Media Taxonomy

As a system of classification, a media taxonomy is a tool to juxtapose different media with respect to a variety of different criteria. Creating such a taxonomy can help better understand, discuss, and visualize media and how different they relate and differ from one another. This system of organization can depict both obvious facts about media as well as subjective qualities, however it does so in a visual format that makes comparison and a more totalized view of media possible.

The potential for developing different types taxonomies of media is undoubtedly endless. In creating a taxonomy, therefore, it seemed important to me to design a system that reveal information of interest to me. As one of my goals is to gain a better understanding of the social impact and potential of different forms of media, I attempted to create a taxonomy that measured the strength and reach of different media.

Beginning with the image-sound-language triad, I created a conical diagram upon which different media could be plotted. The diagram begins at a point with the immediate experience from which mediated messages stem. Spreading outward from that point, the process and product of mediation is seen as increasingly social and public. To illustrate this spectrum, I inserted four basic levels of mediated experience: Memory, Individual Use of Media, Independent Production, and Mass Media. While these different levels by no means provide a scientific measurement of the reach and impact of media, they offer a clear basis for comparison. By including image, sound and language as the three axis of this conical diagram, plotted media also are seen represented with respect to how they fall within this triad.

Ultimately, this taxonomy provides a strong tool for a quick visual comparison of fairly obvious qualities of media. To allow the taxonomy to be more informative, I also imagined the individual media plots to be clickable links to a basic fact sheet on the chosen media. In choosing the criteria for this fact sheet, my focus on better understanding the social impact and potential remained constant. That criteria included the following: Reach, Cost, Technical Requirement, Accessibility, Direct Impact, Buzz Creation, Best Practice Example, Creator, Genre. From these criteria, Reach, Direct Impact and Buzz Creation attempt to offer relative and absolute measures of the reach of different media, with direct impact assessing the potential for catalyzing policy change and buzz creating anticipating the ability to create public discussion through a media. Meanwhile, Cost, Technical Requirement, and Accessibility attempt to gauge the ability for the public to harness a media for their message. Finally, the criteria of Best Practice Example, Creator and Genre provide some basic information that might be helpful for future research on how the media has been used successfully in the past.

The examples I chose for this taxonomy range from “That annoying song stuck in your head” (Memory; Language/Sound) to “Journal Entry” (Individual Use of Media; Language) to “Film” (Mass Media; Language/Image/Sound). These examples were all chosen simply to illustrate how different media might be plotted with respect to the three given axis and graduating levels of media reach.

One obvious problem with this particular taxonomy is that it conflates the notions of reach and social impact. Surely the potential for a media to impact a community is dependent upon many other variables in addition to the scope of its distribution, and creating this taxonomy might prove helpful to me in thinking about those other variables. Nevertheless, that this taxonomy resembles the shape of a megaphone adds to the illustrative effect and suggests a parallel relevant for this particular model.

Jason Rissman
Winter 2004