Ramblings & ephemera

Defining social media, social software, & Web 2.0

From danah boyd’s “Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?” at the Microsoft Research Tech Fest, Redmond, Washington (danah: 26 February 2009):

Social media is the latest buzzword in a long line of buzzwords. It is often used to describe the collection of software that enables individuals and communities to gather, communicate, share, and in some cases collaborate or play. In tech circles, social media has replaced the earlier fave “social software.” Academics still tend to prefer terms like “computer-mediated communication” or “computer-supported cooperative work” to describe the practices that emerge from these tools and the old skool academics might even categorize these tools as “groupwork” tools. Social media is driven by another buzzword: “user-generated content” or content that is contributed by participants rather than editors.

… These tools are part of a broader notion of “Web2.0.” Yet-another-buzzword, Web2.0 means different things to different people.

For the technology crowd, Web2.0 was about a shift in development and deployment. Rather than producing a product, testing it, and shipping it to be consumed by an audience that was disconnected from the developer, Web2.0 was about the perpetual beta. This concept makes all of us giggle, but what this means is that, for technologists, Web2.0 was about constantly iterating the technology as people interacted with it and learning from what they were doing. To make this happen, we saw the rise of technologies that supported real-time interactions, user-generated content, remixing and mashups, APIs and open-source software that allowed mass collaboration in the development cycle. …

For the business crowd, Web2.0 can be understood as hope. Web2.0 emerged out of the ashes of the fallen tech bubble and bust. Scars ran deep throughout Silicon Valley and venture capitalists and entrepreneurs wanted to party like it was 1999. Web2.0 brought energy to this forlorn crowd. At first they were skeptical, but slowly they bought in. As a result, we’ve seen a resurgence of startups, venture capitalists, and conferences. At this point, Web2.0 is sometimes referred to as Bubble2.0, but there’s something to say about “hope” even when the VCs start co-opting that term because they want four more years.

For users, Web2.0 was all about reorganizing web-based practices around Friends. For many users, direct communication tools like email and IM were used to communicate with one’s closest and dearest while online communities were tools for connecting with strangers around shared interests. Web2.0 reworked all of that by allowing users to connect in new ways. While many of the tools may have been designed to help people find others, what Web2.0 showed was that people really wanted a way to connect with those that they already knew in new ways. Even tools like MySpace and Facebook which are typically labeled social networkING sites were never really about networking for most users. They were about socializing inside of pre-existing networks.

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