I have always liked to see my facebook profile in spatial terms. Sort of like a living room cause that’s the room in ones’ house where his guests spend most of their time. It’s a controlled semi-public space. Ok so it’s sort of like your living room with a door to the street. That door may be transparent for by passers that want to take a peek or fully closed to them and open (to varying degrees) to your acquaintances. Now advertisers want to enter this space and hang next to the personal photos you have up your wall, a painting you love or the video you want your friends to see a big-ass advertising banner.

Now let’s think under what circumstances people may actually want to have this done to their living room. Personally I want no big-ass advertising banner in my living room because I can’t think of a single brand, person or message that has such that much significance in my life. In some cases however we do feel this way about some brands be it Obama prior to election, Madonna, a photo of their car or whatever other item they feel plays such a big role in their life.

There should be some sort of space on the profile page that allows the profile owner to personally choose what sort of advertising they want on it. For example I like Madonna. Give me a selection of 100 cool images of her and let me choose which one I want to be displayed in my profile (plz allow me to download and keep some afterwards). Now give me the option to display underneath that picture a personal message e.g. ‘Theo+Madonna=L.F.E’, when her next concert near me will be, and whether I will be attending or not. Similar thing with my new Ford Kuga. A picture of myself with the car that is hyperlinked to my album of pictures/ videos I have shot with my car. Etc. For the aforementioned reason it would also be important to let the user choose the size.

I imagine that this might also be possible in terms of branded tagging by the user him\herself. For example I put up a picture of me holding my baby, I could tag the clothes it is wearing with the brand ‘e.g. Diesel kids’ which in turn could be hyperlinked to the page of the Diesel online catalogue where that product might be found or I could also state its price, rating, review, place of purchase and why someone should visit that particular store. If I a have a photo taking a stroll with my child in a pram I could tag the pram’s brand.  Of course tagging is work and work often requires payment. It is a big question how much such work should be paid or in what way but one thing is certain: that it must be paid according to how influential that person is. For example a highschool’s gang of cool kids is very influential as they act as role models for a lot of their schoolmates. The cool gang always has the coolest accessory, device, clothes first. Indeed they also make it the coolest.

It doesn’t always need to be paid however. I might love the brand, its products or parallel causes they try to advance (e.g. environmentalism) so much that I might actually want to show my sympathy by promoting them myself. How it is possible to love a marketed thing so much is another story however.

It might be interesting to think how it is possible to expand the information about oneself in Facebook with content such as: who is your dentist, what car do you drive, favourite brand of clothes, favourite restaurant etc

So what do you think? Do practices such as the above stand a chance?

Having looked at the revolutionary characteristics all digital media share in ‘The social role of the internet Part I: the origins of web 2.0 and social media‘, the next couple of posts will focus on each digital medium’s unique characteristics. But first let’s make a couple of distinctions.

Two types of digital media

Before I begin talking about specific internet media, I would like to make a distinction between …

  • Mass media whose message is accessible by a pre-selected target audience only. The content on these media can only be accessed by the people the broadcaster has pre-selected. Email and Instant Messaging (IM) are the prime examples here.
  • Mass media whose message is publicly available/accessible. This category includes blogs, social network profiles, video or photo sharing accounts, and posts on a forum belong to this category. The message of digital media in this category can reach people in unexpected ways.

Who are you? Publisher, author, content, or all of the above?

Aside being the publisher, you might be the author or even the content of your publication.

  • Publisher: you publish someone else’s content.
  • Publisher and author: you publish your own content.
  • Publisher, author and content: you publish, content you have authored, content whose subject matter is yourself.

Of course any combination of the above roles is possible.

Blog: the layman’s personal mass medium

A blog is a one-to-many mass medium with multimedia capabilities.

barriers.jpgFor the first time in the history of mass media, that is, at least since Gutenberg’s press, everyday people can become owners of a powerful mass medium. This is due to the very low-barriers of owning and operating a blog.

Unlike traditional mass media and despite being a one-to-many medium, the blog is interactive. Allowing comments and trackbacks it encourages the interaction between publisher\author and audience.

idea-box.jpgThe fact that the comments of previous readers are visible to every other reader of a blog post however means that a blog’s audience unlike the isolated members of traditional media audiences (and unlike most one-way media) is a self-conscious community whose members (and their activity) is visible to one another. Although by activity, it is common to think of comments, there is an increasingly popular type of widget for blogs which renders visible every visitor/reader of the blog. This can lead to a proper and sometimes extensive dialogue between the readers. As a result a blog sometimes becomes a many-to-many mass medium, sort of like a forum.

What is ‘social media’?

January 18, 2008

Let’s ponder the question in the singular. What is a social medium? Well it’s quite obvious that the qualifier ‘social’ sets social apart from unsocial media.

Contemporary discussions around social media however, tend to define social media, in contradistinction to traditional media. Does that mean that traditional media i.e. pre-Internet media are unsocial? And what would an unsocial medium be like?

All media are social: unsocial media are broken media

I think that every medium of communication is social in so far it achieves its essential role, that is, to successfully mediate communication between two or more people. Unsocial media are broken media. All media are by definition social.

The most oft quoted distinction between social and traditional media has been the direction of communication. Social media are two-way while traditional media are one-way. But communication does not have to be two-way. That is why we speak of one-way communication; because it involves the successful communication of one person’s message to another. But then pre-Internet media are also social. Then why is everybody talking about ‘Social Media’? What is new about them?

Because there is something absolutely novel about this kind of media:

  • Because they allow everyday people, every member of what was formerly called the audience, to easily become a media owner/publisher. They give every pair of eyeballs a mouthpiece.
  • Because they allow their audience to become a self-conscious social unity whose members can identify and communicate with one another. They are not isolated in their own homes and therefore they are not passive.
  • Because they enable their audience to communicate with the publisher through the same user-friendly medium.

I ve written a blog post that discusses in depth what is novel about the so called ‘social media’ by contrasting their features with traditional media. If you have the time, check it out here.

Is the name ‘social media’ appropriate if all media are social?

From this point of view the name ‘social media’ is not really correct in that social media is a characteristic of all media that work properly – is not the exclusive property of ‘new media’. However as the philosopher Kripke taught us this is not the way names work, and, therefore not the way they should work. Darthmouth was a village built near the mouth of the river Dart. After a few hundred years the river Dart is nowhere near Dartmouth. Nevertheless people’s reference to the village works just fine. Nobody is confused by the fact that the mouth of the river Dart is no where near Dartmouth.

Similarly, although all media are by definition social, the majority of the people that read, write and discuss about social media, have reserved this term to refer exclusively to internet media such as blogs, wikis, social forums and networks etc And this works just fine. Everybody understands what particular media ‘social media’ refers to.

Is the name ‘new media’ appropriate?

Similarly in 20 years time these media are not going to be new. But we may still be referring to them as ‘new media’. Therefore although this name is also inappropriate in so far it carries out its task correctly – that everyone using it refers to the same kind of media – it is also a good name.

Is the name ‘digital media’ appropriate?

This name, as Fidel has suggested (read his comment below) is also not appropriate given that there are digital media that do not have the characteristics most people ascribe to what they refer to as ‘social media’ (e.g. blogs, wikis, forums, ratings, tagging etc). Take as an example a brochureware website. It is digital but it certainly isn’t social.

Do we need a name?

As is so often the case it is the trip that matters and not the destination. It is the baptism debate itself that is fruitful not the name(s) we will end up calling the baby by.

So what are social media?

The reason why the term ‘social media’ (blogs, email, social networks, wiki, forums etc) is so important is because it tries to isolate a species of media that all share certain significant characteristics. Although in the aforementioned discussion I have been unable to find an appropriate name for them, I think it is important to present and discuss their definitive characteristics:

1. Media access

Broadcasters

  • Old media: Handful of broadcasters. Everyday people have no ownership\access to the mass media as the cost\skill barriers involved are unsurpassable [3].
  • Internet media: Audience as broadcasters. Be they one-to-many or many-to-many, new media due to their minimal access requirements (cost\skills\time) allow ordinary people to easily participate as owners\publishers of their own media outlets. Millions of once-off, part- or full time broadcasters.

Content

  • Old media: Uniform content and centralised filtering of content. Same message sent to everybody. Due to high costs of content production and media distribution only the content that addresses the needs of the head rather than the tail of demand is broadcast. As the mass-market appeal becomes every media outlets priority, uniform messages end up homogenizing society.
  • Internet media: The long tail of content. No matter how idiosyncratic, niche, controversial or even perverse your message is there will be someone who will be interested in it. Given the low price tag and knowledge barrier involved in producing and distributing content it is cost-effective to do so. Given the passion of most everyday new media publishers in the topic they discuss it is worthwhile to do so.

2. Direction of communication

Publisher – Audience

  • Old media: One-way communication. The publisher’s monologue.
  • Internet media: Two-way, interactive communication between the publisher and the audience.

Audience Community

  • Old media: Isolated viewers with no means to identify each others as receivers of the same message and therefore of their common point of reference, shared interests etc. No means to achieve a self-awareness\consciousness of the audience community.
  • Internet media: The option to see and interact with other viewers of the same content, creates an audience that instead of consisting of isolated and passive viewers constitutes an active, self-conscious community. This feature is present in most Web 2.0 applications.

3. Content distribution

  • Old media: Fleeting interruption.
  • Internet: Permanent – Targeted. Even in cases of one-to-many online mass media such as blogs, video sharing etc they are unobtrusive and targeted, given that they are accessible only after one searches for them, are recommended by a friend, or responds to signpoists that alert him/her of their existence. The content posted in the internet’s media channels be it a blog, YouTube, FlickR, Social networks etc is permanent and therefore accessible at any time.

So what do you think?

Any more appropriate names? Any characteristics of ‘social media’ that I have forgotten?

Communication as a universal human need

The unexpected speed with which the internet was adopted in the West is an excellent example of how unaware we often are of the future impact and potential of our inventions, in this case, due to a limited understanding of the human need for communication.

The ability to communicate any form of content (audio, video, writing etc) to any number of people one wishes is a universal human need. One example is that of Samuel Morse, who was also a famous portrait artist in the U.S.

“While Morse was working on a portrait of General Lafayette in Washington, his wife, who lived about 500 kilometers away, grew ill and died. But it took seven days for the news to reach him. In his grief and remorse, he began to wonder if it were possible to erase barriers of time and space, so that no one would be unable to reach a loved one in time of need. Pursuing this thought, he came to discover how to use electricity to convey messages, and so he invented the telegraph and, indirectly, the ITU.” [1]

Mobile phones would for the same reasons have been indispensable for buffalo-hunting Indians or for ancient Greeks in the Battle of Marathon.

Comparing the internet with traditional media

“We know telephones are for talking with people, televisions are for watching programs, and highways are for driving. So what’s the web for?” [2]

What can the internet do? Better: What can people do with the internet? To answer this question and examine the social adoption and cultural impact of the internet it is helpful to compare it with its pre-existing competitors.

The media that precede the internet can be classified for our purposes as one-way (cinema, TV, radio, print) and two-way (speech, post, telephone).Mass media have up to the end of the 20th century always been one-way[3] given that there was no interactive mass medium available.

It is incorrect to talk about the internet as a single medium as it can function as both  any of the old media (phone, post, TV etc) and a number of ever-evolving new media platforms (Blogs, email, social networks, wiki, forums etc). Though they are different kind of media, each with its own unique characteristics, there are certain characteristics they share.

1.    Media access

       Broadcasters

  • Old media: Handful of broadcasters. Everyday people have no ownership\access to the mass media as the cost\skill barriers involved are unsurpassable [3].
  • Internet media: Audience as broadcasters. Be they one-to-many or many-to-many, new media due to their minimal access requirements (cost\skills\time) allow ordinary people to easily participate as owners\publishers of their own media outlets. Millions of once-off, part- or full time broadcasters.

      Content

  • Old media: Uniform content and centralised filtering of content. Same message sent to everybody. Due to high costs of content production and media distribution only the content that addresses the needs of the head rather than the tail of demand is broadcast. As the mass-market appeal becomes every media outlets priority, uniform messages end up homogenizing society.
  • Internet media: The long tail of content. No matter how idiosyncratic, niche, controversial or even perverse your message is there will be someone who will be interested. Given the low price tag and knowledge barrier involved in producing and distributing content it is cost-effective to do so. Given the passion of most everyday new media publishers in the topic they discuss it is worthwhile to do so.

2.    Direction of communication

     Publisher – Audience

  • Old media: One-way communication. The publisher’s monologue.
  • Internet media: Two-way, interactive communication between the publisher and the audience.

      Audience Community

  • Old media: Isolated viewers with no means to identify each others as receivers of the same message and therefore of their common point of reference, shared interests etc. No means to achieve a self-awareness\consciousness of the audience community.
  • Internet media: The option to see and interact with other viewers of the same content, creates an audience that instead of consisting of isolated and passive viewers constitutes an active, self-conscious community. This feature is present in most Web 2.0 applications.

3.       Content distribution

  • Old media: Fleeting interruption.
  • Internet: Permanent – Targeted. Even in cases of one-to-many online mass media such as blogs, video sharing etc they are unobtrusive and targeted, given that they are accessible only after one searches for them, are recommended by a friend, or responds to signpoists that alert him/her of their existence. The content posted in the internet’s media channels be it a blog, YouTube, FlickR, Social networks etc is permanent and therefore accessible at any time.

What appears in retrospect as an incredible oversight – that no one anticipated that everyday people desired to become media publishers\content creators and that as soon as they would be given low-cost, low-skill, access to mass media they would go nuts – is nothing more than proof of our unconsciousness of

  • the future impact and potential of our inventions.
  • the human needs for communication.

Signs of this desire before the internet: phone in on talk radio, game shows, pirate radio stations. 


[1] Al Gore, Buenos Aires Speech, International Telecommunications Union, 21 March 1994

[2] Locke et al The Cluetrain Manifesto p.39[3] With the exception of pirate radio stations, the only medium available to everyday people before the Web 2.0 age was the post, which was too expensive as a one-to-many mass medium and the phone, for which teleconferencing, as a many-to-many medium, was only a later development.

This post has been rewritten and can be viewed here.

As I change my mind, and evolve (well i hope so) my views on a topic, older posts will be revisited and revised. I’m not sure if this is against some rule of blogging etiquette but I feel this is the only way to write. 

Some people think that The Book, is a self-sufficient totality that should remain unchanged in all eternity (sort of like the Bible). Some people think that a journal’s value lies in its ability to display the evolution of one’s thought. But I do not see why someone would be interested to trace mine in this blog or to read posts that express viewpoint on which i have changed my mind.

I think that everything is written in perpetual beta (This view of the book originates from people like Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida). I can understand that one may feel he or she has finalised a piece of work. But i can understand it only as a fleeting state of mind or as a sign of thought whose evolution has stopped. Although i would not advocate that ‘King Lear’ could do with an extra Act, im sure that were Shakespeare alive he would have made tramendous changes since.

Leaving art works aside, i think that this is a very valid point for ‘academic’ or quasi-academic works that purport to explain a phenomenon. Two famous thinkers that changed their minds tramendously from their early to their late works are Karl Marx (his views on the mechanics of social change) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (his views on language from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to Logical Investigations).

Well go on then, read that improved post here.

(This post was written mostly for myself and is more of a thought experiement. I would suggest reading this post which is the culmination of this thread of thinking.)

This morning I had Max Kalehoff’s ‘Top Risks To Watch Out For In Your Social Media Strategy’ post for breakfast. The first paragraph (I only got to the second one before I started writing this) got me thinking:

“I’m beginning to hate the term “social media” more everyday. As David Pogue, tech columnist at the NYTimes once said, “What is social media? A bunch of televisions talking to one another at a cocktail party?”

It got me thinking about the meaning of social media. What is a social medium? It seems that the qualifier ‘social’ would set social media apart from unsocial media, though it is usually ‘traditional media’ that social media is usually defined in contradistinction to.

One of the most often quoted differences between social and traditional media is that the former and not the latter are two-way media.

However that would mean that traditional media looks like this…
fig1.jpg

…in which case two-way media (whereby the receiver is also a sender) look like this:

fig2.jpg
 

But there is still something missing. Though the receiver is also a sender it remains unclear who the sender/receiver sends/receives messages to/from. Fig. 2 represents a model of two way communication where each sender is also a receiver, but so does Fig. 3:

fig3.jpg

This last figure suggests that media create a social unity, by virtue of their broadcast, which allows for two-way communication between the sender and the receiver as well as between the community of receivers. In today’s social media it is not simply the case that receivers of the same message can communicate with one another as well as with the sender as if united by virtue of being receivers of the same message. Rather it looks more like this:

fig4.jpg

Two things are wrong with Fig. 4:

(a)  There is a centre from which everything begins. In reality there is not much of a centre or even of a multiplicity of centers anymore.

(b)  There are strict lines of communication. In reality however any node can communicate with any other.

That’s the problem with understanding social media visually. By adding these two essential elements to a visual representation of social media you obtain a near-infinite image. Almost infinite in both of these dimensions: near-infinite nodes (as many as senders) with near-infinite lines of connection between them (each node might be connected with potentially every other node).

Call me a champion of capitalism if you will but considering the ease with which an individual in western societies can become a sender nowadays I think this is the best system of social communication in the history of humanity. If anyone knows of a social system that provides with a model of social communication that is as decentralized and therefore non-hierarchical as this I would be more than glad if they would let me know. I realise that there are still nodes that are very powerful senders and that there is always going to be sender-power inequality, but i still think that the model of social communication we are experiencing in recent years is unprecedented and has challenged their power to a high degree. I think it is all part and parcel of the shrinking of the public sphere, understood as a mass market, which Chris Anderson is talking about in the Long Tail.

Finally, to do justice to traditional media, they are better represented by the following communication model rather than Fig. 1:

fig5better.jpg 

One difference is that all the two-way lines of communication (between the second and third order nodes) take place via the medium of word-of-mouth. I’m off to read the rest of Max’s post.