Who’s really the ‘social’ in social media?

pole-vault Social Media.

Just what is Social Media?

On Wikipedia when you search for Social Media you get redirected to Social Networks and yet it is a concept that has potential to change our society in the way that the theory of Evolution  forever changed Darwin’s world and beyond. The idea that you can share information and ideas with just about anyone in the world just by typing on a keyboard is pretty incredible.

Except that isn’t what we have.

What we do have is sandboxes we play in that are own by some company. Sure some of these so-called social media playground providers might let you play in some-one else’s sandbox at the same time but the truth is we do so at their discretion. These companies own the box, they own the sand, and they own everything we do in them. There is nothing social about that at all.

For something to be truly social; as Doc Searls wrote this morning, they have to be : “NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them and Anybody can improve them”. As much as the social media mavens would like us to believe that things like Twitter and Facebook are the vanguard of a new socialization of citizen media they are far from it.

As Doc Searls points out:

Look at four other social things you can do on the Net (along with the standards and protocols that support them): email (SMTP, POP3, IMAP, MIME); blogging (HTTP, XML, RSS, Atom); podcasting (RSS); and instant messaging (IRC, XMPP, SIP/SIMPLE). Unlike private social media platforms, these are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them and Anybody can improve them. That’s what makes them infrastructural and generative. (Even in cases where protocols were owned, such as by Dave Winer with RSS, efforts were made to remove ownership as an issue.)

The fact is that there is really nothing new about today’s so-called social media. Sure the bar of involvement might have been higher with things like IRC and IMs but lowering the bar of that involvement doesn’t equate a change for the better – especially when a company owns and controls the bar.

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