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One of the key services offered by a Bulletin Board is electronic communication. Groups of people can discuss matters of mutual interest with ease in “electronic conferences”.

There are three paradigms behind the electronic conference: the conference, the publication and conversation. Each is an incomplete analogy, just as attempting to describe the space shuttle in terms of bicycles and steam engines is incomplete.

The conference analogy applies because a large group of people can discuss a matter of mutual interest. Unlike a real conference, though, there is no need for everyone to occupy the same place. The electronic conference takes place over a short period of time, and there is only rarely any organisation of who says what when—a free for all is ok when everyone can hear and understand everyone else.

The publication analogy applies because the discussions that take place in an electronic conference are automatically recorded, although there is little or no editing or central authority over what is said, people are quite likely to dispose of their recordings of the discussions. Please note that there are seperate electonic publications, which operate much like a traditional magazine, except that, instead of being printed, the publication is propogated on Bulletin Boards.

The best analogy is that of a conversation. A large quantity of people get together and discuss a particular issue. The difference between a conversation and an electronic conference is of course that the communication occurs through a computer and a telephone, rather than through air. Like a telephone conversation, geography has little importance in deciding whether someone can take part. Like a face–to–face conversation, an electronic conference is normally open to all, and people have to go out to hold a private conersation.

I also think the latter analogy is important, because, of course, and constraints put on Bulletin Boards has to face the question of freedom of speech. I understand the current declaration on human rights makes it very clear that technology cannot be used as a reason to curtail freedom of speech.

Another way to illustrate electronic conferences is to compare them to other methods of communication.

Public 2Copied 1Recorded 3Delays 4
Electronic ConferencesYESYESYES0 mins – 5 days
Face–to–face ConferencesMAYBEYESYESImmediate
Electronic Mail (“Email”)NONOYES0 mins – 5 days
Telephone (“Voice Mail”)NONONOImmediate
The Post (“Snail Mail”)NOMAYBEYES1 – 30 days

  1. Copied: Is communication automatically copied to many recipients?
  2. Public: Can anyone listen in on the communication (note that Electronic Mail is so leaky that it could be described as being public—the technology needs a little tidying up).
  3. Recorded: A letter and a fax is recorded on paper, electronic communications. are recorded in computer files.
  4. Time: Electronic mail etc. usually works by store and forward methods, like normal post, and unlike a telephone call. It is perfectly possible to transfer electronic mail.

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