Concepts and Definitions of Interactivity in WWW
The term interactivity was widely used in various disciplines long before new media came into being. However, it is usually agreed that the major difference between new media and traditional media is interactivity (Morris & Ogan, 1996; Pavlik, 1996; Rafaeli & Sudweeks, 1997). It is also becoming an increasingly important concept or characteristic of marketing, as illustrated in the concept of one-to-one marketing (Peppers & Rogers, 1993). Previous studies have defined interactivity from different perspectives. Rafaeli (1988) defined it as “a variable quality of communication settings” (p. 111) based on the assumption that a reciprocal, two-way communication is a common desire of both the communicator and the audience. Formally stated, it is an expression of the extent that in a given series of communication exchanges, any later transmission is related to the degree to which previous exchanges referred to earlier transmissions. For full interactivity to occur, communication roles between sender and receiver need to be interchangeable. Therefore, to Rafaeli, bi-directionality, quick response, user control, and feedback are not interactivity, since these types of activity do not contain full responsiveness (Rafaeli 1988).
However, contrary to Rafaeli's definition of interactivity, other scholars defined interactivity based on the notion of control. Williams, Rice and Rogers (1988) suggest that interactivity can be defined as a three-dimensional construct. It includes control, exchange of roles and mutual discourse. Similarly, Neuman (1991) refers to interactivity as the “quality of electronically mediated communications characterized by increased control over the communications process by both sender and receiver.”
Steuer (1992), in his work on virtual reality, also addresses the notion of interactivity. In his proposed model, interactivity and vividness contribute to the so-called “telepresence” experience by which one feels present in the mediated environment. His definition identifies three factors that contribute to interactivity: speed, range, and mapping. Among the three factors, range and mapping are closely related to the concept of control. Range refers to the number of possible actions at a given time, so the greater the range is, the higher the interactivity a user can feel in communication. Mapping refers to the ability of a system to map its controls to changes in the computer-mediated environment in a natural and predictable manner. That is, if mapping is offered to a user, a user has control over his or her communication activities in the computer-mediated environment, and therefore a user can experience greater interactivity.
Heeter (1989) provides a comprehensive understanding of interactivity, defined as a six-dimensional concept. According to her, the first dimension of interactivity is complexity of choice, or “selectivity.” This dimension concerns the extent to which users are provided choices of available information. So, the more choice the user has or the more choice the medium provides, the higher the interactivity of the user or the medium. A second dimension of interactivity is related to the effort that users must exert to access information. A high-interactive medium allows users to access information more easily than a low-interactive medium. A third dimension of interactivity is “responsiveness to the user.” Responsiveness is defined as “the degree to which a communication exchange resembles human discourse” (p. 223). Therefore, humanlike responsiveness is the highest level of interactivity, and if media have higher interactivity, they react to a user like a human. The fourth dimension of interactivity is the “potential to monitor system use.” In a high-interactive medium, user selection of information can be monitored across the entire population of users. The fifth dimension is the degree of “ease of adding information.” In a high-interactive medium, a user can add information to the system that a mass, undifferentiated audience can access. The last dimension, according to Heeter, is the degree of interpersonal communication that a medium can offer. The high-interactive medium can facilitate interpersonal communication among users. Although Heeter's six dimensions of interactivity are not perfectly applied to current new media like the Web, they still offer a good overview. Heeter (1989) also points out that as technology is continuously developing, users have much more control over the information they wish to be exposed to, which is a form of selective exposure. So, among the six dimensions of interactivity, selective exposure is becoming a more important factor to give users a feel of interactivity in a new medium environment.
Ha and James (1998) also suggested five dimensions of interactivity. Using Rafaeli's and Steuer's approaches to the concept of interactivity, they define interactivity from two perspectives - interpersonal and mechanical. From an interpersonal perspective, they use Rafaeli's definition of interactivity, that is, “the extent to which messages in a sequence relate to each other, and especially the extent to which later messages recount the relatedness of earlier messages” (Rafaeli & Sudweeks, 1997 p. 3). From a mechanical perspective, they use Steuer's definition of interactivity, that is, “the extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time” (Steuer, 1992 p. 84). The first dimension is “playfulness.” They suggested that the playfulness dimension of interactivity is within oneself rather than with another person, but because the communication need of an audience member on many occasions represents a desire to communicate with oneself rather than with others, they suggested that playfulness should be included as one dimension of interactivity. The second dimension of interactivity is “choice.” This dimension of interactivity has the same meaning as Heeter's “complexity of choice” dimension. Providing a choice of several options that users can choose can increase the perceived interactivity between users and the medium, in this case the Web. The third dimension of interactivity is “connectedness.” Unlike others' proposed dimensions of interactivity, Ha and James (1998) focused on the Web. They suggested that because the Web can offer diverse connections through hyperlinks, users can have more interaction with a Web site. The fourth dimension of interactivity is “information collection.” Unlike the previous three dimensions, the fourth is based on the perspective of Web site providers, not users. From the perspective of a provider, information about the users is the most important, especially when the Web sites are commercial in nature. In this case, willingness to provide the information depends on the users' free will. So, if the user provides the information, he willingly interacts with a Web site or a medium. The final dimension of interactivity is “reciprocal communication.” The more reciprocal the communication between the site visitor and the Web site provider or owner, the more the site can respond to the particular needs of visitors. So, the perceived interactivity can be increased.
Shih (1998) focused on the degree of control of the medium as the main dimension of interactivity. Control is defined in his study as “the ability to modify the causal relation between a person's intentions or perceptions and the corresponding events in the world” (p. 657). To Shih, the degree of interactivity depends on whether the user can control the flow of information. In this sense, the hyperlinks in a Web site could be an important tool for control, and therefore mean higher interactivity. If there are many hyperlinks in the Web site, users can control their own behavior through clicking or not clicking and can have greater interaction with the Web site.
Newhagen et al. (1995) offered a different approach to interactivity. They proposed the concept of perceived interactivity. They conceptualized perceived interactivity based on efficacy, which is “a two-dimensional construct: internally-based self-efficacy and externally-based system-efficacy” (p. 166). For a Web user, internally-based efficacy can be translated into his or her perceived control over where he or she is and where he or she is going, while externally-based efficacy can can correspond to his or her sense of how responsive the Web as a system is to his or her actions. Under Newhagen et al.'s two dimensions of interactivity, Web users can find their internally based efficacy in their navigation through cyberspace. Cyberspace navigation includes “virtual movement through cognitive space made up of data and the knowledge emerging from those data” (Whitaker, 1998; p. 63). Web usability research reveals that easy navigation is critical to the success of a Web site (Kanerva et al., 1998). Web users' externally-based efficacy finds direct expression in how responsive a system external to themselves is toward their actions. The system may consist of a machine, messages, and an imagined receiver. Therefore, the perceived speed and amount of any change a Web user can produce will directly influence the level of responsiveness. In sum, the perceived interactivity can be defined as two dimensions, navigation and responsiveness.
Even though definitions and dimensions of interactivity differ across previous studies, perceived interactivity should be based on consumers' actual interactions with the stimulus. Interaction with the Website means that consumers have perceived control over information and communication flow. Therefore, a Website, which can allow consumers to seek and gain access to the information on demand where the content and sequence of consumers' surfing is under their own direct control, can be perceived to give greater interactivity to consumers while they are surfing. If a Website presentsconsumers with difficulty in gaining or accessing the information that they want, then consumers may have a lesser degree of perceived interactivity with the Website. In this study, we manipulated the Website in this way, so that consumers' have different degrees of gaining or accessing the information that they want.
Roles of Involvement in Advertising Context
One of the most pervasive intervening variables (both as a mediator and a moderator) in the communication, attitude, and persuasion literatures to date is involvement. Krugman (1965) first raised the importance of understanding varying levels of involvement as researchers struggled to describe the effects of advertisements in the relatively new medium of television. He introduced the concept of involvement into the marketing literature to help explain the different levels of processing varied advertisements appeared to receive. Since Krugman's seminal argument about television advertising, the construct of involvement has emerged as an important factor in studying advertising effectiveness (Greenwald & Leavitt 1984; Krugman 1967; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981; Petty et al. 1981; Petty et al. 1983; Rothschild & Ray 1974; Wright 1973). Involvement has been found to relate to advertising effectiveness (Greenwald & Leavitt, 1984), reaction to advertising stimuli (Laczniak, Muehling, & Grossbart, 1989), media characteristics (Krugman, 1965), and consumption (Hirschman, 1981; Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982).
From the perspective of information processing, involvement is related to elaborative processing and the amount of attention dedicated to advertising messages (Gardner, Mitchell, & Russo 1985). Involvement also affects the processing and storage of information for recall and retention (Salmon, 1986). Researchers have found that in a high-involvement situation, individuals are aroused to process stimuli (ad messages) more attentively and more systematically (Houston & Rothschild, 1978; Petty, Cacioppo, & Goldman, 1981). Celsi and Olson's study (1988) supports the notion that involvement affected the direction and focus of subjects' attention and comprehension processes.
Involvement has also been one of the most important moderating variables used by ELM researchers. In the ELM context, involvement refers to “the extent to which the attitudinal issue under consideration is of personal importance” (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979, p. 1915). So, when consumers have high MAO (motivation, ability, and opportunity) to process communication, consumers are willing or able to exert a lot of cognitive processing effort, which is called high-elaboration likelihood. In this process, consumers' attitudes are formed and changed through the central route, and central cues such as existing beliefs, argument quality and initial attitude influence attitude change and formation. On the contrary, when MAO is low, consumers are neither willing nor able to exert a lot of effort. In this low-elaboration process, peripheral persuasion cues such as attractive factors, music, humor, and visuals are determining factors of persuasion effects.