Redefining the Social Network and Social Media

“I don’t think it is
easy for MySpace and Facebook to adapt and bend to the needs of individual
brands.” – Alexander Mouldovan, Founder, Crowd

They had names like Compuserve, The Well, Tribe and Usenet.
One of them, a little regarded place called America Online, became a behemoth,
though the others fell either into history or obscurity. The Internet turned
into the World Wide Web,  into the entomology of modern

Now there is Web 2.0 and “social” media technology –
enabling an Internet created by individuals as well as corporations. But this
is not, as some people and media reports would have you believe, a new Internet
– rather, it is a decades-old promise finally coming true.

More than a year ago I said that 2006 would be the year that
blogging passes from novelty into utility, and it did – blogs are not only
mainstream media themselves, but they are a staple of traditional media news
sites. The same shift is now happening with social networks, albeit with a significant

Blogs were something new, a powerful self-publishing tool
that opened the door to a “read-write” web. Moreover, blogs will always be a
part of the web, not the web in its entirety.

But social networks –
or to be more exact, technologies that allow people to interact and share ideas
and content instantaneously – are becoming the Web
. Eventually, the
Internet itself will be one, giant, global social network, created by and for

The First Wave –
Gated Communities

You can’t scratch the Internet today without finding the
word “social.” Instead of building static web sites, corporations are now
building their own “social networks.” Cisco Systems, which owns a social
network development company, is purchasing Tribe.Net’s technology so it can
build networks for corporate customers.

Nike has a social network. So do Carnival Cruises and
Sheraton hotels. There are hundreds of social networks with more going online all
the time – and while acting as separate membership communities, almost all have
the same “social” features like blogs, audio and video sharing, messaging and
friends lists.

These types of social networks – led by the likes of
powerhouses MySpace and Facebook, Bebo and Gather – represent the first wave. They
give members freedom but within certain parameters and interfaces. They are not
so much closed communities but “gated” ones, where members must act and express
themselves in certain ways or discuss defined topics. Think of it as being part
of a homeowner’s association that allows everyone to have a garage as long as
it’s painted one of five pre-approved colors (sounds strange, but I live in Orange County, Calif., where this really happens.)

The Second Wave – An
Internet Built With Bridges

But if Internet users hate anything, they hate constraint. A
second wave of social networks promises to remove all constraint – in effect,
to disband the homeowner’s association and let people paint their garages
whatever color they want.

These networks – networks like Second Life and Ning, the
latest brainchild from Netscape founder Marc Andreessen – aim to turn the
Internet into a tabula rasa where customization is king. According to a recent
New York Times article, Ning allows “anyone to set up a community on any
topic…Ning users choose the features they want to include, like videos, photos,
discussion forums or blogs. Their sites can appear like MySpace, YouTube or the
photo sharing site Flickr – or something singular.”

Furthermore, standards like OpenID hope to make identity
transferable from community to community. Just think – an Internet of true
imagination, entire worlds that people build themselves. An Internet built not
with walls or gates, but with bridges.

People Make It Social,
Not Technology

For this to happen we need to do our part, too:

  • We need to change our thinking of the Internet as something that includes social networks to something that is a social network.
  • Technology allows media to be shared, but technology alone doesn’t make blogs or RSS feeds or tagging “social.” Only people can do that. In other words, a blog is “sharable” media – media that is easily shared with others anywhere, that can be updated quickly and with which we can interact – but it’s how people engage with the blog that determines whether it is also “social" media.

Nevertheless, the next wave is here. Social networks and social
media are disappearing into the fabric of the Web. The promise of Compuserve
and “Web 1.0” sites is here.

And as for what comes next? Well, that responsibility now appears
to lie with us.

One thought on “Redefining the Social Network and Social Media

  1. Interesting prediction, Gary.
    I wonder if you could make a parallel to how civilization grew to how the WWW has evolved: clans/tribes, then villages, towns, cities, connected regions, countries, etc. All growing and interacting via bridges (or, rather roads and modes of transportation). But, as you describe, the modes will be digital.
    It’s almost human nature to *want* to come together in larger communities (that sense of belonging).
    A blog from the U of Maryland had a fascinating post that sort of echoes your comments. It focuses on testimony from Tim Berners-Lee before a U.S. House subcommittee. In part, he states:
    “The good news is that a number of technical innovations…along with more openness in information sharing practices are moving the World Wide Web toward what we call the Semantic Web….The Semantic Web will enable better data integration by allowing everyone who puts individual items of data on the Web to link them with other pieces of data using standard formats.”
    You can find that post here:
    — Mike

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