Week 10



Web Theory Ch. 2, 3, & 4:


Web Theory Chapter 2: “The web as information network”-Burnett and Marshall (2003) identify two elements of the web. The first is that it is made up of information and the second is that it is significant because the information is distributed into a network. The digitalization of information creates a tension between two opposite positions. Because all information can be reduced to binary code (digitalization) the web can expand infinitely as it absorbs previous forms of information distribution (books, TV, radio, etc.). On the other hand, the cybernetic network of the web is a system of control (all networks are to some extent a control system). This means that the cybernetic system and the information therein is subject to control and surveillance. Because of the network structure the center is hard to determine, but information does flow in certain directions and some of these recreate or represent traditional power structures.


Like other networks in the past the web can spread information to a wide audience. In TV or Radio networks there was a great deal of centralization. The same message could be sent to a national audience at the same time. Before cable, when all networks were broadcasting the same thing, one was assured that most of the nation was simultaneously getting the same message. The web works in a similar way, in that the same message can be sent out and broadcasted to a wide audience. However, because of the vast amount of information being sent on the web, one cannot be assured that everyone is “tuning in” the same message. Also, because so many people have access to producing information on the web, it can be difficult to verify the accuracy and authority of the information. In more closed networks (TV, Radio) only certain people were allowed to produce and broadcast the information.


Web Theory Chapter 3: “The Web as Communication”-The Internet has merged 3 traditional types of communication and added a 4th:

  • Interpersonal (one-to-one) -conversation, telephone, email.
  • Mass communication (one-to-many)-TV, radio, newspaper, book.
  • Computing (many-to-one)-databases, (and possibly comments on blogs or websites).
  • Many-to-many-web pages


Other ways of defining or categorizing communication are discussed. One distinguishes time and place instead of just senders and receivers:

  • Synchronous (face-to-face)-sender and receiver are in the same place and message is received at the same time.
  • Asynchronous-sender and receiver are in the same place but message is received at a later time (note left on door).
  • Synchronous distributed-sender and receiver are in different places, but the message is received at the same time (telephone, online chat).
  • Asynchronous distributed-sender and receiver are in different places and the message is received at a later time (message on answering machine, email, mail).


The Web also “networks” people. It encourages a lot of weaker connections between people who are not in the same physical place. Face-to-face interaction is no longer the only way to maintain relationships between people. Much like letters and phone calls, computer connections maintain those loose human links. Burnett and Marshall (2003) claim that these weak connections are more diverse socially and thus provide wider ranges of information. Burnett and Marshall (2003) cite Wellman and Hampton [1999] who agree that this connectivity reduces identity and pressures of belonging to groups while also increasing opportunity and globalization through social networking.


The Web is all about connections and communication in a multitude of different modes. The Web can be one-to-one and a mass mediated communication system at the same time. It is both a placed of production and consumption. These different modes make the borders much looser. The way people use this loose web is quite different from other traditional forms of communication. As Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out “The loose Web is an interconnected media and communication mix that produces simultaneously audiences, community, conversation, and connection.” All of these get blurred together. People on the Web have started blurring personal and professional identities as these become linked.


Web Theory Chapter 4: “Web of Identity”-The Web of identity is the role that the Internet plays in constructing identities. The nature of the Web enhances the role of user. People are no longer just an audience. As users they create, interact, and consume. Personal websites and social networking sites allow a user to create an online identity which is becoming more and more important. Often the online identity is seen first before any physical identity.


Burnett and Marshall (2003) cite Turkle [1995] who discusses how the Web is causing fundamental shifts in how we create and experience human identity-” In the real-time communities of cyberspace, we are dwellers on the threshold between the real and the virtual, unsure of our footing, inventing ourselves as we go along” (p. 63).


Different terms for people using the Web are also examined:

  • Surfer-“surfing the net” comes from TV channel surfing.
  • Browser-term for both search engine/software and the person, implies less goal directed activities.
  • User-expresses the range of types of engagement with the Web and implies the ability to produce information as well as just “browsing” it.


According to Burnett and Marshall (2003) and important aspect of the Web is that production is never completely separated from reception. They also compare the phenomena of personal web pages with the early 1900s phenomena of personal images taken with personal cameras -especially the ‘Brownie’ camera.


With the ability to both create and receive, the Web has become an active medium for the construction of identity. Burnett and Marshall (2003) conclude that the Web challenges boundaries around several types of identities:

  • Anonymity-part of the web allure is that the web identity is not necessarily connected to one’s physical identity. Avatars allow one to “become” someone or something that may not be physically possible.
  • Language-English was and is currently the lingua franca of the Web, but while 66% of web content is in English, 43% of users do not use English while online. The Web expresses both work and leisure identity and as the Internet expands rapidly in China and other Asian countries, the language balance may shift.
  • Narcissism-personal web pages are expressions of self identity and demonstrate the blending of public and private identities on the Web. To gain desired audiences, some web users push the intimacy level by having 24 hour web cams to display their identity to the world.
  • Gender-gender is at the center of identity construction. The history of computer communication has been male dominated (much like society), and in the beginning the web had the same gender bias. However, in countries where a high percentage of the population uses the Internet, this bias has disappeared. Some researchers suggest that the public sphere is being feminized as is consumer culture. Burnett and Marshall (2003) don’t mention the fact that the web allows users to play with gender identity. A physical male can become a virtual female online and vice versa. They do point out that we must think through classical boundaries about the gendering of contemporary culture.
  • Collective identities-the Web is a hub for collective identities. New political movements develop as do other networks of people. These networks can develop into associations where these groups have a global audience.



Websites reviewed:

None this week



Week 10 references:


Burnett, R., & Marshall, P. D. (2003). Web theory: An introduction. New York: Routledge.