Chatterjee and Narasimhan (1994) observe that as a distribution channel, the Web possesses 1) extremely low entry and exit barriers for firms; 2) increasing irrelevance of distribution intermediaries; and 3) the capability to not only keep pace with market change, but accelerate it. Because the Web increases the power of the user and decreases the power of conventional communications providers, compared to traditional channels of distribution, the user and the provider approach "symmetrical power" and the best communication efforts are likely to be "collaborative" rather than "autonomous" (Mohr & Nevin 1990). Glazer (1991) notes that in the presence of higher information intensity, channel power shifts in favor of users and a breakdown occurs in formal distinctions between provider and user.
In other words, the World Wide Web on the Internet levels the communications playing field and, as such, represents the most important innovation in mass communication since the development of the printing press.
In the information intensive hypermedia computer-mediated environment defined by the Web, a provider is no longer broadcasting a single communication to many users considered as an "audience," but in effect tailoring its communications according to users' varied interests and needs (Hoffman, Novak, and Chatterjee 1995). This is implemented primarily through the unique process of network navigation in which a user chooses what information (if any) to receive from a particular provider (Hoffman and Novak 1995).
These shifts in power hold important implications for user participation in the communication process in emerging media. For example, users may collaborate not only by choosing and responding to a particular communication, but also in the communication effort itself. This is because interactivity in the Web gives consumers much greater control of the message. Such control may manifest itself in startlingly new ways: for example, last summer it was feasible for a group of individuals working only with a set of Web sites and an online community, but no traditional printing press, to provide an effective forum for alternative viewpoints surrounding the "cyberporn debate."
Such activities are possible because the Internet is characterized by open access to information and the Web offers a medium in which anyone can be both user and provider. Before the advent of the Web as a communications medium, no one would have heard a view different than that presented in the mass media, since despite the validity of alternative voices, they owned no printing press. Through the Web, all individuals potentially have a voice in society through the distributed computing environment represented by the Internet, and society must now begin to examine the manner in which these more collaborative communication efforts can and should proceed.
Hoffman, D.L., T.P. Novak, and P. Chatterjee (1995), " Commercial Scenarios
for the Web: Opportunities and Challenges," Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication, Volume 1, Number 3, December.
The Cyberporn Debate Page:
Back to CFP96 plenary session page
Back to CFP96 home page