No, Social Media is not dead

I’ve not posted for quite a while but, like our old friend Social Media, I am not dead. Unlike Social Media, I’ve been doing other things (writing a book no less: “An Infinite Number of Monkeys: A Guide to Effective Business Communications”, http://www.mike-barnes.co.uk/monkeys; travelling around Scotland with my family on an extended break). Social Media hasn’t gone anywhere.

We get this cycle with all “next big things”: people keep saying “is Unified Communications dead”, for instance. The truth is, marketeers like grabbing hold of concepts and warping them to their own advantage – and it is marketeers who create the buzz, even now in our socially-enabled world. Because, despite the hype (ironically), most of the information we consume comes from traditional sources – although we may be accessing them in a different form. But that’s beside the point.

We’ve gone through the first few years of buzzworthiness, and Social Media is now firmly entrenched. That means that it does not so effectively differentiate products: everything even vaguely in the space has a social moniker. The marketeers, thankfully, can now move on to abuse other things.

What remains is a core of tools which have, in many ways, been around for a long time but which are made more effective by always-on networking, impressive computing power in the home, and mobile devices approaching Star Trek cool.

The basic tools, though, are really simple: text exchange, video exchange, directories, tagging, rating, following and sharing.

A social media product (I’ll drop the capital letters now, you’ll be pleased to hear) allows people to post ideas, videos or activities (I guess this is the “media” part. I’ve never really found the term very descriptive), and allows others to share them, rate them, and discuss them. And, although it’s a far cry from your old address book, in order to share there’s a directory of contacts in the background – some of them are contacts who have added themselves (your followers). Different systems present all this in different ways but the fundamentals are the same.

A few years ago, when the internet was young, I was an active member of Fidonet. Never heard of Fidonet? Fidonet consisted of private computers which dialled each other up at night in order to exchange messages which people wrote. Those computers ran Bulletin Board System (BBS) software which provided the users with their interface. They dialled up too (yes, this was all done over the normal phone network using modems). Some were messages to each other (netmail: basically email, but not quite so swift) and others were messages in forums (echomail: like Yahoo Groups but, that’s right, not so swift). If you started an echomail group (I can’t even remember the proper term for it, it’s been a long 25 years) other people could choose to read it – but only if their chosen BBS had subscribed to it.

See? Subscribing, message exchange, social interaction: that is where all this started.

Fidonet, by the way, really is dead. The internet preserves it’s state at http://www.fidonet.org/, but as far as I can see from that there’s nobody home. Nor should there be… analogue modems and dial up BBSs? This is 2013. (wikipedia seems to disagree with me: maybe the dog is just resting?).

Social media built on these early beginnings by making the atoms of information smaller: we don’t have to subscribe to a whole echomail group, or indeed to a whole RSS stream, we can subscribe to see updates of/from a specific person, product, or “thing”. It’s actually still pretty granular: I have to subscribe to all of Stephen Fry’s wittering on Twitter, or none of it – there’s nothing in Twitter’s own system which will pull out just the gems for me.

So social media isn’t a new thing, it just reached a point a few years ago where technologies were ripe and ready to provide a step-change in user experience. Social media isn’t new, but it’s changing as it’s getting better all the time… and acquiring new buzzwords as the marketeers get involved. Will we give it a different name at some point? I expect the marketeers will see to that, but even when the name is buried alongside long lamented Fidonet

So next we will be seeing new names for subtle variations on the same things. That’s OK, but just remember: social media is not dead, it’s just being absorbed into the big toolbox of spanners which collectively forms our communications toolkit.

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About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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