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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal

2.4 A genre-based framework for new media

The constructuralist ecology of communicative transactions deals with the overall environment within which print communication takes place. The theory of punctuated equilibrium focuses on the processes of change within that environment. Neither are directly applicable to the design of the specific communications artefacts themselves. The final theoretical perspective looks beyond the technology but is much more obviously applicable to new media and their implications.

A genre-based framework for new media is based on the work of Phil Agre ([Agre1995a], [Agre1995b], [Agre1995c]), but primarily on [Agre1995b]. This presents a framework for media design based on an inquiry into the role of genres in people's activities. [Agre1995a] deals with the natures of communities and how they operate, and [Agre1995c] focuses more on the forms and use of information. His main argument is that any design of a communications system using new media requires a focus on the "social relationships around a given type of communication" [Agre1995b]. New media are never precisely defined, but presumably include mass media (such as radio and television), electronic text on CD-ROM, multimedia offerings of all sorts and the whole cluster of technologies around the Internet.

The central concept is in this social focus is genre - "the expectable forms of communication that fit into particular forms of activity involving relationships between communities of people". [Agre1995b] The power of genres for Agre can be summarised by saying that "in analytical terms, they are the meeting-point between the process of producing media materials and the process of using them" [Agre1995b]. He discusses the insights that applying this theory provides under the headings of communities, activities, relationships, media, and genres. He then provides an extended example to consider how these insights might apply to the design of a set of Web pages for a hypothetical organisation. Last he examines the economic considerations that need to be kept in mind in designing new media.

2.4.1 Definitions

2.4.2 Application questions

2.4.3 Discussion

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