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Is Twitter an Individual Mass Communication Medium?

Is Twitter an Individual Mass Communication Medium?

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Published by Martin
Research paper about Twitter at SITE 2010 conference (http://site.aace.org)
Research paper about Twitter at SITE 2010 conference (http://site.aace.org)

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Published by: Martin on Mar 31, 2010
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08/09/2013

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Published in C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher EducationInternational Conference 2010 (pp. 1712-1717). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/33604.
Is Twitter an Individual Mass Communication Medium?
Helga Wiesenhofer MA Student of SociologyKarl Franzens University of GrazGraz, Austriahelga.wiesenhofer@stud.uni-graz.at Martin Ebner Computing and Information Services / Division of Social LearningGraz University of TechnologyGraz, Austriamartin.ebner@tugraz.at Isidor KamratComputing and Information Services / Division of Social LearningGraz University of TechnologyGraz, Austriaisidor.kamrat@tugraz.at 
Abstract:
According to the theory of action, the use of the web-based microblogging serviceTwitter’ seems to be a postmodern form of traditional social activity. In this way, traditionalcommunication appears through the development of virtual social networks. Within the never ending flow of tweets, there is a wide range of different forms of communication: privatemessages, directed messages using the @-symbol, directed conversation through re-tweets andcommunication in general by simple status reports of the users. These different forms of communication can be related to Littlejohns basic communication forms (2002). The fact thattweets are public and directed to an undefined public assumes that twitter is a mass media whichcan be therefore used by individuals. Following the field model of mass communication byMaletzke (1963) we can show the characteristics of communication on Twitter and link themwithin this traditional model.
Introduction
Taking a look at the newest trends, social networks are increasing dramatically. Especially the microblogging toolTwitter (http://twitter.com) grows 1382% within one year what is even 6 times faster than Facebook (http://facebook.com) - the worldwide largest social networking platform (Schroeder, 2009). From a research pointof view this facts are quite interesting – why are people using Twitter, for which purpose and why is Twitter that popular? Twitter is the most famous and one of the very first microblogging platforms - only Jaiku has its launchone month earlier than Twitter. It can be seen as the most revolutionary Web 2.0 application – since Tim O’Reilly(O’Reilly, 2005) announced this term in 2004. Microblogging itself should be seen as a new form of communicationand is defined by Templeton as a small-scale form of blogging, generally made up of short, succinct messages used by both, consumers and businesses,to share news, post status updates and carry on conversations. Owyang extendedit by pointing out the differences between blogging and microblogging (Templeton, 2008). Due to the fact that onetweet cannot exceed 140 characters, it is fascinating how people are using it to communicate with each other.Messages can be private or public, can be addressed to one or more other users (by using @ as identifier) or can dealwith specific topics by using # as identifier. Simplicity is one of the success factors of this application as well asmobility and openness. There are numerous mobile applications where posts can be done or read just on the move -today’s prime example of Mobile 2.0 (Griswold, 2007). This fact is underlined by a study which pointed out that“only 20% of its traffic comes through Twitter website; the other 80% (logically) come from third-party programson phones or computers” (Arthur, 2009). Due to the fact that Twitter offered an open API from the very first beginning, a high number of third-party applications appeared and allow for example to tweet also pictures (e.g.TwitPic http://twitpic.com) as well as hyperlinks (e.g. bit.ly http://bit.ly). From this point of view Twitter can beseen as a complete environment and big collaboration platform for fast communication without barriers, with anycontent and through different devices.
 
Published in C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher EducationInternational Conference 2010 (pp. 1712-1717). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/33604.In the meanwhile several research works have been done dealing with real life scenarios. For example nowadaysmicroblogging is used for:
 
enhancing conferences by using Hashtags (#) and live-twittering (Ebner, 2009)
 
supporting groups of experts for exchanging ideas, work and research results (Ebner & Maurer, 2008)
 
enhancing lectures by reporting stats, searching the web (Ebner & Schiefner, 2008)By using special tracking methods and statistical analyses the impact of Twitter use was shown (Ebner & Reinhardt,2009) (Reinhardt et al, 2009) also in scientific events. According to these findings and one further study (Java et al,2007) that pointed out three different ways of how to use microblogging in general – information sharing,information seeking and friendship-wide relationship – this publication deals with the research question: Can wefind an appropriate communication model that is able to explain the phenomena Twitter from a scientific basis?
Communication Models
‚Communication’ is an ambiguous term with different meanings. Every communication process needs a mediumwithin the message gets transferred (Graumann, 1972). The term ‘medium’ refers to human communication as aninterpersonal medium as well as a technical device, for transferring a message (Maletzke, 1963). Littlejohn definesfour basic communication forms, whereas each higher communication level contains the preceding (Littlejohn,1992): - Interpersonal communication (face-to-face communication limited to two persons)- Group communication (one additional person joins the communication process)- Organisational communication (a process in large cooperative networks)- Mass communication (deals with public and mediated communication)
Transmission models
Most of all communication models include the aspect of intermediation, transmission and transposition. The crucialthing is that most of these theories reduce communication to a one-way process. So information gets transferredfrom A to B as one-sided linear intermediation from transmitter/source to receiver in an encoding process. One of these basic models was created by Shannon and Weaver in the late 1940s (Fig. 1).This simple model equates to the Lasswell-Formula of early mass communication: Who says what in which channel,to whom, with what effect? Lasswell simplified the field of communication into the parameter communicator (who?), message (says what?), channel (in what medium?), receiver (to whom?) and impact (with what effect?).These models have also influenced early studies of human communication. But many theorists now consider them to be misleading because of the neglected interactive aspect in the form of feedback.In contrast to ‘simple’ communication, mass communication occurs when messages are mediated public (no limitedand personal defined receiver), medial (medial diffused), indirect (there is a spatial and/or temporal separation between the communication partners) and unilateral (without role change between sender and receiver) to a disperse public (Maletzke, 1963).
The concept of a disperse public
A disperse public is defined as a social structure in the purpose of an ‘attention aggregate’ (Lasswell, 1948) which isno lasting formation. I can be described by the following criteria (Maletzke, 1963):- A lot of people turn to mass media messages.- These messages are mediated by mass media and not trough personal or interpersonal communication.
Fig. 1: Transmission model of Shannon and Weaver (1948)
 
 
Published in C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher EducationInternational Conference 2010 (pp. 1712-1717). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/33604.
   M  e  s  s  a  g  e
   R  e  c  e   i  v  e  r 
Medium
experienceeffectselection of thefull supplyforce of the mediumimage of the mediumself-perceptionas a personalityas part of the publicin social relationships
   C  o  m  m  u  n   i  c  a   t  o  r
 
self-perceptionin a teamin an institutionin social relationshipsas personalitydesignselectionforce of the message public force (agenda, opinions,social norms and valuesforce of the mediumimage of the Communicator on receiver-sideimage of the Receiver on communicator-sidespontaneous answers of the receiver 
Fig. 2: Field-Schema of Mass Communication after Maletzke, 1963
- The members of a disperse public are locally separated from each other.- There is no interpersonal relationship between the members of a disperse public.
The field-schema of Mass Communication
One model which considers the interactive aspect of communication is the Field-Schema of Mass Communication(Maletzke, 1963). In this model sociological group- and system correlations get significant. The field contains thefour elements: communicator, message, medium and receiver. These four factors are interactive and have influenceon each other. The
communicator
constitutes of one or more persons (communicator-side), who select, design and publish messages. The
message
incorporates content and form of the statement. The
medium
is a technical devicewhich supports the distribution of the message. The
receiver
- or the receiver-side - picks up the signal and decodesthe message.
The function of the field-schema
Because of technical characteristics, each medium modifies the process of perception and experience of the messagetransmitted and received. But it depends on the receiver if a message is chosen or ignored. Because of his allocationto the message the receiver gets part of a disperse public. Through the process of selection, experience and effect thereceiver gets an impression of his position in society, his social rolls and functions. It depends on the communicator what messages he produces, what kind of messages are offered and how they are designed. Furthermore thecommunicator has a certain character which depends on the situation and his intentions related to thecommunication process. The selection of the content and the production of the message are depending on the self- perception of the communicator. Other factors of influence are the profession of the communicator, his tasks withinhis profession, his roles and functions within a team or institution and the society within he lives and work.Interactive elements as answers, requests, affliction and suggestions stop the one-way-communication process of mass communication although as spontaneous contact between communicator and receiver. The process getsmodified by generated images of each other: On communicator-side occurs an image of the receiver and on thereceiver-side an image of the communicator (a shown in fig. 2 below).
Model Adaption to Twitter
How can these traditional models be linked to the communicational behaviour on Twitter? Which similarities andwhich differences occur and what implications occur?Apart from the fact that on Twitter a lot of people write trivial statements to no distinct person we havecommunicating individuals which are sending messages through a medium to an unknown public. This fact matchesthe basic definition of mass communication. So Twitter is a mass media and there is mass communication within.The tweets are seen as messages which are sent by different communicators (Twitter users) through a medium(Twitter application) to different receivers (followers and/or people who read the tweets but are not identified asfollowers of a user). So at first sight Twitter is public and the published tweets are indirect and unidirectional for anundefined, disperse public with all its essential criteria we have listed above. The users are scattered all over theworld and take part of Twitter from mobile, client or web interface. In difference to traditional mass media,messages on Twitters timeline appear in real time and are not temporally shifted. The criterion of a unidirectional

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