This chapter provides a brief overview of Web interactivity. It highlights current research findings on interactivity from several academic disciplines and offers insights on current and future development of Web interactivity. A framework to examine multimedia and Web interactivity is provided. The chapter concludes with future trends and suggestions for future research directions.
Interactivity on the Web (or Web interactivity) is a powerful trait that offers enhanced values between merchants and consumers. Studies show that Web interactivity offers better consumer experience, enhances perception on telepresence, and the user’s attitude towards a Web site (Coyle & Thorson, 2001), and engenders a higher level of learner satisfaction (Liu & Schrum, 2002), as well as a positive influence on learners’ attitudes. Interactivity has been shown to engage users in multimedia systems, to encourage revisits to a Web site, to increase satisfaction toward such systems, to enhance the visibility of Web sites, and to increase acceptance (Chen & Sockel, 2001; Dholakia, Zhao, Dholakia, & Fortin, 2000; Rafaeli & Sudweeks, 1997).
Within the academic community, there is little consensus of what interactivity is, and the concept often means different things to different people (Bucy, 2004; Dholakia et al., 2000; Johnson, Bruner, & Kumar, 2006; McMillan & Hwang, 2002; Yadav & Varadarajan, 2005). McMillan and Hwang (2002) suggest that interactivity can be conceptualized as a process, a set of features and the user perception. Interactivity as a process focuses on activities such as interchange and responsiveness. Interactive features are made possible through the characteristics of multimedia systems. In a similar construction of the definition for interactivity, Rafaeli and Sudweeks (1997) consider interactivity as a process-related concept, where communication messages in a sequence relate to each other. However, the most important aspect of interactivity lies in the user perception on, or experience with, interactive features. Such an experience may very likely be a strong basis for future use intention.
Ha and James (1998) defined “interactivity” as “the extent to which the communicator and the audience respond to, or are willing to facilitate, each other’s communication needs.” Early studies tend to consider interactivity as a single construct where multimedia systems vary in degrees of interactivity.
As research continues to uncover the dynamic capabilities of multimedia systems, the definition of interactivity evolves to include aspects of hardware/software, processes during which the interactive features are used, and user experience with interactive systems. Dholakia et al. (2000) suggest the following six interactivity dimensions: (1) User Control, (2) Responsiveness, (3) Real time interactions, (4) Connectedness, (5) Personalization/Customization, and (6) Playfulness. Similarly, Ha and James (1998) suggest five interactivity dimensions: playfulness, choice, connectedness, information collection, and reciprocal communication, while Johnson et al. (2006) perceive interactivity along four dimensions: reciprocity, responsiveness, speed of response, and nonverbal information.
Within the context of multimedia systems, we view interactivity as a multidimensional concept referring to the nature of person-machine interaction, where the machine refers to a multimedia system. In the context of the Web, these multimedia systems range from two-way, one-to-one interactions to multiway collaborations. Figure 1 presents a conceptual framework (derived from Dholakia et al., 2000) that characterized interactivity dimensions as follows:
Interactivity as a multidimensional concept