What do people do when they use the internet? Communication Modes as an integrated concept for the analysis of media use in converging media environments
Media developments are basically marked by the phenomenon of convergence on different levels. Hereby, the internet in particular is considered as the ideal realization of these merging and blurring processes. Corresponding to the buzzword of multimedia, different presentation forms are combined and integrated into new types of applications, which allow for a plurality of new usage possibilities as well. Supplemented by the possibilities of digitalization, more efficient data capacities and networks, this combination additionally leads to a merger of media, information technology and telecommunication. These technical conditions dissolve the former rigid roles of sender and receiver, of producer and consumer. Also the once clear distinction between interpersonal, group related and mass communication becomes blurred. One fact becomes obvious: The internet cannot be understood as one particular medium. It must be regarded as an extremely versatile technical infrastructure, which just carries different communication services. This situation then raises the question, what people actually do when they use the internet. A simple transmission of traditional reception types is not sufficient concerning their significance and differentiation. In a contemporary concept of media usage also new ways of production, expression and reception have to be considered. In order to deal with this challenge, the project proposes the concept of communication modes (by Uwe Hasebrink). This user-centred concept refers to certain situations of media use: In any particular situation the user defines herself/himself as being in a specific communication mode. This definition includes relevant characteristics of the situation, the benefit this user is seeking and the benefits of the communication service. It is assumes that communication modes are linked to the respective communication services. While a specific communication service cannot determine the communication mode of its users, it defines the range of modes which can be realized by using the respective service. In order to apply this concept for internet usage research, the following conceptual and empirical steps will be taken: First, a classification of perceived communication services has to be developed. By using classification tasks, test persons are asked to sort different communication services according to the perceived differences and similarities between them. This will help to identify relevant criteria of differentiation and description. Subsequently data are analysed by means of cluster analysis. Secondly, by using think-aloud protocols, the communication modes of users are reconstructed while they deal with different services. As a result this project aims to provide a helpful tool to describe and understand the online activities of media users.