Revisiting Interpersonal Media Competition The Gratification Niches of Instant Messaging, E-Mail, and the Telephone

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media competition, niche theory, social information processing theory, electronic propinquity, computer-mediated communication, gratifications

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The theory of niche proposes that a new medium competes with older, more established media to fulfill users' needs. This study uses niche theory, a macrolevel theory, as well as social information processing theory and the theory of electronic propinquity, both microlevel theories, to examine the niche of instant messaging (IM) in providing general gratifications. Results indicate that IM is characterized by a broad niche, surpassed only by that of the cell phone. IM had substantial niche overlap with e-mail and the cell phone, indicating a degree of substitutability between them; the least overlap was with the landline telephone (LLP). The hierarchy that emerged indicated that the cell phone was superior to IM, which was superior to e-mail, followed by the LLP for providing general gratifications. Finally, displacement tests indicated that IM use displaced e-mail and LLP but not cell phone use. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Communication Research, v. 35, issue 4, p. 529-547.