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Two I’s in Social Media

November 5, 2010

There are two I’s in Social Media!

The line normally runs … ‘there is no ‘I’ in team’. My favorite response used to be, ‘no, but there are five in Individual Brilliance’. I am replacing it with ‘there are two in Social Media’ and really that’s the fundamental point.

Defining Social Media
In a moment, I am going to reprise a piece I penned for the Institute for Social Media, a fledgling think-tank in this area – I though it was pretty good, just deep enough for an ‘Institute’ (healthy dose of sarcasm here). I stick by what follows, but fundamentally, Social Media is about connecting at least two people together (my two I’s in Social Media – OK I know you got the segue so consider this thematic reinforcement of my ‘tag line’ as simple rhetorical repetition).

The example: I write this piece. I send out status updates on Twitter and other places that relate to this piece. In essence I have published some web content. Take a moment and glory in the marvel that is the modern internet (more sarcasm). The issue is, that apart from the benefit I receive from structuring my thoughts and writing some copy, my penmanship is stillborn, adrift in cyberspace unnoticed and unloved. Sigh for effect. You may find the work by search, however that is really a lost opportunity for us both. This post becomes social media when you comment or reply. It stops being simple web content and becomes social media at the point when we engage with each other. I learn from your support, disagreement or experience. Two human beings (and maybe a few more) interact and through the process exchange, learn, engage or otherwise make a social connection. QED: There are ‘two I’s in Social Media’ (again with the rhetorical repetition).

So if you want my simple definition of ‘Social Media’ … “Two (or more) people interacting via the utility of online communication”. Now I don’t want to waste the huge effort I went to for the Institute piece, so here it is, slightly rejigged …

Attempting to define ‘Social Media’
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Social Media’ as “websites and applications used for social networking”. Surely definitions should avoid repeating the defined phrase, isn’t that ‘circular argument’ (here the use of ‘social networking’ to define ‘social media’)?

The Oxford Dictionary goes on to define ‘Social Networking’ as “the use of dedicated websites and applications to communicate with other users, or to find people with similar interests to oneself.

Wikipedia is worse! It defines Social Media as “media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues. Here both ‘media’ and ‘social’ have been used to define themselves – sort of telling you that if you don’t know, don’t ask us. It is little wonder that if you ask two different people what ‘Social Media’ is all about, you will get two wildly different answers. Perhaps that’s the point! (Two I’s in Social Media, both with a different view – OK, I am shutting up now).

The Social Media Movement
The great thing about anything ‘Social’ or anything labeled ‘Media’ is that definition, application and understanding is highly subjective, variable, and likely to be just as broad as the networks, social frameworks and interpersonal behaviours of the human participants, that by definition (pardon the pun) make it ‘social’. Social Media is not about platforms, paradigms, tools, or a contemporary stage of the ongoing development of the Internet. Social Media is a Movement!

The Oxford Dictonary provides one definition of ‘movement’ as “a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas”. This is part of the human condition, our fundamental existence as social beings looking to make our way in the world and make a difference.

Social Media is NOT NEW
Language, writing and our shared pathways to collaboration, publication and information preservation predate history and they, in fact, chronicle history. This is our irrepressible communal desire to commit discovered meaning to media for shared benefit and social engagement (the cynics may add – ‘to exert control and influence’). The contemporary excitement around the phrase ‘social media’ is simply that this MOVEMENT has now set about transforming online communication and our digital world. Every generation has had its ‘social media’ and now we have moved it online. In an increasingly isolated and insular physical world, social media now means facilitation of social communication in a digital way, extending community, sharing, collaboration and belonging to the online world. Networks, groups, social behaviours, stratification, belonging and unfortunately bullying, segregation and exclusion and every ‘social element’ is all here, emerging fully formed in cyberspace.

The Internet – An Ongoing Journey
The Internet is still relatively young and its disruptive technical influence is far from exhausted or fully understood. The early Internet put content at our disposal. Fundamentally ‘hyperlinks’ built a new connectivity between disparate content and made this readily available to us, initially as a ‘grab bag’ and eventually through well conceived search paradigms. Many felt machine-to-machine optimization would follow and we would see the emergence of the ‘Semantic Web’. Perhaps we will, however human need and the ‘Social Media Movement’ was the stronger transformational force. The Social Media Movement is changing the dynamics of the Internet by creating connections more fundamental than ‘hyperlinks’. The Internet is no longer simply a page driven platform of interconnected content. Adding to the complexity are human inter-connectivity as well as space (location) and temporal (time) based linkages. This is making the online world more complex, more social … more human, and the change is happening fast – very fast!

Social Media is our ongoing effort to make the online space serve our human need for communication, belonging and interaction. If you want to use it to describe the message, the tool, the strategies or the stage of the Internet, then that may work just as well for your communication need.

There are two I’s in Social Media! It so happens there are two in Veridian as well 😉

Please turn my work into Social Media through your comment and engagement …

One Comment leave one →
  1. Liz permalink
    December 6, 2010 3:24 PM

    I bookmarked this page to read a couple of weeks ago and after finally getting around to reading your post, feel I can hardly move on without engaging and posting a comment!

    I think it’s hilarious the traditionally authoritative source (the OED) has such an awkward definition of social media, and I agree with your point that basically, it’s when it gets down to people interacting with each other that you get a working definition of social media. Terms like this one and that old chestnut ‘web 2.0’ are useful as umbrella concepts, giving a general indication of the terrain but are fairly hopeless at self definition.

    The social media design pattern library provides a useful context for looking at what web 2.0 tools can do with social interaction. Built on a wiki structure itself, I’m interested in seeing how this will develop over time, as a community resource. Anyway, thought you might appreciate the link!

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