“Pfff! Social Media. Hah! I tell you what. It amazes me how people are always trying to reinvent the wheel… Social media is nothing else but a bunch of hot air. It is a creation of a whole lot of nothing.”
I guess as usual there are some truth to it, but mostly I would say it is a rather pessimistic way of looking at it. To me it seems as if many have the attitude to social sciences in general, that it is gibberish, hot air just talk. Nothing can be more than wrong. In all innovation processes you have different stages. Conceptualization is one of the more crucial one. Breakthroughs in history comes wen people start to think outside the box, and not get caught up in a set of preset rules or old mindsets. I refer to think the glass is half-full rather than the half-empty glass mindset that the comment above breaths together with an unnecessary conservatism. In general what this world need is more people, who believe things can be done and that change is good. We have enough pessimists and road blockers already. :-)
Nevertheless, if I would get a nickel for every time I hear that comment, I could retire young. :-) The argument is actually pretty easy to face without much trouble. Social media is a bit funny in a way. Everyone has their opinion on it. The truth in the statement is but only that the intention of the web very much resonates with what what the father of the webâ€™s Tim Berners-Lee intended with the creation of the web.
The original thought of the web really is connecting people and information. The creator of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee writes in the second paragraph of his book â€Weaving the webâ€ where he explains his thoughts around the creation: â€The vision I have for the Web is about anything being potentially connected to anything. It is a vision that provides us with new freedom, and allows us to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical classification systems into which we bound ourselves. It leaves the entirety of our previous ways of working as just one tool among many. And it brings the workings society closer to the workings of our minds.â€
Interesting enough but a bit off topic, he continues one paragraph afterwards: â€The irony is that in all its guises â€“ commerce, research and surfing â€“ the Web is already so much a part of our lives that familiarity has clouded our perception of the Web itself. To understand the Web in the broadest and deepest sense, to fully partake the vision that I and my colleagues share, one must understand how the Web came to be.â€
Let us for a moment also remember why this process has taken time. As in all businesses the market and business forces are strong and sometimes cloud the vision and intention of the product. This is very much the case for the web, but do remember that for the web we have had a lot of technology constraints. The growth of multimedia component (Flash, Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, iMovie, MovieMaker), client side frameworks for JS, HTML/CSS, faster server side prototype languages such as PHP, Ruby on Rails, information retrieval (especially contextual analysis) to mention some have made it possible to create the social sites we now see coming.
The shift from normal, traditional software or media to the very lively, organic and interactive social software or media. More people inside the tech sphere start to realize that in order to build social software (and working inside open-source projects) you need to understand that the word â€™socialâ€™ is there for a reason. Duh? Yes it is there for a reason. Yeah, the pain. I have to admit that developing social media application is notoriously hard. You have to constantly think of the social part of the application, which is hard when you are dealing with ones and zeros. You forget that the most important part of the application is to foster the human element. I guess it is as simple as I put it in a tribute to the 15 year anniversary blog of the World Wide Web: â€œâ€¦that successful and sustainable technology solutions all fulfill true needs of real people.â€
Before we come in to the real address the quote in specific, let us look at some basics of social media. I covered this in more details in the blog The Social Web also known as Web 2.0.
Most people are a bit reckless when they discuss the social web and forget to really define what they mean by it. A bit simplified the new version of the web or the social web. Dear child have many names ya know. Yet I usually summarize this new “beast” in these bullets:
- Connected (one-to-many, many-to-one, many-to-many)
- Stupid yet smart technology
Now that is not that difficult. Right? It is frickin’ awesome too.
Back to the quote keeping this single points in mind. It amazes me how people are always trying to reinvent the wheel… It is very true that social media is doing very little to the originality of the vision of the internet. However, are social media advocates really trying to reinvent the wheel? Nope, they are trying to shape it different, make it more accessible, making the vision more clear. Making the vision transparent. If you would say that social media advocates would be trying to reinvent the wheel, you are also saying that any reshaping for instance by a tire manufacturer of their products would be reinventing the tire. SHaped different using different material it is still a tire.
Is it a bunch of hot air? Maybe, maybe not. I am not sure I am a big supporter of fundamentalism n any concept so keeping balance in mind is true of course. However, the statement in itself have raised what needs to be raised. if anything just the pure reaction in the statement to the notion of concept social media means that it is not anything but hot air. All of a sudden a discussion arises whether the web is changing or not. If it has stayed the same. If it is new. If it is evolving. I do agree that over use of terms like social media dilutes the core of the concept as it becomes harder to grasp what it is all about.
On a broader note: It doesn’t really matter what term we use. What matter is that we look upon the products, society or in fact anything we have in critical minds and see if we can improve. If using social media as an example accomplish part of that so be it. If anything, the term does group a set of different applications together and get a term to use to discuss it. Ironically it is an old known methodology to conceptualize new areas.