“ It is difficult, indeed dangerous, to underestimate the huge changes this revolution will bring or the power of developing technologies to build and destroy – not just companies but whole countries.‟
Social Media in Plain English
‘Social Media’ is something of a buzzword at the moment. Everyone – from huge corporations to governments to community groups – are switching onto the idea that ‘social media’ is happening, and that they need to get in on the act. But what is it?
Social media, in fact, is nothing short of a revolution. It is changing the way that we as people communicate with each other. Sharing ideas, cooperating and collaborating to create art, thinking and commerce, vigorous debate and discourse, finding people who might be good friends, allies and lovers – it’s what our species has built several civilisations on. That’s why it is spreading so quickly, not because it’s great shiny, whizzy new technology, but because it lets us be ourselves – only more so .
And it is in the “more so” that the power of this revolution lies. People can find information, inspiration, like-minded people, communities and collaborators faster than ever before. New ideas, services, business models and technologies emerge and evolve at dizzying speed in social media.
And all of it is founded on ideas of equality and democracy.
The ‘Old’ Media
Most of us receive our information about the world through the media – radio, newspapers, tv. How we receive our information has an immensely powerful effect over how we perceive the world (see our ‘alternative media’ page).
It used to be that the ability to create content and distribute it to an audience was limited to individuals and organisations that owned the production facilities and infrastructure to do so.
With the advent of digital technology and the internet it became a lot easier for people to create their own content, be it images, words, video or audio. Today, the ever-lower costs of computers, digital cameras and high-speed internet access, combined with free or low- cost, easy-to-use editing software means that anyone can have a live blog website up and running within minutes of deciding to do so. With a little reading and fiddling they can upload video or sound too.
Distribution has also become easier, cheaper and faster as well, with RSS and search engines.
This is having a profound effect on both our ability to get our own voice heard, and for us to hear about other people’s points of view. Our information about the world isn’t limited to what the people who run and own the media think is relevant – we can listen to infinite stories, and make up our own minds.
So it’s like…blogs and stuff?
Social media is best understood as a group of new kinds of online media, which share most or all of the following characteristics:
Participation: social media encourages contributions and feedback from everyone who is interested. It blurs the line between media and audience.
Openness: most social media services are open to feedback and participation. They encourage voting, comments and the sharing of information. There are rarely any barriers to accessing and making use of content – password-protected content is frowned on.
Conversation: whereas traditional media is about ‘broadcast’ (content transmitted or distributed to anaudience) social media is better seen as a two-way conversation.
Community: social media allows communities to form quickly and communicate effectively. Communities share common interests, such as a love of photography, a political issue or a favourite TV show.
Connectedness: Most kinds of social media thrive on their connectedness, making use of links to other sites, resources and people.
Types of social media include blogs, podcasts, social networking sites (like MySpace and Facebook), wikis, forums and content communities (like Flickr, YouTube etc)
In a classic example of the benefits of social media, I have pinched a lot of this information from What is social media? An e-book from iCrossing. Cheers guys!