What is Social Media?

“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” – Tuli Kupferberg

In the previous post, we saw how the old communication model of ‘one-way’ message dissemination or broadcast was a monologue and how it has changed over the last few years. The communication is more ‘two-way’ now, and is not monologues but dialogues or conversations – vibrant, authentic, honest and consumer-driven.

How did this transformation of seismic proportion take place from which a totally new world emerged? To understand this is to understand the evolution of the social media, its antecedents and its milestones. But before we do this we need to define ’social media’. And that’s no easy task! Because social media is not a static and stagnant subject but a dynamic phenomenon, changing everyday. But we do need a working definition.

Let’s see if Wikipedia, which itself is an example of ’social’ (collaborative) media application, has an answer. Here’s how it is currently defined there:

“Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. Social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content; it’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal, political and business use. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).”

Those who are familiar with the writings of Brian Solis – a leading Web 2.0 expert – will see that Wikipedia has expanded his 2007 definition of social media. While this is a fairly good description, there is one very important aspect of social media missing. This is the ease with which anyone can post, comment, share content and form communities around shared interests. No knowledge of coding is required.

To elaborate further, social media can be text, images, video or even audio. The tools used are blogs, micro blogs, wikis, podcasts, bookmarks, communities, networks. We shall later look at these tools closely.

A few prominent examples of social media applications are: Wikipedia (reference, collaborative), Facebook and Myspace (social networking), Flickr (photo sharing), Youtube (video sharing), Secondlife (virtual reality), Digg and Reddit (news aggregation), and the current phenomenon, Twitter (micro blogging). In a future post, we shall look at Twitter closely to see why it is the hero of the new world.

We shall also trace the beginnings of social media, and pay tribute to the pioneers, some of whom appeared on the scene before their time, and had to fade away. But that’s for the next post.

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