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Jeffrey, P. “Telephone and Audio Conferencing: Origins, Applications and Social Behaviour”. unpublished manuscript.GMD FIT. Sankt Augustin, Germany. May 1998.Telephone and Audio Conferencing:Origins, Applications and Social BehaviourPhillip JeffreyGMD FIT53754 Sankt Augustin, GermanyE-mail: [email protected] of groups and individuals using audio environments have found them best suited forworkplace tasks involving information exchange, problem solving, or policy-decision making.Audio environments may have limited effectiveness with tasks where feelings of socialpresence, persuasion or getting to know someone better are important. This paper chroniclesthe history of telephone conferencing and audioconferencing in order to better understand thecurrent uses and applications. Applications involving the Internet and virtual environmentsare also discussed.INTRODUCTIONAccording to Whittaker and O’Conaill [53], the telephone, because of its voice capability, isperceived to be the most effective communication medium to connect people separated bydistance. Telephone conferencing or audioconferencing is the use of a telecommunicationsystem (i.e. specially designed conference room or telephone unit) to allow electronic, multipoint communication between geographically dispersed individuals or groups [19, 25, 30, 42,44]. The advantages of audio communication systems are that they are cost-effective (i.e.reduces travel costs), accessible (i.e. people can participate independent of their geographicaldistance) and real-time (i.e. immediate interaction not delayed by mail or email) [42]. Audiocommunication systems may be advantageous for group collaboration when unable to meetface-to-face.The purpose of this paper is to present a historical background of telephone conferencing andaudioconferencing in order to better understand the present environment of audiocommunication systems. Studies which investigated the social behaviour of users will beexamined to determine which workgroup tasks audio environments may be best suited for.The sections are: chronology of the telephone; chronology of audio communication systems(i.e. audioconferencing, telephone conferencing and Internet); Social behavioural studies;Thunderwire, an audio-only case study and virtual environments.SECTION 1: CHRONOLOGY OF THE TELEPHONEThe telephone was named according to the Greek words: ‘tele’ which means far off and‘phone’ which translates into sound or voice. When combined these words formed telephone,meaning far-speaking, and its function was to allow communication between physicallyseparated people [20].

On March 10th 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, initiated the first telephone call when he spokethe famous words „Mr. Watson--Come here, I want you“ [6]. Whether this was the actual textis in dispute as Mr. Bell was shouting in a microphone after spilling acid on his pants.However, Mr. Bell’s assistant, Mr. Watson, heard his shouting transmitted over wire to Mr.Watson’s receiver. Once they realised the significant of what had occurred, the ruined pantswere forgotten. With this episode began the origins of the telephone [48].After the initial discovery, Bell and Watson made later that year, the world’s first longdistance telephone call (one-way) between Brantford and Paris, Ontario, Canada and the firstlong-distance telephone conversation (two-way) between Cambridgeport and Boston, Mass.,USA [16, 47]. The importance of this discovery was that it provided the means for longdistance conversations that before it had only been possible through written messages sent bytelegraph.Commercial telephone service began in 1877. In 1878, the commercial exchange was createdenabling women operators to connect phone calls between subscribers [20]. Majorcompetition threatened Bell that same year as Western Union Telegraph Company usingThomas Edison transmitters and Elisha Gray receivers began to offer telephone service [51].That same year the first UK telephone company was established [23].In 1879, Bell founded National Bell Telephone Company and later that same year and intopart of 1880, the first use of telephone numbers in Massachusetts, USA was recorded [51].Early competitive problems existed as Western Electric Manufacturing Co, Western UnionTelegraph Company and Bell were offering incompatible telephone services. [20]. In someareas, all three competed for the same customers. However, after a successful courtinfringement case by Bell, Western Electric became the sole supplier of Bell telephoneequipment and telephones for American Bell (formerly National Bell Telephone Company).Long distance service was established in 1881 between Boston and Providence, RI, USA [51].In 1885, American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) was established and began offeringprivate telephone service the next year [47].The telephone was not initially without problems. The invention of electric trolley cars andstreet lamps resulted in electrical storms that sometimes downed telephone lines. [20]. Aswell, poor sound quality and high long-distance fees limited access to city inhabitants whowere financially successful [5].After the Bell patent expired in 1893, local phone companies began to connect local farmfamilies through party-lines. Usually a doctor or pharmacist would connect customers withtheir office or shop respectively. This was not only economically feasible but also provided alifeline. Entrepreneurs set out establishing phone services such as in Abilene, Kansas, USAwhere United Telecom was established by Jacob and C.L. Brown which later became Sprint.Bell service outside of the cities, if available, was perceived as inadequate. To maximise onprofits and service within the cities, service to rural areas was compromised. Bell’s ruralservice was perceived by town residents as expensive, providing poor line quality andburdened by unfriendly management. Local town residents desired instead their own phonesystem rather than continuing to rely on a giant monopoly labelled ‘big business’ from theeast. In the 1900s party lines were introduced to further decrease the cost in cities and makehaving a phone affordable in rural communities [45, 51].At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of phones grew exponentially. In 1900, therewere 855 900 telephones connected by Bell, in 1910, 5 883 000 and more than 15 000 000 in

1924 [47]. During the depression years of the 1930s, AT&T reduced rates and telephonesubscribers returned phones to save money. Between 1931 and 1933, more than 3 millionsubscribers gave up their phone service [45, 51].The origin of telephone conferencing can be traced back to these rural party-lines of the early1900s, an extension phone linking three families that provided the capacity for simultaneousconversations. Disadvantages included poor sound quality, consistently occupied phone linesand lack of privacy as individuals could listen in without detection [27]. In one Canadiantown, inhabitants wanted Gaelic banned during telephone conversations because as nativeEnglish-speakers they couldn’t understand the foreign language when eves-dropping [9]. Inaddition, privacy and security concerns made party-lines impractical for business.During the 1940s, as a result of WWII, military-related research became the primary focus ofthe Bell telephone laboratory. In 1948, the 30 000 000th telephone was installed in the Bellsystem in the United States [51].Technological advances in the 1950’s included direct-dial service replacing the „numberplease“ operators, the world’s first hands-free Speakerphone and the first transatlantic cablebeing laid between Canada and Scotland, heralding the age of international companies andglobal communication [4, 47]. But it was not until 1966 that the first commercial electroniccentral office was able to provide customers with memory options such as third partyconferencing [47].SECTION 2: CHRONOLOGY OF AUDIO COMMUNICATION SYSTEMSThe desire to reduce energy during the ‘energy crisis’ of the 1970s may also have contributedto the search for a cheaper alternate to the costs of transportation. It has been estimated thatan automobile running continuously uses a similar amount of energy as a telephone exchange(25 kW for auto vs. 6-100kW for a telephone exchange). In addition, 0.03% of the nationalenergy in the UK was used for telecommunication vs. 18.4% for transportation [44].Additional problems that may have hindered widespread acceptance of group audio systemsin the 1970s were the length of time necessary to set up (between one-two hours) and therestriction on the number of participants. Limitations existed because of the cumulativebackground noise generated by each additional member. To overcome difficulties such asgroup members being unable to simultaneously collaborate on documents, use of the faxmachine was suggested. [44].Speaker identification, has been identified as a possible problem with audio systems even insmall groups [37]. Exceptions were when distinct discrepancies existed between memberssuch as gender or accent [37, 44]. The Remote Meeting Table attempted to address thisconcern by having a person’s name light up at the remote group’s meeting table whichenabled everyone to be aware of the speaker’s identity [30,49]. Short [44] questions theeffectiveness of the light, wondering if it is a good replacement for physical presence, or if itactually was a distraction.At the end of the 1970’s, telephone copper wire began to be replaced by fibre optic wires.This lead to the first fibre optic system in downtown Chicago and resulted in a variety of newtelecommunication options (i.e. voice, data and video) available to local businesses [3].

In the early 1980, BT introduced Rendezvous service in the UK. Similar to other phonecompanies, it was operator-based with conference calls needing advance bookings. Theparticipants would contact the operator who would ensure everyone was properly connectedfor the conference call [23]. In 1981, the IBM desktop personal computer was introduced[47]. Since the late 1960s, early 1970s there had been perceptions of North American citiesbecoming more crowded, leading people to migrate from the cities to the suburbs. This trendcontinued in the 1980s with increasing numbers of employees remaining linked withemployers through telecommunications (i.e. phone, computer and fax machine) and resultedin the concept of telecommuting.In the 1990’s telephone conferencing has continued to increase in its popularity as a preferredform of communication. For companies with budget constraints, telephone conferencingreduces expenses associated with travel and enables employees choosing flexitime ortelecommuting to maintaining a ‘sense of presence’ during meetings [see 34].Audioconferencing accounts for approximately 75% of the United Kingdom communicationsmarket and it is perceived successful because of the low-cost overhead when set up by theBritish Telecom telephone company [41]. Two different types of telephone conferencingproviders are the phone companies (i.e. AT&T) and companies specialising intelecommunication equipment (i.e. Polycom).Current Telecommunication System UseThere are a variety of conferencing systems that currently exist: audioconferencing;audiographic conferencing; and desktop conferencing.The differences are:audioconferencing provides audio communication to link participants over the telephone;audiographic conferencing combines audioconferencing and dataconferencing using theInternet to share data for collaboration between participants; and desktop conferencing uses adesktop computer to link participants through the Internet to other PCs or telephones[42].Conference calls can be divided into two types: regular basis calls and ad hoc basis calls.Regular basis calls include monthly progress report meetings and ad hoc basis calls are usedduring a company crisis such as sabotage [23]. Phone companies primarily focus on operatorassisted calls in which participants dial an operator who connects everyone, and a specialcustomer handled calls where individual members are linked by calling an assigned reservednumber during a specific time period. Uses of these features include: job interviews, planningcompany strategies and resolving emergencies. Special features available are: polling ofmembers, question and answer (i.e. chair decides when queued members speak), and taping ofconversations [7, 2].In the United States, Sprint operates a Sprint Conference Line system that began in 1990 withonly a limited number of customers. Since then over one million conference calls have beencompleted. Features available include audiotaping, subconferencing (i.e. breaking intosubgroups), lecture-only mode, and question and answer queuing. Presently, there are morethan 100 000 basic customers and 280 corporate accounts (businesses committed to monthlyuse) [35].In Germany, an ISDN network system has been in operation since 1989. During the 1960’sand 1970’s telephone conferencing was manual involving an operator. In 1989, an ISDNnetwork system became operational that made 3 way party calls possible and now up to 10way party calls are possible. Since 1997 it is believed that 1 300 000 telephone conferencingcustomers exist [24].

British Telecom (BT) is presenting designing a Conference Call Instant system(audioconferencing system) that when implemented should include features such as:conference recording, dial-in conference joining and speech recognition, common viewing ofa document page (i.e. placing it on a WWW which the chair would continually update) andproviding the capacity to share and view documents electronically [23].Telecommunication EquipmentPolycom, which has a co-marketing agreement with AT&T conferencing services and itsaudio products, is a manufacture of video, data and audioconferencing equipment. Theyperceive themselves as a world leader in group conferencing needs for both groupconferencing rooms and office equipment. In the past six years since their SoundStationconference phone was originally introduced for an office or small-to-medium sizedconference room, new SoundStation products have been created for large conference rooms(i.e. up to 25 participants in a room) [40]. In addition, Internet telephony is also available.Products offered by Polycon include Soundpoint, a speaker attached to the phone providinghands-free, two-way conversations for the office; SoundStation, a conference phone used by95/100 Fortune 100 companies with telephone keypad, speaker, and microphone capacity forthe office or small conference room; and a SoundStation system for up to 25 participants in amedium or large conference room that is equipped with keypad, internal microphones andcapacity for external microphones. According to Polycon [40], the sound quality provided isa clarity superior to speaker phones common during the early days of telephone conferencing.Internet ConferencingIn recent years, telephone conferencing has found a new form of telecommunications, theInternet, capitalising on reduced rates and advances in telephone communication such asISDN (Integrated services digital network). This method of telephone conferencing has beencalled virtual conferencing or Internet telephony [see 47 for a comprehensive list of availablecompanies].British Telecom with its Conference Call Presenter conferencing system uses the Internet totransit images or documents to other participants during an audio conference. Through theuse of a browser combined with presentation slides from Microsoft PowerPoint, one is able tospeak while visually presenting slides to the other participants via the Internet [8].Lucent Technologies was formed in 1996 out of AT&T during diversification. They createproducts such as: ‘Internet Telephony Server’ which converts speech to compressed IP signalsfor voice transmission; ‘OneMeeting’ Internet conference software which allowscommunication with up to 6 participants; and ‘elemedia’ which provides hundreds ofsimultaneous conversations independent of communication platform (i.e. Internet telephonysoftware, regular phone or Microsoft NetMeeting) [33].VocalTec, a new Internet telephony company, has a promising future with the release ofInternet products such as its VocalTec Conference server. Unique features include speakerarbitration where participants speak on a first-come-first-served basis and ‘privileged user’where a person has special powers to become the current speaker whenever desiring to speak[50].One of the problems hindering Internet telephony is the poor sound quality. Once this ismodified, this area of group communication should grow because the price of sending faxes

or telephone calls over the Internet is a fraction of the current costs charged by telephonecompanies such as Deutsche Telekom or Bell. In the future, global communication willincrease as optic fibres allow more freely the possibility of group conferencing via theInternet and telephone.SECTION 3: SOCIAL BEHAVIOURAL STUDIESIn 1963, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in Washington D.C. after developing the‘hot-line’ from the White House to the Kremlin (a direct connection for emergencycommunication), decided that it should be possible for more than 2 people to communicatesimultaneously. This came to be known as the first studies on teleconferencing [30]. In theirnegotiation studies in which participants role-played members of a military alliance who wereexternally threatened, two results should be noted: individuals preferred the depersonalisedeffect of the telephone to face-to-face contact and after a brief trial with a television reportedno significant advantage in being able to see their opponent [30].Research was conducted during the 1960’s and 1970’s to examine the communicationeffectiveness of telephone conferencing and compare results with face-to-face or videoconferencing. Early problems such as sound quality were minimised with acoustical treatmentand open-microphone systems. Problems of protocol were solved with an appointedchairperson. Auditory systems introduced included speaker phones and speakers embeddedinto a desk or tabletop unit [30]. In-house audio conferences systems became more commonas companies (i.e. Bank of America, General Electric) attempted to reduce travel time andcosts [30].Social behavioural studies of audio and telephone conferencing systems have determinedwhich types of tasks audio environments may be most effective for. These are: gatheringfactual information [12], problem-solving [30, 44, 54], information exchange and askingquestions [30], group discussion [37], group collaboration [30], information seeking [30, 44,54] and policy-decision making [54]. Additional advantages include the ability to reduce theduration of meetings [17]. A factor that seems to be significant as to whether an audio systemis preferred depends on the meeting task activity for which the medium would be used [44].The tasks for which audio-only is ineffective or has reduced effectiveness include: degree ofsocial presence [11], getting to know a stranger or acquaintance better [44, 49], persuasion,bargaining or forming coalitions [44]. A more in-depth analysis will now take place.High EffectivenessChampness [12] sampled 112 civil servants’ opinion on two kinds of video systems, face-toface and an audio system as to the degree of suitability for interpersonal relations (keepinggroup morale), factual information (issuing orders), interpersonal conflict (persuasion) andchatting (general conversation). Although the results showed video superior to audio onactivities involving interpersonal relations and interpersonal conflict, no differences based ontype of medium were found for tasks requiring factual information.One’s awareness of the physical separation between participants effects one’s feelings withinthe environment. Short et al [44] describes this as social presence. Social presence is basedon a variety of cues used to access the relative distance between participants. The personalrelationship felt during group interaction is relevant to the degree of social presence felt.Even though audio-only environments eliminate cues such as: facial expression, eye-contact,gesture, posture, proximity and physical appearance, Short et al. [44] doesn’t perceive theelimination of these cues as having a significant effect on the outcome of group tasks which

are insensitive to the type of medium used (i.e. face-to-face, audio) for interaction such asproblem solving or exchanging information.Champness [11] studied 72 managerial civil servants who had three conversations (face-toface, closed-circuit television and an audio system) in pairs after which they rated theirexperience of the medium used. Their hypothesis on social presence stated that users perceivea telecommunication medium as having varying degrees of social presence and that usersavoid using a communication medium that require a higher degree of social presence thanperceived possible with that medium. Media with a high degree of social presence is judgedto be sociable. Consistent with hypothesis predictions, face-to-face was perceived to be mostsociable with audio being the least.The Communication Studies Group of London found that bargaining and negotiation taskswere most sensitive to the type of communication medium with problem-solving andinformation exchange tasks being least sensitive. An Office Communication Survey of officemeetings concluded that: the importance of visual cues in face-to-face meetings wasoverstated and audio-only conferencing systems could accommodate 26-52% of all meetingswithout adversely effecting the outcome of the meeting. This was because they believe thatmost meetings involve either information seeking (48%), giving information to keep everyoneinformed (48%), or problem solving (48%) tasks [30]. The overall conclusion that can bedrawn is that audioconferencing or telephone conferencing systems are an effective mediumfor group collaboration and conversation.Various studies have found that for certain tasks, video-mediated communication hasmarginal effectiveness or is no more effective than audio-only communication [see 19, 21,44]. Other studies have concluded that a voice communication channel to be an essentialelement of any communication system [38].While discussing the usefulness ofaudioconferencing for distance education, Neal [37] perceives audioconferencing being bestsuited for situations that involve full group collaboration.In a study of two audioconferencing systems, one in-house (University of Quebec) and aRemote Meeting Table from the U.K., participants reported feelings of uneasiness and aperception that one’s privacy could not be guaranteed. The authors cite this as a consistentconcern of all teleconferencing systems [30, 49]. However, respondents believed that usingaudioconferencing in their meetings would create a more friendly, more aggressive and lessbusiness-like environment than during face-to-face sessions [30]. In fact, audioconferencingmay work best with low-level person-oriented tasks such as the exchange of information andasking questions [30].Short [43] asked 144 users of face-to-face, audio systems and video systems for commentsabout the experience with the different mediums and the frequency of the comments wasreported. One comment that should be noted is that of a user of a Bell Canada teleconferencesystem:„The advantage of audio conferencing is that we wouldn’t have to sit up straight, stare at the cameraand look presentable when we speak: we could take it easy. Also there would not be the fear of thecamera suddenly focusing on you when you are not ready.that is embarrassing [p118].“Audio conferencing also has a positive effect on reducing the duration of the meeting. Craigand Jull [17] reported that when two group of managers alternated between face-to-face andaudio conferencing meetings, the audio conferencing meetings were 40% shorter in bothgroups. The authors attribute this to a reduction in the amount of social conversation during

the meeting.In 1978, a detailed survey of permanently installed teleconferencing sites in North Americareported the existence of fourteen audio sites. Johansen and Bullen [31] believed in 1984 thatthe numbers had increased significantly with seventy-five companies with permanent installedaudio sites. Johnansen and Charles [32] reviewed the data from an extensive surveyconducted by the Institute for the Future [IFTF] in 1982 on 317 respondents from eighteencompanies and government organisations throughout the United States. Based on theresponses, they believed that audio and text are essential features for a multimedia systemeither in combination or alone and that the best option is an integrated system forcommunication.A Connell [15] project called DACOM clustered meetings according to function and purposeand when focusing only on meeting task concluded that for those meeting that could possiblybe transferred from face-to face interaction, the majority would be transferred to an audioonly communication medium. The comparative numbers were face-to-face (30.4%), video(2.9%), audio (38.1%) and allocation not possible (28.6%).Limited or Reduced EffectivenessThe American New Rural Society Project conducted a study reported by Christine [14].Twenty business executives after a demonstration of an audio conferencing system reportedthat a visual picture of the other individual speaking was only necessary when they were notfamiliar with each other.Christie [14] grouped 36 businessmen into sets of 6 using five types of communicationmedium. Their attitudes towards each medium was then assessed. When comparing socialpresence of a speakerphone, a high fidelity speakerphone, closed-circuit television, face-toface and a multichannel audio system, the results showed that face-to-face had the highestdegree of social presence based on a factor score (0.7) followed by video (0.6), multichannelaudio (-0.01), high fidelity speakerphone (-0.5) and speakerphone (-0.7).Two in-house audioconferencing systems: (University of Quebec) and a Remote MeetingTable from the U.K were rated as most unsatisfactory for getting to know someone [49].Short [44] agrees finding that tasks which involve a personal relationship with the otherperson are effected by the type of medium used because it is perceived that face-to-faceprovides the best opportunity for the development of a relationship with the other participants.Tasks where the medium has an influence on the task include bargaining, persuasion, formingcoalitions and getting to know a stranger; as face-to-face is perceived to have a higher level ofpresence [44]. The perception from Short [44] is that with audio communication one loses thepersonal relationship that is generated between participants during face-to-facecommunication so audio is perceived as less effective. Privacy is a concern with participantsas Champness [13] reported that participants in three person groups perceived audio-onlyconversation under laboratory conditions as less private than face-to-face.SECTION 4: THUNDERWIRE: CASE STUDYHindus et al. [28] used a media space system called Thunderwire, which is an audio-onlycommunication system designed similarly to a telephone conference call system [1] in a fieldsetting in order to investigate how potential users of such a system would interact with eachother as well as perceive the system. Thunderwire was designed in order to allow interaction

between a small group of participants located throughout two buildings. All messages werepublic, a fluid system facilitated easy connection and disconnection, an audible click indicatedsomeone had entered or left the system (but not who), and the audio was of a high-quality [1].Over a two month period the nine group members, who knew each other previously,communicated through the system. Participants sat in cubicles while working, wore headsetsand spoke into desktop microphones [28].Social ConventionsSocial conventions relevant to group members within this shared environment were:announcing when someone logged on or off; logging off for personal distractions (i.e.telephone call) and projecting cues that announced one’s inattentiveness or desire not tocommunicate. The issues most important to the participants were: addressing backgroundnoise; knowing who was currently on the system; knowing when someone was lurking; andminimising invasions of privacy [1]. Social norms formed and developed based on cues thatare present during face-to-face interaction. This occurred throughout the duration of thesystem use. For example, participants created signals for the other members so that memberspresent were aware of each others degree of attentiveness to the conversation.One social norm that was found to exist was the convention of announcing oneself whenlogging on and logging off the system [1]. The system design did not announce the identityof individuals as they joined and left the group. When one signed on/off there was an audibleclick at which time according to social norms, the new member would announce oneself or ifleaving, say goodbye. When there was not a immediate greeting from a new member thatlogged on, someone would ask who was on. This method allowed participants to keep trackof members present. Members also updated new participants as to who was presently on orwho had logged off previously. These social norms were regularly followed [1, 28].Individuals who received or initiated telephone calls were suppose to leave the system untilthe call was complete as everyone was privy to the telephone call. Usually this norm wasignored. Hindus et al [28] believe this behaviour mirrors similar norms within physicalenvironments where one usually carries on a conversation when others are present in the sameroom listening in. Social conventions exist such that it may actually be considered rude toexcuse oneself in ord

British Telecom telephone company [41]. Two different types of telephone conferencing providers are the phone companies (i.e. AT&T) and companies specialising in telecommunication equipment (i.e. Polycom). Current Telecommunication System Use There are a variety of conferencing