An Extended Abstract for a Poster Session at the NCA Summer Conference, 2002

Networked Media And Middle Ground

Davis Foulger
Oswego State University (SUNY)

Characteristic-based media taxonomies, like those provided by Bretz (1971), Ciampa (1989), Foulger (1992), and Hoffman and Novak (1996), provide a useful starting point for describing and understanding the relationships between media. These very different taxonomies list a wide variety of media (28 for Bretz, 35 for Hoffman and Novak, at least 43 for Ciampa, and 52 for Foulger) and organize them in interesting ways.  Taken in aggregate, these sources suggest grouping human communications systems as follows:

Propinquitous Interactive Media

Intimacy, Face-to-face Interaction, Social Dancing, Small Group Interaction, Brainstorming, Family Interaction, Participatory Games and Sports, and Classroom discussion

Live Presentational Media

Speeches, Lectures, Town Meetings, Judicial Proceedings, Ritual Ceremonies, Legislative Assemblies, Mobs, Theatrical Performance, Bonfires, Political Rallies, Live Musical Performance, Sporting Events, and Puppet Shows

Static Art Media

Cave Paintings, Bas Relief, Oil Paintings, Dioramas, Quilts, Pottery, Sculpture, Architecture, Animatons, Photographs, Filmstrips, Holographic Recordings, Signs, and Billboards

Correspondence Media

Letters, Notes, Memos, Business Correspondence, Telewriting, Telegrams, Telex, Facsimile, Tape Letters, Personal Video, Recorded Telewriting, and Electronic Mail

Publishing Media

Books, Daily Newspapers, Magazines, Video Recordings (Videotapes, DVD Video, etc.), Weekly Newspapers, Journals, Recordings (Records, CD's, Cassettes), Newsletters, Merchandise Packaging, On-line information, Online databases, Online services, Electronic Publications, Multimedia Documents/VideoText), Billboards, Direct Mail Advertising, and Microforms

Telephonic Media

Telephone, Teleconferencing, Intercom, C.B. Radio, Ham Radio, Family Radio, Videophone, VideoConferencing, Internet Telephone, and Instant Messenger

Dynamic Art Media

Silent Film, Motion Pictures, Film with Subtitles, Talking Animatons, and Lightboards

Broadcast Media

Broadcast Television, Cable Television, Satellite TV, Digital TV, Radio, and Talk Radio

Interactive Mass Media

Hypermedia, Video Hypermedia, Computer Conferencing (Newsgroups & ListServ), Cooperative Composition, Voice Mail, Electronic Bulletin Boards, Streaming Audio and Video, Voice-into-text concurrent interaction, Virtual Reality, and Interactive Television

There is an interesting pattern hidden in these nine clusters of almost 100 media. Most clusters appear to describe interpersonal (e.g. propinquitous interactive, live presentational, correspondence, and telephonic) or mass media (e.g. publishing, dynamic art, broadcasting, or static art) clusters.  Both Hoffman and Novak (1996) and Foulger (1992) show networked computer media in a middle ground between the interpersonal (correspondence and telephonic) and mass media (broadcast, and publishing) clusters. The ninth cluster, interactive mass media, fits into this gap of media that are interpersonal in practice but mass in reach and suggests reconsideration of the traditional boundaries between interpersonal and mass media in both theory and pedagogy.

But is this middle ground real?  Tom Novak comments: "I don't really believe this conclusion. It suggests to me that the variables used to classify media don't include any dimensions on which the Web is truly different. That is, the key dimensions that differentiate the Web are being left out." This may well be the case. Bretz (1971) compares media based on five characteristics. Hoffman and Novak (1996) use eight. Foulger's (1992) is based on twelve. Ciampa's (1989), although more ad hoc in his comparisons, uses between two and nine characteristics (depending on how you count).

It is possible to envision a much larger set of characteristics on which media can be usefully compared. Indeed, work is underway that compares a larger set of media on over 180 characteristics, including sets of (1) message and feedback modalities, (2) message characteristics, (3) performance characteristics (4) production characteristics, (5) participants in media, (6) consumer/audience characteristics, (7) creator/performer characteristics, (8) interface characteristics, (9) channel (transmission and feedback) characteristics, (10) storage characteristics, and (11) marketplace characteristics. It is thought that analysis based on this broad range of characteristics of media may reveal the additional dimensions of media that Tom Novak suggests will properly differentiate the web and other networked computer media from more traditional media.


Bretz, Rudy. (1971). The Communication Media. Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Educational Technology Publications.

Ciampa, John A. (1989). Communication: The Living End. New York; Philosophical Library.

Foulger, Davis. (1992). Computers and Human Communication. In Pickover, Cliff (Ed). Visions of the Future

Hoffman, Donna L. and Thomas P. Novak. Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Conceptual Foundations. Journal of Marketing, July 1996.

Novak, Thomas P. Your 1996 article: Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Conceptual Foundations. Private E-Mail. October 31, 2001.