where we can focus and improve. 
Thank you for reading!
Ross Smith

Director of Test, Office Communicator and Design Group
 Published Wednesday, February 24, 2010 5:24 PM by octeam

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