The Two Views About Interactivity

We’ve been dwelling on Jeff Jarvisremarks about how there was the no interactivity demonstrated in the presentations during the Online News Association‘s panel entitled Engaging Readers with Interactivity. During our trip this week between Chicago and Detroit, we were discussing how Jarvis’ remarks illustrate how members of the online publishing community realize either of two different views of interactivity.

    The first is the viewpoint the was presented on the panel: Users are given choices by which a (computer-mediated) site can be changed. Jarvis remarked “What turns these people on is Sim news”. In other words, users using game-like interfaces to learn something about the news.

    Jarvis uses the second viewpoint: Users conceive the choices by which a (computer-mediated) site can be changed. Not that subtle difference: the users conceive the choices, not the publisher. A discussion room is interactive because you interact with someone. A user playing a game — be it the board game of Monopoly or the computer game SimCity or the sites presented on the ONA panel — isn’t aren’t any more interactive than a mouse running in a maze.

Although both viewpoints fit within Jonathan Steuer’s brilliant, 1990 definition of interactivity (“…the extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time“), we believe that Jarvis’ viewpoint is correct because only in it does the user share equal control over his environment. In the game-like interfaces presented at ONA, the publisher holds and sets all the controls.

Consider this: Is the Dallas Morning Newseditorial blog interactive? It is for its users, the 13 members of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. But it isn’t for the newspaper site’s readers.