The World Wide Web has inherent properties that characterize its expressive possibilities:


People have been using mediated forms of communication for tens of thousands of years, ranging from paintings on cave walls to hand-written manuscripts and books stamped out on a printing press. Each medium had particular qualities and characteristics, and artists or writers seeking to express themselves served an apprenticeship to learn the best way to communicate. Knowledge of these qualities and characteristics will help you become more than just a Web technician; you will become a content developer for the Web.

The Web as a Medium for Expression

The Web isn't paper, radio, television, or even a printing press. The Web can be described technically as a system for delivering hypermedia over networks using a client/server model. The Web has many possibilities for information, communication, and interaction. But shaping communication on the Web to meet user needs requires knowledge and skills in combining language, text, graphics, sound, movies, and hypertext. The methodology for shaping Web-based communication described here stresses a continuous, process-oriented approach to information development with a central focus on meeting user needs. The first step in approaching Web communication is to understand the characteristics and qualities of the Web as a medium for expression and how the user experiences the medium of the Web.

The Web is an application that can operate on global computer networks. As such, the Web is part of an evolution of media used for human expression that goes back millennia. The Web is part of media evolution

Each innovation expanded people's ability to extend thought in time and space. The invention of vowels and the subsequent widespread use of writing in the several centuries B.C. changed human civilization to one based more on writing than on the spoken word for disseminating information. Some say that writing itself made the Roman Empire possible because it provided a means to communicate laws and collect records over a widespread geographic area. Centuries later, the printing press also revolutionized information dissemination, making the distribution of multiple copies of a publication easier. By the late twentieth century, global computer networks made the distribution of (virtually) unlimited copies of a work possible to anyone on a network.

The Web offers a way for people to create works that can have a global reach. Technically, the Web's organization as a client/server information dissemination system often leads to nonhierarchical, distributed forms of expression as well as possibilities for multiple user roles (users as both consumers and producers of information). But the Web's technical organization reveals just part of its possibilities for expression. Just like other media-books, CD-ROMs, television, and radio-the Web has particular expressive characteristics that influence how it can be shaped and expressive qualities that people potentially can use in forming communications.

Web Media Characteristics

The term media characteristic as used here refers to the inherent properties of the Web that delimit its expressive potential. These media characteristics relate to the Web's time/space distribution possibilities, the context for Web expression, and the Web's organization as an information system. By comparing the Web's media characteristics with these same concepts for traditional media, the Web developer can gain an appreciation of how the Web differs.

Expressions on the Web are:

The Web differs from traditional media

The Web's time/space and use-context media characteristics are different than traditional media. Copies of books and most CD-ROMs have time/space boundaries around them that are inherent in their nature as physically encoded media. In contrast, Web works, being virtual, can be available in unlimited copies to any Web user at any time.

In use, both books and CD-ROMs are removed from the context of references to other works as well as the context of their creation. Authors creating Web works, in contrast, make paths through hypertext and can strongly bind their works to others on the Web.

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2020-04-25 · John December · Terms © December Communications, Inc.