Thursday, August 15, 2013

Towards Semantic Coherence

When we Tweet, Blog, Collaborate, E-mail or even discuss something face to face – we communicate. We understand each other (hopefully) when we agree on a context and on an intention. Now while I am all for free and open communication, I am not a big fan of information noise. It might be beautiful, it might be charming – but it’s like trying to talk to 10 people at the same time.

When I do try to communicate with someone I usually have my own specific context and intention. I get easily distracted by interesting facts, especially when 10 people are talking to me, but get frustrated if I do not manage to communicate what I need to. What do I do in this kind of situation? Well, I try, politely as I can, to increase the priority of my context and intention, and find ways to optimize the communication. In other words I am influencing my partner to focus on more relevant information. I may go as far as to change my partner in conversation to improve the effectiveness of my communication. Sounds almost cruel when one talks about people… but remember, this is just a metaphor :-)

So, we open our e-mail, we read our rss feeds, tweets, timelines, and whatever other channels we believe will keep us close to the topics that matter to us – and it works. We continue to optimize these channels on an ongoing basis – and life is beautiful... or is it? What’s wrong here?

Well, let me first point out an observation. Our context, or intention, is driven out of goals we wish to achieve. In the past, these were created and contained in specific environments. For example, you want to buy something – you went to a shop; you want to learn something – you went to classes. You have a question – you call someone. While our goals might have not changed, our channels to reach some of these goal – most definitely have. What is the impact? Since we shorten the distance of travel (one browser tab to another) we have also increased the frequency of alternating our attention. This may give us a better sense of control, but can overwhelm us with intention. This is not good, as it actually slows us down. We do more things, but we do everything slower.

What we need to do, is work harder at designating our attention to what we need to do. Don’t drive and text, don’t tweet while walking with a friend to get a cup of coffee. Don’t speak on the phone while having dinner etc. etc. Sounds like something your mother might say – and you know what? She’s right. It is not a matter of manners, but an issue with semantic coherence. What I mean by this, is staying loyal to your current intention. How can you communicate effectively and ensure you stay focused on your goals? Simply by ensuring you dedicate your presence to a pre-defined and intentional conversation.

The interesting bit is that this is true to groups as much as it does to individuals.

A balanced frequency of multiplexing communication focus will prevail.  Technology and businesses will also learn to link and capitalize on this by engaging with consumers at the correct semantic moment with the right content. For example, advertise a special in a restaurant, while you are looking to book a table.

To get there, we need to help communities build semantic coherence to improve their common intention and context so that they become more effective in reaching their common goals. This is done through creating relevant and useful dictionaries, collaboration platforms and managed information strategies… quite a bit of work!

One thing is clear though: This is not a technological challenge but rather a change management one.

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