“The truth is you never see it coming. The improbable moves us
forward.” – Linda Zimmer, August 2007
In the First Web Era
– that period loosely defined as after NCSA Mosaic and before MySpace –
technology was highly visible. The narrative of the Internet, the Web, the
dreaded “information superhighway,” was a tale of atoms moving to bits, a
techno time-suck to some and nirvana to others who, sans the ability to woo a
proper mate or get a decent haircut, simultaneously hid behind this new
technology while creating some of its greatest advances and services.
Theirs was a web of computers and information; a channel for
anonymity, where computers talked and people provided data only when required (such
as in the form of credit card information.) The Internet was commerce and
convenience – and while there were apps like e-mail and Usenet and AOL forums,
the Internet was a mostly static infrastructure with no real, ongoing, or even global
permanent – but conversation was transient.
Now as we reach the end of the Second Web Era, the web is,
more than anything, a “place” – a social construct rather than a technological
one. Technology is necessary but in many ways anathema to making the Web work,
to connection and collaboration.
Ours is a web of web of actions and ideas; a place for
community, where people talk and computers process, providing support only when
asked. Technologies, platforms and channels – they are fleeting, from MySpace
to Facebook and Bebo; from blogs to Twitter. But sociological imperatives like human
interaction and the desire to bond with others like ourselves is as constant
and as essential to us as breathing.
Today, technology is transient – but conversation is permanent.
Re-Defining Social Media
The only word in the English language that means what it’s
supposed to mean is “word.” Everything is else is created by us and defined by
use, perception or time.
Depending who you ask, social media is “any media that’s not
traditional or established media.” To some it’s a channel, to others it’s a
place. Some see it only as technology. Some say it should be “owned” by PR,
others say by marketing.
The truth is social media can be all those things – or none
of them. It depends on the context of the question or purpose of the intended
Ultimately, however, social media is defined by social
interaction. I mean, the word “social” is right there in the name, yet there
are still those who believe that putting a press release on a blog with the
comment feature disabled is still somehow “social media.” This may be
“sharable” media because of the technology platform, but it’s a long way from
Yes, some still just think of social media as tools, but
they are shortsighted. I can’t count how many times people have said to me
“what’s your social media toolkit” or “isn’t social media just a bunch of
Companies don’t want to blog or be on Facebook – they want
to connect with their customers, and if a blog or Facebook is the best way to
do that, then great. What’s important is to be with your audience, not the
latest technology. The technologies will change, but the conversations will go on,
with or without you.
The Third Web Era
Social media is the grail of permanent conversation, the
vessel for a Third Web Era where technology does what it’s supposed to do when
it becomes ubiquitous – disappear.
In the First Web Era, we needed computers, but computers
didn’t need us. That’s all changed – computers need us to survive and expand.
They need our intelligence, our data and our conversations. In this Third Era,
if we go away, so does the Web.
2009 is the tenth anniversary of this quote by Tim
Berners-Lee, father and still patriarch of the World Wide Web:
“I have a dream for the Web [in which
computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content,
links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which
should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day
mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by
machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent
agents’ people have touted for
ages will finally materialize.”
I believe he was part right. Yes, “intelligent agents” are
here and are helping us manage day-to-day tasks like news gathering or
auto-loading debit cards. The “Semantic Web” is coming, powered by the still
untapped potential of search and delivering a “home page” to each according to their interests and desires, by computers that
“learn” and make choices on our behalf.
But the Web today – and the one of tomorrow – is a Web of
function as well as emotion, and neither can exist without the other. If
technology is the heart of the Third Web Era, then conversation is its soul.
Information exists, but conversation persists. That
conversation may take many forms, yet people are talking all the time and they
are not going to stop. And if you don’t want to join, you at least need to
The Permanent Conversation is here. Are you?