Multimedia is referred to by some as an integration of technologies, and by others as an amalgamation of communication forms (Deuze, 2003). We define multimediality as the capability of an individual to mediate a message utilizing any or all of a variety of forms of expression—text, still photos, graphics, sound, and video or any combination thereof—at will. Just like abundance, interactivity, and mobility, multimediality is relative, and, just like the other three, it is a capability in constant flux and develop?ment at the hands of potential users. Multimediality is the characteristic of contemporary media that mostly affects users’ ability to convey social presence and an information-rich message, two concepts we discuss subsequently in more detail. It combines the development of technological convergence and digitization as it makes it possible to merge the ability to transfer sound, pictures, and the written word with the capability to do all that simultaneously. In fact, verbal communication and data transmission have now become inseparable in modern mobile networks (Meinel & Sack, 2014).
In the previous generation of electronic media, the power to convey multimediated messages, if it existed at all, was left in the hands of the large corporations that controlled them. In addition, the media themselves were technologically siloed and capable of transmitting only specific types of messages: newspapers delivered their messages in print, and radio was a medium based on sound, as was the telephone. While television already was able to contain a moving image, it was not until the advent of computers that interpersonal communications converged with mass media, and all formats for communicating—sound, picture, and the written word—became transferable from within one medium and by the user.
Multimediality is therefore closely tied to technological convergence, which as a term was probably first examined in the 1980s in Ithiel de Sola Pool’s seminal Technologies of Freedom (1984), where Pool discusses the challenges for regulators facing the emergence of cable television (the convergence of telephone and television) and computer communications (the convergence of print and electronic media). It was also identified as a major characteristic of contemporary media even prior to the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and insightfully observed as more than a technological shift but rather as a process in which the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences is altered, and not as an endpoint of such change (Jenkins, 2004).
The impact of convergence on the media industries runs deep. As Deuze (2003) observed a decade ago, convergence is changing the practice of journalism, and as a result its impact goes beyond technology, newsroom culture, management, or user culture. It affects the very way journalists perceive themselves and, as a result, the way they express themselves in an industry that still impacts society in a variety of ways. As a result of convergence, asserts Pavlik (2001), there is a potential for “a better, more efficient, more democratic medium for journalism and the public in the twenty-first century” (p. VIII), along with risks to privacy, pluralism and egalitarian access to media (Ibid). Indeed, it is the interest of the media industries to push convergence in order to strengthen their market position (Jenkins, 2004), and as a result, with all of its potential for empowering users and their ability to communicate, convergence is a process that needs to be monitored as it contributes to a nonegalitarian distribution of communication and information resources.
Multimediality, however, goes beyond convergence. Unlike convergence, a concept emerging from and therefore focused on the technological means by which messages are created, sent, and received, multimediality is about the nature of the message itself. Indeed, as Deuze (2003) notes, from the view of the media industries, multimediality in the production of messages by, for example, news organizations can be seen as a means to produce more content with fewer people; however, from the point of view of the individual user, multimediality is an empowering capability because it puts at the user’s fingertip the option of creating a rich message. Multimediality is in this sense also empowering because it provides the individual with an opportunity to become a news producer competing with large, established institutions whenever access is granted to the reporting of news events. It can be argued that
the characteristics and typology of online journalism suggests much of journalism’s potential can (or even should) be found in reversing this paradigm, where journalists offer citizens annotated archives for self-searching purposes, provide people platforms and modes for participatory, connective storytelling—in various ways interactive, hyperlinked, multimedial. (Deuze, 2003, p. 217)
The impact of multimedia messages has been studied in many contexts and is yet to be fully understood. Thus, for example, Chung, Nam, and Stefanone (2012) found that multimediality did not influence the credibility perceptions of news stories in different types of news media. At the same time, a growing number of studies have indicated that multimedia messages are effective in different educational settings ranging from multicultural education to the study of the sciences, vocational training, and health education (Aly, Willens, Vand Den Wim, & Elen, 2012; Mohamadirizi, Fahami, & Bahadoran, 2014; Mutlu Bayraktar & Altun, 2014; Peng, Fitzgerald, & Meeaeng, 2006; Priyambodo & Sulistyani, 2014).