Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 In order to account for the Chinese practice of peer production on the Internet, this study assesses the demographics of Internet users in China, their perceptions of the Internet media, and their intrinsic motivations for using the Internet. The goal for this study would be to provide an understanding of how Benkler’s (2006) networked information economy (NIE) could be mapped onto how the Chinese use the Internet, particularly within their authoritarian societal setting. These concepts will be grounded by measures taken from a survey utilizing the Uses and Gratification (U&G) approach (Blumler & Katz, 1974).

Comment Icon0 Originally intended for identifying audience motivations in the consumption of radio and television media, the U&G approach evolved in communications theory literature to include “new media”. Modern U&G literature has covered the likes of cable transmission, video recording, TV/VCR remote control devices, as well as cellular phones as multimedia devices (O’Keefe & Sulanowski, 1995; Leung & Wei, 2000). As a testimony to the concept’s adaptability, U&G provides a foundation from which to construct profiles of intended uses, ultimately allowing researchers to improve particular aspects of media for increased user satisfaction. Considered a “how and why” approach to the understanding of media-use motivations, gratifications are typically gathered by means of self-reported satisfaction by active users of the medium in question (Herzog, 1944).

Comment Icon0 Even thought the U&G approach has traditionally been applied to the study of mass media innovations, it takes on the user-level perspective instead of a mass-exposure perspective in understanding media use (Klapper, 1963). Ironically, the networked as well as interactive aspects of Internet media make it particularly ideal for U&G research. Modern society is information-oriented (Ball-Rokeach & Reardon, 1988; Rogers, 1986, Toffler, 1980), and is moving away from traditional mass media, towards the more interactive, participatory forms of communication media represented by the Internet (Dreze & Zufryden, 1997; Stafford & Stafford, 1998). As users control the communicative process of the Internet by virtue of the websites they choose to engage in (Stafford & Stafford, 2001), U&G provides the necessary theoretical framework for understanding the specific reasons that attract users to these online spaces.

Comment Icon0 A compelling reason for the adoption of U&G in Internet studies comes from how it is able to provide greater research depth. The U&G approach assumes that the user has motives for using media and communication technology, and can expect to fulfill specific outcomes for that interaction (Blumer & Katz, 1974; Rubin, Pearce & Barbato, 1988). Such media choices are affected by the user’s social and psychological characteristics, access, skill and experience (Torkzadeh & Van Dyke, 2002; Ferguson & Perse, 2000). While the Internet has become more integrated into many facets of everyday life, rather than replacing traditional media, early studies have concluded that the Web supplements existing media (Lin, 1999, 2001). In the early days of Internet adoption, communication researchers Flaherty, Pearce and Rubin (1998) found that online communication was not equivalent to face-to-face communication. This changed two years later, after Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) discovered evidence that the Internet was being used as a functional substitute for face-to-face interaction. Adding depth to earlier Internet use studies, several later studies showed that online relationships are less valuable than offline ones, where their benefits were found to be dependent on whether they supplement offline relationships (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000; Cummings & Kraut, 2002). As more users realized the potential for social interactions afforded by the Internet, many have found it useful in reducing the isolation (Wright and Bell, 2003; Yang, 2000; Walther, 1996).

Comment Icon0 Building upon these studies, user gratification research has shown that the Internet fulfills one or more of these needs: escape/interaction; information/learning; and entertainment (Lin, 2002). Further studies identified the types of gratification obtained to include interpersonal utility, passing time, information seeking, convenience and entertainment (Papacharissi & Rubin, 2000). The attraction of the Internet includes the pleasure of control and fluidity of identity, of which gratifications found in a related study were found to be surveillance, escape, affection, entertainment, social bonding and social identity. Researcher Leung concluded that younger adults embrace the web as a social technology (Leung, 2003).

Comment Icon0 Citizens’ access to online news has become more diverse, and the lines between entertainment and news have blurred. Rather than simple consumers, users are seeking to voice their opinions in Internet news forums, online discussion groups and special interest online communities, and in turn becoming producers themselves. This form of production manifests as forum postings, blogs and podcasts. This phenomenon was first termed by Greg Ruggiero as “participatory media” (Rushkoff, 1994) and later popularized by blog researcher Rebecca Blood (2000).

Table 4: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in online communities (Kim, 2000)

Comment Icon0 As seen in Table 4, the need for Chinese citizens to participate in online communities could also be understood in terms of Marlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where it is believed that people are motivated by the urge to satisfy needs ranging from basic survival to self-fulfillment, and that they cannot fill the higher-level needs until the lower-level ones are satisfied. In Community Building on the Web, Maslow’s hierarchy is adapted to clarify the goals and needs of online community participants (Kim, 2000).

Comment Icon0 For the Uses and Gratifications Theory, there are three objectives: 1) to explain how individuals use mass communication to satisfy their needs; 2) to discover underlying motives for individuals’ media use; and 3) to identify the positive and the negative consequences of individuals’ media use. At the core of this theory is the assumption that audience members actively seek out the mass media to satisfy individual needs.

Comment Icon0 The survey instrument will be a modification of 36 survey-scale questions measuring motives for using the Internet. These items included those from several previous Internet gratifications research studies (Charney & Greenberg, 2002; Ebersole, 2000; Paprcharissi & Rubin, 2000), with additional adapted and supplemented items. The 36 items reflected motives for information seeking (pragmatic and surveillance), economic incentives, self-improvement, companionship (offline and online), diversion, escapism, self-expression, amusement, establishing status, and peer pressure. For each item, respondents were asked to rate the level of agreement with the reason for using the Internet on a seven-point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree). As mentioned previously, the scale would help determine this study’s fourth and fifth hypotheses, which state that “Community Involvement has a positive relationship with peer production of online news content”, as well as how “Social Support has a positive relationship with peer production of online news content”.

Chapter 3.3 – Uses and Gratification Approach


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