What is Social Media?
Here’s a brief primer: In the first days of the World Wide Web, (the early 1990s), websites did essentially one thing, they displayed information. People visited these sites, read the information, and if they found it helpful they used it. That was pretty well it. The communication was one way, from content provider to content user. From the visitor’s perspective it was a matter of “I came, I read, I used.”
People prefer Two-Way Communication
It wasn’t long before the social side of our human nature began expressing itself and nifty web-tools appeared that allowed us to do more than just read a web page. Now we could go to a website, and after reading the content, we could leave a comment, express our opinion, or ask a question. Online devices like contact forms, feed-back forms, guestbooks, forums, and of course email allowed us to interact with people in a limited way through the websites we were visiting. The communication flow was now two-way, from content provider to content user and back to content provider. From the visitor’s perspective it was now “I came, I read, I used, and I responded!”
Since “social” means two or more people interacting in community, the Internet was now becoming a vehicle for human (social) interaction – hence the term “Social Media.”
Live Chat Rooms: Multi-Directional, Simultaneous
Live Chat Rooms moved the ball even further down the field in the socializing process since now, for the first time ever, we could carry on a “live” two-way conversation over the Internet in real time, albeit in written form. Soon, multi-person chat rooms appeared allowing several people to participate in the same conversation at the same time. From that point on there was no turning back. Online communities sprang up across the globe whose members discussed every topic under the sun, and did it all in real time.
A world-wide communication revolution was under way and the signs were everywhere from internet communication to an explosion in cell phone use to a shift from standard radio broadcasting format to live “talk-back” radio shows, and more. Modern technology had revealed and enabled our passionate desire, and apparent need, to be social beings! It became evident that we love to communicate.
Introducing… “The Blog”
For as long as writing has existed, there have been those who love to keep diaries and journals of their daily lives and things that interest them. Many of the great books still treasured today are the journals and diaries of great men and women of the past. The book of Psalms in the Bible is just such journal. Naturally, when the Internet appeared the “journal-ists” also appeared and soon found their niche and made their presence felt. They too began with one-way communication as permitted by the technology, but soon it became possible for web visitors to not only read somebody else’s personal web journal entry, but also to leave a comment or ask a question.
Then, around the late 1990s the term “Web Log” came into use to describe these websites that presented regular online journal entries, which by this time were covering every topic imaginable. In May 1999, American web journal-ist Peter Merholz took the term “Web Log” and jokingly shortened it to “Blog”. It caught on immediately and soon an army of “bloggers” was busy “blogging.”
Today, blogging has become a cornerstone in the social media revolution taking place around the globe. From the major world power centres, to the bedrooms in the wired nations, to the smallest internet cafés in third world countries, bloggers everywhere are writing about everything from social and political commentary to how to teach kids, to how to grow orchids. Plus, it has become very big business with billions of dollars in advertising spent on high-profile blogs. In recent years, very powerful and specialized blogging software like WordPress (which this website is built in) and Blogger have emerged that enable professional and amateur bloggers to get their message out, to get feedback, and to build extensive online communities centered around their blogs and blog topics. You can see our WEBSbyU Blog in action here.
Google Loves Blogs
If you’re serious about getting top Google rankings for your website then consider adding a Blog. Google loves Blogs – a lot! At last count Google had 200 different criteria for ranking the quality of a website and at the top of the list was the regular addition of new, well-written, relevant content. The Blog is the perfect vehicle for doing this. Top blogging platforms like WordPress automatically notify Google the instant a new blog entry is posted and within minutes the Google web crawler (Googlebot) comes to the site and indexes the new page. In today’s highly competitive Internet markets a website without a blog is at a serious disadvantage.
Social Networking – MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004)
Internet Social Networking simply means many people socializing together as a group on the World Wide Web. In 2003, social networking became a commercial and far more user-friendly activity. Instead of just sending emails, posting messages, swapping pictures, and chatting online, the new social networking websites suddenly allowed users to create their own personalized web pages using their own set of user-friendly web tools. It was the users themselves who determined how their pages would look and function, and all according to their own personal tastes and preferences. You could now set up your own personalized web-space on the Internet where people could find you and communicate. This breakthrough in Internet communication came via an innovative social networking site called MySpace. MySpace empowered users to communicate in several different ways without needing any technical skills, and it was all FREE! The bandwith and other costs were paid for solely by commercial ads which appeared on user’s pages but were not distracting or intrusive. MySpace caught on like wildfire and at the height of its popularity in 2006 it was attracting 230,000 new users a day!
A year later in 2004, Facebook, the new and soon-to-become giant of social networking platforms came on the scene and quickly overtook and replaced MySpace. Facebook did everything that MySpace did and more, and did it that much better. Users could create personalized pages and profiles with photos, videos, lists of personal interests, contact information, and other personal information. They could communicate with friends and other users through private or public messages and a live chat feature.
Networks grew by one user inviting another user to become a “Friend”. When the recipient of the invitation clicked the “Confirm” button, they were both added to one another’s social network and were now able to see each other’s Friends list and receive collective postings on their Facebook “Wall”, which functioned like the old discussion forums, bulletins boards and modern-day Blogs. To allay concerns about privacy, Facebook enabled users to choose their own privacy settings and choose who can see specific parts of their profile.
Something New: People begin using their real identities
Facebook and Social Networking have brought us many firsts, but one of the biggest is that participants now use their real names and share real information about their real lives. This is new. And it’s big, revealing something profound about us and our need to be human social beings. It used to be that staying anonymous on the Internet was of paramount importance. Everybody had a “handle”, a code name that hid our true identity. Facebook changed all that making it possible, even desirable, for people to be themselves on the web for the very first time. Read more regarding overcoming anonymity in the greatest social transformations in history.
How big is Facebook? It’s really BIG!!!
At the time of this writing, February 2011, there are more than 500 million users of Facebook, with 50% of them logging in every day! See more incredible Facebook statistics here.
Enter youTube (2005) – “Broadcast Yourself”
Question: If a picture’s worth a thousand words (and it is), what’s the value of a video? Answer: It’s worth a lot!
Our summary of social media would not be complete without saying something about youTube. YouTube is a video-sharing website on which users can upload, share, and view videos. And like other social media networking websites, it’s all free and very user-friendly.
youTube’s early tag line “Broadcast Yourself” gives a hint of just how powerful this new social medium is. Only a decade ago it would have cost millions of dollars in technology to be able to video record an event and have it viewed by people in different parts of the world. Today, with youTube and cell phones that can record videos, a person can point their cell phone at a news-breaking event anywhere in the world where there is a connection, record the video, press a button to upload the video to youTube, and within minutes millions of people around the world can watch it, leave comments, and share a link back to the video with others. When that happens, and it does, sometimes with political events and sometimes with hit music videos, literally millions of people see the video in a matter of hours. It’s called “going viral” and it is extremely powerful. The social and political implications are staggering. The recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and the revolutionary attempt in Iran were all driven largely because of youTube and the ability to share video images with the world in minutes. Facebook and Twitter, of course, played major roles but the power of images, especially video images cannot be overstated.
youTube has truly made it possible to easily and affordably “broadcast yourself” and bypass the entire elitist and prohibitively expensive broadcasting industry. Canadian singing sensation Justin Bieber is a stunning example. Bieber’s amazing music career was launched in 2008 when a music executive accidentally clicked on one of his home-made videos that his mother had uploaded the year before. The rest is history. Bieber’s hit song “Baby” holds the record for being the most played video in the history of youTube with over 460 million viewings by mid-February 2011. All for Free!