Web 2.0 and Audience Research

An analysis focussing on the concept of involvement

Thesis (M.A.), 2007
88 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

Index of figures

Index of tables

1. Introduction

2. The concept of involvement
2.1 Audience research and involvement
2.1.1 Conceptual overview of audience research
2.1.2 Historical overview of audience research Three schools of audience research Three paradigms in audience research
2.1.3 Introduction to audience activity Audience activity on a cognitive level Definition of activity on a physical and cognitive level The active audience – an introduction to physical notions
2.1.4 The concept of involvement in audience research
2.2 Consumer research and involvement
2.2.1 Conceptual overview
2.2.2 Historical overview
2.2.3 Joining physical and cognitive notions in the concept of involvement in consumer research
2.2.4 The concept of involvement in consumer research
2.3 Summary

3. Web 2.0
3.1 The internet as a medium
3.1.1 Distinguishing the internet as a medium from other media Technological drivers of the internet as a medium (Neumann) Internet text as an object of study (Mitra/Cohen) Interactivity
3.2 The phenomenon of Web 2.0
3.2.1 Semiotic background of the term Web 2.0
3.2.2 Core principles of Web 2.0 Popular phenomena of Web 2.0 Technological changes relevant to Web 2.0
3.2.3 General conditions and criticism regarding Web 2.0
3.3 Summary

4. The involvement concept as a basis for research on Web 2.0 audience activity
4.1 A typology of audience activities
4.2 Transfer of the the concept of involvement from consumer research into existing research on the Web 2.0 audience
4.2.1 Activating/physical processes
4.2.3 Web 2.0 audience activity
4.3 Summary

5. Conclusion

6. Literaturverzeichnis


Index of figures

Figure 1: Google Search for “Web 2.0” on Jan 09th, 2007

Figure 2: Process of this thesis

Figure 3: Two-dimensional portfolio of activities

Figure 4: The total system of the psychological variables by Kroeber-Riel/Weinberg

Figure 5: Complex and simple processes of consumer behaviour in the two-dimensional portfolio of activities

Figure 6: Involvement and activation construct in the two-dimensional portfolio of activity

Figure 7: Mind map of Web 2.0 memes

Figure 8: Podcast section of iTunes music store

Figure 9: A tag cloud

Figure 10: Web 2.0 audience within the two-dimensional activity portfolio

Figure 11: Activities of the Web 2.0 audience

Figure 12: Google Search for “Web 2.0” on April 11th, 2007

Index of tables

Table 1: Levy’s table of audience activities as implied in the text “Conceptualizing and Measuring Aspects of Audience ‘Activity’” (1983)

Table 2: Decision behaviour and dominant psychological processes

Table 3: Decision behaviour and involvement

Table 4: Motives for blogging

Table 5: Types of Web 2.0 activities and involvement

1. Introduction

Web 2.0 is a buzzword in the digital industry at the moment. Some of the popular phenomena which exemplify Web 2.0 are blogs, podcasts, wikis or social bookmarking tools, as described in part 3. A Google search for the term “Web 2.0” delivers 517.000.000 (09.01.2007) hits.

Figure 1: Google Search for “Web 2.0” on Jan 09th, 2007

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Google.de, 2007

Web 2.0 as a concept got a lot of media attention, e.g. Der Spiegel 29/2006, Focus 41/2006, Marketing Journal Sonderheft Web 2.0/2006, Focus Special Februar/2006 and Die Zeit 39/2006. The core of the concept, as visualised on the cover of Time (see cover), is the individual as an active participant.

New concepts in the media landscape trigger the attention of media studies and invite scientific work and discourse in order to place them into perspective within the scientific community. Since Web 2.0 as a concept is not yet defined the aspects which are to be discussed scientifically need to be clearly identified. Central to the discussion here will be the aforementioned core of the concept: the activity of the users and possibilities of scientific description.

Audience activity constitutes one of the central themes of media analysis concerning the audience. One descriptor used to operationalize audience activity is involvement (Levy, 1983). Involvement is also used in another discipline of research: consumer research deploys the concept to explain the decision making process of the consumer. The objective of this thesis is to attempt the transfer of the concept of involvement from consumer research to audience research on the active Web 2.0 audience. In other words:

Can the concept of involvement from consumer research serve to explain audience activity as implied in the concept of Web 2.0?

The approach to this objective is visualized in the following Figure:

Figure 2: Process of this thesis

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Own illustration

First, the concept of involvement will be described in connection to audience as well as consumer research.

To place the concept into perspective a brief account of audience research in general will be given, focussing on historical as well as conceptual aspects. Research on audience activity will be introduced in detail, followed by a critical analysis of the concept concerning its one-dimensionality in order to produce a basis for further development of the concept of audience activity towards a Web 2.0 audience. Subsequently, the existent concept of involvement in audience research will be outlined, critized and reviewed for a new approach based on more than one dimension.

This is followed by an introduction to the concept of involvement in consumer research. Following a brief conceptual and historical overview, the concept of involvement and its two-dimensional foundation will be delienated and all processes involved will be described.

Third, the concept of Web 2.0 will be explained in detail in part 3. In order to understand the media interest surrounding Web 2.0, the anticipated innovations from the beginning of the internet will be listed, as well as the new questions for audience research, that emerged out of the expansion of the internet. Following this is a detailed account of the Web 2.0 phenomena as well as the technological developments that separate it from the previous incarnation of the internet. This will occur with a thorough consideration of the construct of interactivity. Interactivity is the main construct that explains why audience activity is made possible from the media’s point of view. Interactivity paired with societal and technological changes led the way to the era of Web 2.0.

In the fourth part of this thesis a conceptual transfer is attempted. To analyse the possibilities of the concept of involvement from consumer research for research on Web 2.0 audience activity, a typology of Web 2.0 audience activities will be suggested. Existing research on the Web 2.0 audience will be reviewed for the processes that amount to the construct of involvement in consumer research. A concluding assessment of the possibilities of the concept of involvement from consumer research for Web 2.0 audience activity research will mark the end.

2. The concept of involvement

2.1 Audience research and involvement

2.1.1 Conceptual overview of audience research

To place audience research into perspective and to embed audience activity into its theoretical background, a brief overview of conceptual as well as historical issues of audience research will be given. The key issues that occupy audience research can be summarised as follows:

- A standard definition of audiences
- Alternative traditions of research and their influence on the outset of study
- Audience research oscillating between active and passive audiences
- Implications of new media technologies.

There are a lot of different possibilities for the definition of audiences. McQuail, for example, lists five different ways of defining an audience: by place, people, medium/channel, content or time and remarks that “this simple term embodies many ambiguities” (McQuail, 1997, 2). That leaves “much room for differences of meaning, misunderstanding and theoretical conflict” (McQuail, 1997, 2).

Next to that are the alternative traditions of research. Audiences are researched in different ways due to the varying cultural and social questions of their eras, i.e. as a mass or a social group. Combined with the fact that the researcher has to start from one side - that of the media or that of the audience – “this question has become inextricably mixed up with the question of methods and built-in bias of different research approaches” (McQuail, 1997, 23).

Another dimension in audience research, which will be in the focus of this thesis, is the active/passive dichotomy of the audience. This issue is again closely interwoven with the outset of research, because the audience as a mass is defined as passive. The notion of an active audience only derived when research started perceiving the audience as social groups (cf. McQuail, 1997, 22), with the start of the uses and gratifications phase.

In addition to that another more issue of audience research is the implication of new media technology. A great amount of audience research was done on television viewing behaviour (cf. Ang, 1996), but with the rise of the internet the activity of viewing is converging with other activities like shopping, reading, surfing or playing games and these can take place in any kind of constellation at anytime, anyplace and anywhere. That questions the term “audience” itself, and gives way to speculations whether it should be replaced (cf. Livingstone, 2004, 44).

Livingstone (2004) argues that the term audience only refers to the activities of watching and listening, while the new information technologies “open up more active and diverse modes of engagement with media – playing, surfing, searching, chatting and downloading”. An alternative term is “user”, which Livingstone dismisses as “losing the idea of a collectivity which is central to ‘the audience’” and “does not necessarily relate to communication at all” (Livingstone, 2004, 44).

Harries introduces the concept of “viewsing” for the internet audience, a construct between using and viewing. He argues that some websites are encountered in a very similar way as television, e.g. for watching the news. Therefore they have broadcast character, while others offer more interactive potential and are being “used”. (For the concept of interactivity please see part 3). “Viewsing” effectively combines “the viewing of moving images with the interactive functions provided by microprocessing and digitisation” (Harries, 2004, 178).

For the purpose of this thesis the definition is wide, the terms audience, audience member and user will therefore be used interchangeably, meaning a group of individuals or an individual interacting with media.

2.1.2 Historical overview of audience research Three schools of audience research

Media studies arose from considerations of the changes in social life in modern society. Especially after the Second World War research has focussed on the question of the audience. Audience studies during the post-war period were mostly engaged in the distribution of power along a continuum - with poles at the audience and the text (cf. Abercrombie/Longhurst, 1998, 29).

Reviews of audience research define three distinct schools. First was the effects phase, which primarily located power within the text and perceived the audience as a mass. Following this came uses and gratifications research which highlighted the power of the audience. Thirdly came reception studies, which positioned the power along the continuum between audience and text.

McQuail (1997) explains that research within the effects tradition describes the mass as an anonymous, rootless and very large aggregate of individuals, bound together by nothing except their shared attention to mass media. The mass could not respond to the mass media nor could the individuals of the mass interact with each other, it had no sense of self-identity attached to it. According to Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998), the effects tradition in media research was concerned about the potentially negative effects media could have on certain members of society, e.g. children or women. These concerns arose with the use of mass media. The negative stance of the audience as a mass in those times reflected the fears of an impersonal life and manipulation by the mass media, expressing the generally pessimistic view of modern industrial society by early commentators (cf. McQuail, 1997, 7).

From the 1950s onwards research attempted new ways of approaching audiences. The uses and gratifications approach placed the power at the other end of the text/audience continuum and researches the uses which derive out of media use for the audience. This approach distinguishes itself from the effects approach mainly through seeing the audience as active, using the media instead of being affected by it. (Katz et al., 1974, cited in Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998, 7). Instead of highlighting the effect of the media on the individual, research turned around to find that media experience on a small scale is a very personal experience, embedded in everyday life. Media is willingly incorporated into everyday life by the individual and members of the audience are aware of the fact that they can make their own media choices freely. Research also had to take into account that the influence of interpersonal and social relationships was greater than that of the media (cf. McQuail, 1997, 8).

Reception studies as the successor of the uses and gratifications approach has its intellectual roots in a working paper of Stuart Hall in the 70s, which was called the encoding/decoding approach. This approach places the power over a text in the middle of the text/audience continuum and defines it as a struggle (Abercrombie and Longhurst, 1998, 15).

These three approaches represent the traditional approaches to audience research. Three paradigms in audience research

Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) also subsume audience research into three different paradigms, arguing that changes in media studies often happen in the context of larger social and cultural changes. By paradigm they mean “a network of assumptions which prescribe what kind of issues are proper research problems” (Abercrombie/Longhurst 1998, 3). The third paradigm developed by Abercrombie and Longhurst outgrows the ideas of the traditional schools of audience research.

The first paradigm, the behavioural paradigm, subsumes two research approaches, effects research and uses and gratifications research. The shared element of the two approaches is that they neglect interaction of social groups (cf. Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998, 9).

The next paradigm defined by Abercrombie and Longhurst is called the incorporation/resistance paradigm (IRP). It defines the main question of audience research as “whether audience members are incorporated into the dominant ideology by their participation in media activity, or whether, to the contrary, they are resistant to that incorporation” (cf. Abercrombie and Longhurst, 1998, 15).

The third paradigm, the spectacle/performance paradigm outgrows the ideas of traditional audience research and takes it a step further into the mediascape (see below). It fundamentally reworks previous ideas of the distribution of power between media producers and their audience and is based on four assumptions:

- People spend a lot of time with media
- Media is interwoven in everyday life
- Contemporary society is a performative society, which means that a lot of activity is constructed with an audience in mind
- Spectacle and narcissism are the driving social forces behind this process. Spectacle is the outcome of an aestheticised world, narcissism the driving force within the individual for a spectacle performance (Abercrombie and Longhurst, 1998, 77).

With this paradigm Abercrombie and Longhurst introduce a new type of audience, the diffused audience. They base this argument on the evolution of the audience from a ‘simple’ face-to-face audience via the ‘mass audience’, which can only be reached via mediating technology, to the ‘diffused audience’, meaning that “everyone becomes an audience all the time. […B]eing a member of an audience […] is constituent of everyday life” (cf. Abercrombie and Longhurst, 1998, 68).

Every member of the diffused audience can be a producer within the next moment. That changes the propositions of audience research, and makes members of the audience producers and consumers at the same time. For this reason, Alasuutari (1999) proposes to broaden the frame within which audience research takes place. The object of research is the mediascape, within which people lead their daily lives and the broad media culture, which treats media and its messages as a part of social reality (cf. Alasuutari, 1999, 17, see also Sparks, 1996, 93).

The broadening of the research frame proposed by Alasuutari results in further fragmentation of audiences and in its most extreme outcome results in the question whether it could be “the end of the audience?” (Livingstone, 2004, 44; McQuail, 1997, 127), or whether it’s just the end of the term “audience” (cf. Liebes, 2005, 356). Fact is that the audience can no longer be considered as subject to the media, but is interwoven into the broader mediascape. The implication of this development is to find research approaches, which are capable of handling this more complex field. The broader concepts of mediascape and media culture embrace production as well as consumption and therefore serve to handle the heightened complexity.

2.1.3 Introduction to audience activity Audience activity on a cognitive level

The objective of this part is to show that research on audience activity in the 1980s mainly focussed on the cognitive level, although at the time this was not perceived so.

Livingstone (2005) summarises that the main question was whether an active audience exists or not. Three arguments are listed that can be claimed for the active engagement of audiences with their media:

- The audience must engage in an interpretation, construction or decoding of the message as meaningful.
- The experience of being in an audience is socially and culturally located, meaning that the individual concerns, personal experiences and knowledge build the basis for the interpretation.
- As a result, individuals have different interpretations of their media experience, according to their personal factors (cf. Livingstone, 2005, 41).

Livingstone follows, that in consequence research on the active audience must open up now and be able to integrate more factors into the analysis (cf. Livingstone, 2005). All arguments focus on the cognitive dimension of a media experience, a physical dimension is not included.

McQuail (1997) concludes in his overview on audience activity within the field of audience research: “With all the developments of research techniques, there can never be more than a very approximate estimate of who was (or is being) reached, where, under what circumstances and in what state of mind” (McQuail, 1997, 64). That leads to the core of the concept. Audience activity is perceived as a state of mind.

Biocca follows this notion back to its historical origins, and states that at the heart of democracy lies an image of the individual as

“[…] the ideal independent citizen who is rational, self-determining, and freely pursuing life, liberty and property. This model of the individual was threatened by social critics who pointed out that in a society where mass production and mass-produced consensus were king and queen, democracy was illegitimate” (Biocca, 1988, 55).

Biocca explains that activity was the oppositional approach to the concept of passivity, which, as noted above, derived out of pessimistic views of society with the rise of the industrial age (see part 2.1.2). Therefore a definition of activity itself was needed and that was the starting point of research into the concept of audience activity (cf. Biocca, 1988, 56).

Typology of audience activities

Biocca in an attempt to “establish and analyse the theoretical components of the concepts of activity and of the ‘active audience’” lists five different types of descriptors used for defining or researching the concept of audience activity (cf. Biocca, 1988, 56). The typology states the diversity and breadth of the use of the term audience activity in audience research:

- Selectivity

The term selectivity is grounded in the uses and gratifications approach (cf. Levy/Windahl, 1985, 111) and understands audience activity as a process of nonrandom selection of “perceptual or cognitive media-related alternatives” (Levy/Windahl, 1985, 112). Selectivity often has a defensive notion to it, implying that the audience member is making his or her selection to get away from other media or content.

- Utilitarianism

The term utilitarianism promulgates a self-interested audience member, who makes his or her choice on a more rational basis than proposed by the concept of selectivity. The utilitarian audience member has clear individual needs and motives, which are attempted to be satisfied by the media (Biocca, 1988, 54).

- Intentionality

The term intentionality focusses on the cognitive dimensions of audience activity and tries to show how incoming information is processed and structured. As a result it figures, that consumption and memory depend on the motivation, personality and individual patterns of cognitive behaviour (Biocca, 1988, 54).

- Involvement

The term involvement describes another approach to audience activity, which will be described in detail later (see part 2.1.4). Levy and Windahl define involvement as “first, the degree to which an audience member perceives a connection between him- or herself and mass media content; and, second, the degree to which the individual interacts psychologically with a medium or its messages” (Levy/Windahl, 1985, 112).

- Imperviousness to influence.

Audience activity as imperviousness to influence carries clear connections to the societal concerns towards mass media at the time. Activity here is understood as degree to which audience members can limit, influence or control the effects of mass media. Biocca states that “this facet of ‘activity’ can be cited as the sociopolitical ‘bottom line’ of the concept” (Biocca, 1985, 54).

Hawkins/Pingree illustrate the breadth of possible definitions of audience activity and list several different studies which all defined an active audience in a different way (cf. Hawkins/ Pingree, 1986, 233). Although at the time not perceived so, audience activity was operationalized as a one-dimensional construct, on a cognitive level only. This was partly due to the fact that research was mostly conducted on television viewing behaviour. The descriptions of the different types of activities mentioned above clarify that no physical activity (as opposed to cognitive activity) is meant:

- Selectivity is described as perceptual or cognitive selection
- Utilitarianism as descriptor for audience activity consists of needs and motives of the individual
- Intentionality consults cognitive patterns of the individual as explanation for activity
- Involvement as activity consists out of perception and psychological interaction
- Imperviousness to influence might imply physical activity by defining activity as the degree of limitation, influence or control of the effects, but that is not made explicit.

In the work of Biocca (1988) and McQuail (1997) statements can be found which might be interpreted as supporting the hypothesis that physical activity is left out:

Biocca concludes his article about audience activity in a highly critical manner, stating that under the given conceptualizations of audience activity, “only a corpse propped in front of a television set could be registered as a member of the much scorned ‘passive audience’” (Biocca, 1988, 75). He argues that the different concepts of audience activity are trying to cover everything an audience member does, and therefore have trouble excluding anything. This supports the hypothesis that the mentioned concepts of audience activity are based on a cognitive level only insofar, as it says that it is impossible for any living individual to be not active on a cognitive level. To put it plainly: it is impossible not to think. Under these premises, research on the topic of audience activity is senseless.

Other aspects of activity, e.g. talking back to the television, calling in on radio shows, sending a reader’s letter to a newspaper or other possibilities of direct response are missed out by these concepts of audience activity. McQuail points out:

“There are some other aspects of active media use that may be missed by the five variants outlined. […] For instance, audience activity can take the the form of direct response by letter or telephone, whether or not encouraged by the media.” (McQuail, 1997, 61).

McQuail’s statement introduces the idea of physical notions (i.e. talking back to the television). Together with the cognitive dimension, a two-dimensional portfolio of activities can be created. This portfolio is not exhaustive, as there are several other possibilities to describe or integrate other activites. It does however illustrate the different areas of research.

Figure 3: Two-dimensional portfolio of activities

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Own illustration

Research on audience activity in the 80s was concerned about the right hand side of the portfolio, since physical activity was not included in research. The lower right side is the above mentioned “passive audience” which does not exist. The lower left side is concerned with physical activities, which do not necessitate a cognitive component, e.g. reflexes like breathing. The upper right side is what most of research during the 80s was concerned about: the physically inactive individual which sits in front of the television, but cognitively processes media’s content. The upper left side of the portfolio, which includes physical as well as cognitive activity, will be the focus of this thesis. Definition of activity on a physical and cognitive level

Activity is a basic human trait. That is why there are numerous possibilities to define activity or activity regarding media usage. Philosophy as a discipline is concerned about the essential nature of such basic things. The philosophical theory of action will serve to put the new portfolio including cognitive as well as physical activities on a scientific basis.

Action, as a concept in philosophy, is what humans can do. The primary concern of action theory is the nature and the explanation of human action, therefore action theory tries to explain what an action is, how an action can be considered and how an action can be explained (cf. Borchert, 1996, 3).

Actions can be defined as someone doing something intentionally and are distinguished from events. An action (phenomenon) can be explained through a series of events. For example typing on the keyboard is one action, but consists out of two events: moving fingers and producing text onto the computer screen. There are three different definitions of this issue:

1. The fine-grained view treats everything as different actions, so the movement of the fingers is an action in itself as well as the production of text. Action consists out of related actions.
2. The coarse-grained view treats the typing as one action and the finger movement and text production as different events of this action. Action can be descibed differently.
3. The componential view regards the typing as one action with several components. Actions are the larger sum of smaller actions (cf. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Supplement, 1996, 3).

Different definitions can be

“combined with the theory that it is by moving her body that a person does anything, the claim that actions are bodily movements is made: every action is an event of a person’s moving (the whole or a part of) her body” (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2005).

This direction is also referred to as behaviourism, which in its most radical form denies any connection between the action and hypothetical inner states of organisms. There are other variants of this discipline which allow internal states, which will be referred to here.

Actions, and therefore activity, can be considered on a cognitive and a physical level. As already indicated, when studying the audience and its activity, it has to be clear which kind of activity is meant: the cognitive, the physical or both. It is, as already mentioned, not useful to not include the cognitive level, because without processing the media content an audience member does not remain part of the audience. Cognitive action defines the member of the audience, because without cognitive processing media is not perceived as such and therefore misses its goal.

But the new media (as will be shown in the third part) makes it possible to participate on a physical level, involving bodily reactions, e.g. typing a comment to a blog entry. The physical aspect is what needs to be investigated in active audience research when trying to explain audience activity and Web 2.0. This is illustrated by the completed portfolio of audience activity:

The definition of activity for this thesis is a blend of two components, interweaving the cognitive and the physical:

Activity is someone doing something intentionally, involving some kind of bodily movement. The active audience – an introduction to physical notions

In recent literature audience activity is described with the help of theories about fans and the fan experience (cf. Jenkins, 2004; Ross/Nightingale, 2006; Bailey, 2005). Fans are associated with a high level of involvement (cf. Jenkins, 2004, 165) and

can show a visible, physical activity related to media content. This triggered the attention of the researchers trying to grasp this kind of audience activity. Fans’ activity is associated with societal changes as well as technological development.


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Web 2.0 and Audience Research
An analysis focussing on the concept of involvement
University of Bremen
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Diese Arbeit wurde durch zwei Fachbereiche überprüft (gemäß meiner Magister-Hauptfächer): 1. Hauptfach: Kulturwissenschaften (Schwerpunkt Medienwissenschaften) 2. Hauptfach Wirtschaftswissenschaften (Schwerpunkt Marketing) In englischer Sprache mit deutscher Zusammenfassung im Appendix.
Audience, Research
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Eva Lüers (Author), 2007, Web 2.0 and Audience Research, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/84895


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