Social Media is the new Internet – Gawd you gotta love hyperbole

As is the habit when Tim O’Reilly pontificates the pundits and guru’s all get one great big enormous woodie and then proceed to fall all over themselves either massaging his words or adding their own dribble onto his latest missive. In this case the starting point for what is sure to be the <puke> next hot topic </puke> to be made into PowerPoint slideshows or start yet another slew of over-priced conferences whose only purpose will be to dissect and market the great words of Mr. Tim was his post about the Internet being the new Operating System.

True to form and well within the First 24 Hour Ruling* we started getting what is bound to be the first of many posts that A) clap themselves on the back for being so prescient and B) use it to justify their own opinions about how they see the Internet. The one that caught my eye this morning as I was trying to work my way through my first pot of coffee was one by Tac Anderson titled If The Internet Is The New Operating System, Social Media is the New Internet (gee .. see how clever he was there – great SEO – as to be expected I guess).

Well before we even delve into the ridiculousness of that suggestion let’s clear up a misconception (for about the 100th time).

The Internet is not an Operating System.Period.

I have lost count on the number of times this idiocy had been foisted on us over the past .. oh … say 10 years – which happens to be around the same length of time that we’ve doing this social media dance. It is this kind of statement that must make just about every person who actually knows anything computers cringe as the shakes take over their bodies.

Number one – the Internet would not existed, even as a marketer’s wet dream, if computers didn’t have an operating system whether it be Linux, OS X, Unix, or Windows. The Internet couldn’t keep running if computers didn’t have even the barest minimum of an operating system kernel.

So please the next time you want to show exactly how little you know about how the Internet works take a moment and bite your tongue. Maybe the excruciating pain will stop you from opening your mouth and putting your foot in it.

Now onto the next brain numbing supposition about social media being the internet. First let me say this

Social Media is not the Internet.Period.

Suggesting that this is indeed the case is like saying that advertising is television. As much as television networks and advertisers might wish that this was the case the fact is that we have this really bad habit of wanting some sort of substance to break up the incessant yammer of ads.

It is no different when it comes to the Web (note the capital W to indicated an ‘entity’ – you know that thing called the World Wide Web that sits on top of the Internet). By this I am referring to the illusion that the thing we call Social Media is meant for anything beyond being a new platform for advertisers and marketers.

The fact is that is all that Social Media is. Just look at the incredible proliferation of so-called gurus rushing in to capitalize on a new platform which companies are increasingly being told is the next great arena for them to get even more eyeballs for their products. Sure there are a new set of rules for interacting in this new platform, just has there has been for any new medium that companies have latched on to as a way to sell their goods. However there is also a bumper crop of newly minted experts waiting breathlessly to show the correct way to milk this new platform.

Does that mean there isn’t some form of next generation Web slowly winding its way into our lives? Sure there is.

The Social Web is the next Web.

To qualify this we need to understand a basic distinction that all these pontificators are missing. The Internet that they lazily refer to is actually The Web (shortened down from Berner-Lee’s  World Wide Web). It is the Web that we travel everyday using our browser. The Internet on the other hand in the underlying digital foundation that provides the plumbing to the Web. It is when we use things like FTP, IRC and any number of other base services that we can truthfully say we are using The Internet.

From that magical day in December 1990 when Tim Bernes-Lee gave us the very beginnings of The Web it has grown at an incredible pace and it is a growth that shows no sign of slowing down. With the advent of Web 2.0 (based on another missive from Tim O’Reilly) we saw a fundamental change in how we both used the web and how we used it to suddenly be able to interact on a growing real-time basis.

Now we are beginning to see the first steps of the next generation Web being made but unfortunately we are also being misled as to what it will really be like. The hot buzzword; that sounds all the right warm and fuzzies needed by advertisers and marketers to draw in the rubes, for this next web is Social Media. As nice as the word sounds (rolls off the tongue nice and easy which is a prerequisite for proper marketing) though the fact is just as advertising is the medium that pays for television companies to make all that dribble we watch Social Media is the mechanism that will pay for the next generation web – The Social Web.

It’s all just a game of semantics but it’s a game where we need to really understand the players.

The Social Web is where the real changes will happen. Not just for the Web but also for us as a society. We have been given all the tools, and with more coming daily, by which we can finally have our voices heard in such a way that they can’t be ignored.

This doesn’t mean that Social Media doesn’t have a place. On the contrary it is an integral part of the new web that is coming upon us just as television advertising is an important part of the old media experience. However we shouldn’t be trying to exchange one for the other. The Social Web could (hopefully) be the harbinger of a new age in our societies but as long as we remain sidetracked by the illusion that a new marketing platform – Social Media – is the mechanism for change we may lose the chance for The Social Web to take root.

If that happens we are all losers.

* First 24hr Ruling: This is the rule that those who climb on any bandwagon within the first 24 hours will automatically start calling themselves gurus or experts.

image courtesy of gapingvoid.com


  1. 30/03/10 at 17:22

    Wowser, you’re using your language precisely while I think both Tim and Tac are being more abstract although if you get past their misuse of terms you can actually see there’s more to both of their ideas.

    Admittedly Tim went a little far with the Internet OS concept, but he’s working hard to come to terms with abstract functions that take place over the Net. When he states OS he really means “higher functions” tucked away out of many users/developers sight.

    Tac’s a friend and I understand what he means even though his choice of words got you pretty ticked. He’s really talking about the importance of social search, which is frankly a big deal. Intelligent recommendations are going to be more prevalent over the coming years, whether they come from the big Goog or your buddies. I trust my friends more than algorithms (sometimes), because they know more about me. When algorithms make better predictions, I’ll probably trust them more, but in a weird creeped out way (I’m working on some of them).

    Although your title was a little sensational, I get your point. There’s no reason we should throw away all our earlier language, definitions, and meaning in a orgy of buzzwordy misuse.

    I fall victim to this more than a few times a month, and I’m doing my best to become a little more careful in correct use of terms (there will always be subtle semantic differences, I accept that).

    • 30/03/10 at 18:21

      That’s the problem with hyperbole – it is too easy not to take responsibility for one’s words. I have no problem with high-level views on ideas and concepts but if one is going to make such sweeping statements like both these gentlemen have but then I also believe there is a certain amount of responsibility that is implied to make sure that even at the high viewpoint level we stay within the bounds of what is real.

      The problem with Tim’s statement is that he is ignoring a core fact – the Internet is not and can not be an operating system. It can be an enhancement but that is all.

      When it comes to Tac’s post I understand the thinking behind it – I just don’t agree with the fundamental and current thinking that Social Media is some mechanism to change society by .. and really there is nothing wrong with admitting what Social Media is – Social Marketing .. but be honest about it for Christ sakes.

      • 30/03/10 at 18:49

        I think I’m in agreement with your contention. But my beef is staying within the bounds of “the real”.

        I enjoy bs’ing about far out concepts on my blog. It’s a place I feel comfortable airing out all those ideas that would plague my day otherwise (many aren’t actionable immediately, but keep me pushing).

        We shouldn’t limit blogger ideas to ones that are mainstream or dominant now. We need folks to keep on dreaming, it keeps us working as programmers.

        Why shouldn’t the way we communicate and collaborate on ideas change over time? Without Buzz I may never have discovered your blog.

  2. 30/03/10 at 18:09

    Actually I suspect chrome os might stand a chance of turning the internets into something more like an operating system. Or the web browser as OS anyway. An OS that sits on top of windows/whatever or standalone.

    Some google projects like angle and native client might be rather important.

    Or it might not work :) Still I’m happy that google seems to be beavering away at the native client code since as a developer I think that it will be rather useful and blur the line between the internets and native applications.

    This isn’t really what you are talking about but still relevant to the keywords :)
    .-= Kriss´s last blog ..DailyDump for 20100330 =-.

  3. 30/03/10 at 18:19

    Steve thanks for the post and the dialogue. I appreciate the counter point, that’s how we arrive at better thinking.

    Having been on the Internet before there was a World Wide Web, I actually do understand the differences. If you look at my last post I refer to the data being created by social media as that underlying layer and (right or wrong) when I’m referring to both the Internet and the Web I often shorthand one for both. You can get in line behind my grammar critics for my bad spelling, horrible abuse of comma’s and semicolons.

    While I appreciate the semantic discussion and don’t mind the personal attacks (although FWIW I’ve never called myself an expert or a guru) my real concern is your apparent disdain for the metaphor.

    Did you have the same personal aversion when they named your computer interface a “desktop” or at having to open a new “window” on your computer?

    And since I don’t want to be thrown in the same lion’s den with guru’s and experts, should I wait 48 hours before writing about something that inspired me and sparked a new idea? I really don’t give a rats ass about search traffic so I’m happy to wait.

    Thanks for the post and keep shooting those bubbles.
    .-= Tac Anderson´s last blog ..If The Internet Is The New Operating System, Social Media Is The New Internet =-.

    • 30/03/10 at 18:50

      Don’t wait Tac, shoot from the hip and be glad to get some strong counterpoints.

    • 30/03/10 at 21:15

      I have been a reader of your blog since coming across it via Louis’ Shared Items and I know you understand the difference which I think in some ways bothered me as I read this last post.

      I know yer a smart dude and I like reading your stuff so when you go the route of the easy cliche and buzzword I feel that (and don’t take this the wrong way) you are letting me down as a reader.

      Additionally you might not consider yourself an ‘expert’ but I would definitely take your advice and be willing to listen – even if I don’t always agree – to what you have to say.