Robert Scoble responds to a question by Dare Obasanjo, who apparently just heard the term “social media” the other day. Others, like Frank Shaw at Waggener Edstrom, are apparently uneasy with the term, too.
Just to set context: I find 14,571 blog posts have been tagged “social media”, starting back years ago, and its being tagged around 100 times a day. Who knows how many posts use the term and don’t tag it.
Robert gamely tries to define social media by examples, and then closes weakly:
[from What is social media?.
When I say “social media” or “new media” I’m talking about Internet media that has the ability to interact with it in some way. IE, not a press release like over on PR Newswire, but something like what we did over on Channel 9 where you could say “Microsoft sucks” right underneath one of my videos.
I don’t really care what you call this “new media” but you’ve got to admit that something different is happening here than happens on other media above.
The fundamental distinctions between social media and the things that preceded are these:
- Social Media Is Not A Broadcast Medium: unlike traditional publishing — either online or off — social media are not organized around a one-to-many communications model.
- Social Media Is Many-To-Many: All social media experiments worthy of the name are conversational, and involve an open-ended discussion between author(s) and other participants, who may range from very active to relatively passive in their involvement. However, the sense of a discussion among a group of interested participants is quite distinct from the broadcast feel of the New York Times, CNN, or a corporate website circa 1995. Likewise, the cross linking that happens in the blogosphere is quite unlike what happens in conventional media.
- Social Media Is Open: The barriers to becoming a web publisher are amazingly low, and therefore anyone can become a publisher. And if you have something worth listening to, you can attract a large community of likeminded people who will join in the conversation you are having. [Although it is just as interesting in principle to converse with a small group of likeminded people. Social media doesn’t need to scale up to large communities to be viable or productive. The long tail is at work here.]
- Social Media Is Disruptive: The-people-formerly-known-as-the-audience (thank you, Jay Rosen!) are rapidly migrating away from the old-school mainstream media, away from the centrally controlled and managed model of broadcast media. They are crafting new connections between themselves, out at the edge, and are increasingly ignoring the metered and manipulated messages that centroid organizations — large media companies, multi national organizations, national governments — are pushing at them. We, the edglings, are having a conversation amongst ourselves, now; and if CNN, CEOs, or the presidential candidates want to participate they will have to put down the megaphone and sit down at the cracker barrel to have a chat. Now that millions are gathering their principal intelligence about the world and their place in it from the web, everything is going to change. And for the better.
Aside from my diatribe about Social Media, in capitals, I also want to make a distinction with social media, in lower case. In the latter form, I am speaking of the tools that are used — blogs, wikis, whatever — to create Social Media. It is blogging that has become the most formidible platform for Social Media, and much of my ranting and hopes is directed toward the future of blogging as a force for change in the world.
The societal phenomenon of Social Media (supported by the nuts and bolts of social media tools) has been a profound one, over the past decade. I predict that the impact in the next decade will be even more sweeping, and much more widespread. As an additional billion or two of the world’s population finds its way onto the web, our only hope may be that the web finds its way into the world: that the principles of openness, transparency, diversity, and egalitarianism that engender web culture remake the world, one conversation at a time. Political parties, multinationals, the corner dress shop, your county government — everything will be influenced by the infectious openness of the web, because the edglings will simply not settle for less.
That’s another way of defining Social Media: it is the way that we are organizing ourselves to communicate, to learn, and to understand the world and our place in it. And we just won’t accept any models for that that aren’t intensely social: we won’t put up with large organizations telling us what is right, or true, or necessary. We will now have those conversations among ourselves, here, at the edge. Social Media has released us, freed us: and we won’t go back.
So, a formula: Social Media = what the edglings use to communicate.