The Internet is quite different from any other form of communication media. Types of communication media are usually defined by the number of people who participate in either sending or receiving a message through the specific medium. (Adams & Clark, p.28) The most basic form of communication occurs when two people are sending and receiving messages to each other, either face to face or through a medium. Other forms of communication can also include messages being sent to reach small groups, and larger groups through what we know as mass media. The internet of today is different from all these previous forms of communication media because there are many different ways for people to communicate and interact through the communication medium called the internet. (Adams & Clark, p. 28) The internet holds many defining characteristics that make this medium work so well.
The first characteristic which clearly defines the internet as superior to other communication media is the fact that it is a dual-medium. The term ‘dual medium’ means that is can function as a ‘macromedium’ as well as a ‘metamedium’. (Adams & Clark, p. 29) When Adams and Clark defined it as a ‘macromedium’ they meant that it knows no boundaries, and reach any internet user worldwide. On the other hand, it can also be known as a ‘metamedium’ because is serves as a ‘platform for older’ and other types of media as well. (Adams & Clark, p. 29). This is also the key component that distinguishes the internet medium from the television medium. The television sends out messages to an audience and they receive it. They do not have the option of responding to what they receive. While on the other hand, users of the internet medium have the option to send and receive messages. (Adams & Clark, p. 29)
Another defining characteristic of the internet is that it is ‘multimediated’. (Adams & Clark, p. 35) It can display a wide range of media, such as different graphics, words, pictures and videos all on the same page or in a message. It can do this because of convergence. Adams and Clark define ‘convergence’ (p. 35) as the integration of once separate technologies together. An example of this on the web would be a photo gallery that someone has uploaded along with text describing the pictures. This demonstrates convergence and two separate technologies are being used together to create a more powerful outcome.
Another characteristic that defines the internet is that of ‘hypertext.’ Adams and Clark describe hypertext to be the ability to link any type of content to any other type of content. (p. 37) An example of this would be when you are on a webpage and say that there is a picture of Derek Jeter hitting a home run. The hypertext comes into play when you click the picture and then that brings you to the video of Derek Jeter actually hitting the home run. This characteristic of the internet is key to how the internet is easy to use and navigate because of the simple luxuries like this and in fact is the characteristic that the world wide web is based on. (Adams & Clark, P. 37)
Another characteristic of the internet that separates it from other forms of media is that it is ‘interactive’. On the internet we get to choose ‘our own path’. (Adams & Clark, p.59) We have control of what we access, view, read, and post. This is quite the difference from sitting in front of a television and receiving what is given to us or opening up a newspaper and only getting the news they want us to see. With the internet you access what you want when you want it. You can be reading about the Yankees at one moment, and then receiving e-mails from professors the next. This is unique and important to the ‘surfer’s’ experience with this medium. (Adams & Clark, p. 59)
A fifth characteristic that defines the internet from all previous communication media is that of it being both synchronous and asynchronous at the same time. This means that we can read something immediately as it is happening, or we can save it to read or respond to at a later time. (Adams & Clark, p. 40) This furthers the freedom and reinforces the advantages of using the internet to communicate.
These characteristics plus many more is what makes the internet a more reliable, and user-friendly type of communication media than ever before.
From: Adams & Clark. C.2. What Is It? Characteristics of the Medium