The World Wide Web is a networked hypertext system containing digitized texts, audio, and visual data (Snyder, 1996). Fueled by increasing promotion in mass media and the popularity of online services (Internet World, 1997; Maddox & Mehta, 1997), the Web, as part of the Internet, is growing at a pace faster than any previous new communication media (Berthon, Pitt & Watson, 1996). Although it has been available to the general public only since the early 1990s, the Web is now regularly accessed by millions of users. While different sources report different numbers of Web users, all reports agree that Web usage is growing tremendously. One study conducted in August, 1997 estimated that there were 55.4 million Web users over the age of 12 in the United States (Relevant Knowledge, 1998). This is up from 22 million users the previous year. Many traditional mass media (such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines) have established their presence on the Web through online mirror versions.
In the latest edition of Diffusion of Innovations (1995), Rogers discussed the multiplier effect of Internet technology upon its adoption of its interactive nature. The rapid adoption of the Web can be explained by the attributes of successful innovations suggested by Rogers (1983). In terms of relative advantage, Web users can enjoy business profits and a reputation as being informed and knowledgeable. Its graphic and audio-vidual capabilities make it it an attractive medium to use. In terms of compatibility with previous ideas and social values, the Web is a combination of traditional print and electronic media. The name of the technology, the World Wide Web, easy to remember and vividly illustrating the worldwide interconnection function of the system, also facilitates its success. In terms of low complexity, the what-you-see-is-what-you-get format of web browsers makes them user friendly and reduces the perceived complexity of the medium. Finally, the Web has high trialibility. Trialibility is the degree to which an innovation can be sampled in small quantity or with low cost. Open access to the Web through computers at schools or public libraries minimize the risk for computers in trying the technology.
A major force behind the growth of the Web is its potential for generating revenue. A recent report by ActivMedia (1998) on 3,500 net markets estimated that the revenues generated from the Web would be around $24.4 billion US in 1997. Most of the revenues (85%) came from product and service sales or fees and online advertising. The rest came from equipment and web site development. Some 65% already claimed to be enjoying profits. Moreover, web sites with more experience on the Web were more likely to report making profits than those who were new to the Web. Although one may doubt the validity of the statistics because of the study sponsor's vested interests in the Internet, the proliferation of Internet-related publications and research indicates that the Web has become a viable business opportunity that many want to cash in on. The growing interest of business in establishing their presence on the Web is shown in a 1996 study of 367 marketing executives in the U.S. Seventeen percent of them reported that their companies already had web sites, and 31% of the companies were planning to set up a web site in the next six months (Paustian, 1996).
The present study first attempts to deconstruct the meaning of interactivity and then reports the results of a content analysis which examined the interactivity levels of business web sites. Business web sites are chosen for study over other web sites to assess interactivity because these sites are the most common. They are most likely to benefit from interactivity and possess financial resources that drive the technological development of the Web. Indeed, as of April 1997, 88% of all registered domain names on the Web were commercial domains ending with ".com" (Kosters, 1997). …