The Representation of National Political Freedom on Web Interface Design: A Comparative Study of Government-Based and Business-Oriented Web Sites

The Representation of National Political Freedom on Web Interface Design: A Comparative Study of Government-Based and Business-Oriented Web Sites

Rowena Li (Bayside High School Library, New York, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-827-2.ch020
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The purpose of this chapter is to explore the representation of national political freedom on Web interface design by using power distance, one of the culture dimensions identified by Geert Hofstede, as a measurement. It also aims to determine if there are any differences between government-based Web sites and business-oriented Web sites in representing national political freedom. This study applied seven indicators validated from previous study (Li, 2009) in coding 312 Web sites selected from 39 countries and analyzed national political freedom represented on these Web sites with content analysis method. The result of two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated that large differences exist in Web interface design, which in turn reflects the aforementioned national political freedom. The research showed that the mean effect of freedom level between free-country group, partly-free-country group and not-free-country group was statistically significant (p = .003). So was the mean effect of Web site type between government-based and business-oriented Web sites (p = .000). Furthermore, the interaction between the freedom level and Web site type was also significant (p = .041). Therefore, we conclude that Web interface design correlates with a country’s political freedom level and government-based Web sites embody more of a nation’s authority and supremacy than business-oriented Web sites do. It is expected that this study furthers our exploration in culture dimensions on Web interface design and advances our knowledge in sociological and cultural studies of the Web.
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With the rapid increase of global communication and economic exchange on the Internet, various regions and communities across the globe are now connected using this technology. The Internet has become one of the most important vehicles of communication by which we express our opinions and thoughts. A Web page, especially the homepage, is one of the most popular means for an organization or a business entity to disseminate its information to the public. It also has become the most important channel through which the organization establishes its own existence and value. As a result, the Web page has grown to be one of the most dependable resources for information-seeking endeavors.

As computer-based communication has taken its lead in global information exchange, Web developers and researchers have become aware of the inevitable impact of local culture traits on user interface design. In fact, Web interfaces not only reflect the linguistic aspects (language, date, and time formats) of the country, but also represent the culture characteristics (values, morals, and ethics) of the norm (Ford & Gelderblom, 2003). Therefore, it has become necessary to identify fundamental international cultural dimensions, with which local cultural characteristics can be analyzed and compared. In this way, Web designers and analysts are able to design user interfaces in such a way that the interfaces coordinate with local cultures in order to achieve the Web site’s optimal effects.

Language has been considered one of the most powerful means for interpersonal, international, and intercultural communications. Several studies have explored the relationships between language, culture, reality, and thought, laying a solid theoretical foundation for the study of cultural representation in user interface design. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Picture Theory of Meaning states that language reflects reality and mirrors the world (1953, 2003). The theory of Semiotics, led by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, claims that language, one of the forms of a “sign,” not only represents reality, but also bears its own social convention and cultural elements (Chandler, 2002; Eco, 1976; Jakobson, 1971; Ogden & Richards, 1923; Peirce, 1931-58; Saussure, 1966). Furthermore, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis asserts that the structure of language reflects and even determines our way of thinking and viewing the world. Language is the symbolic guide to culture. By studying language, the cultural elements embedded within will be revealed (Sapir, 1963, 1964; Whorf, 1988).

In response, several cultural models have been developed in culture studies during the past decade (Hall & Hall, 1989; Hofstede, 2001; Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005; Hoft, 1996; Stewart & Bennett, 1991; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998). Among these models, after analyzing surveys conducted in 72 countries, Geert Hofstede developed five primary cultural dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures. The five cultural dimensions are power distance, collectivism versus individualism, femininity versus masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term versus short-term orientation. Subsequently, Marcus and Gould (2000) extended Hofstede’s (2001) cultural theory to Web interface design. Their study illustrated how each of Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions is represented on Web pages through examples from several different countries. Gould, Zakaria, and Yusof (2000) compared culture orientations and design preferences of Malaysian and U.S. Web sites with Hofstede’s cross-cultural model and Marcus’s (Marcus & Gould, 2000) Web application theory. N. Singh, Kumar, & Baack (2005) and N. Singh, Zhao, & Hu (2003, 2005) in recent years have also applied Hofstede’s (2001) cultural dimensions with Marcus and Gould’s (2000) vision in their pragmatic research for the purpose of validating cultural value framework and analyzing cultural content on various country Web sites.

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