(This was inspired by Jason Fall’s post on the Sustainability of Social Media)
What’s lost in the dismissing of social media as a fad is the fact that social media is simply an extension, through technology, of what has been around for ages. Determined people have always found a way to connect with others with similar challenges or interests. How long have networking groups and professional societies been around? What about Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups? The geeks among us have been discussing things on BBS discussion boards pretty much since the modem was invented. On the web, those discussion boards made their way to hobby sites and company sites via phpBB and uBB.
What has changed? Two things:
Technology has drastically lower the barrier to entry for joining one of these groups. You no longer have to configure the modem with the right ATDT string, or walk as a green-faced introvert into a room of people who already know each other. “Following” someone or “friending” someone is so much easier, and less painful. (Even the pain of rejection is significantly lower.)
Secondly, social media has pulled connection groups out of a taxonomic hierarchy and into folksonomy.
Think Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system for cataloguing information. Some “higher authority” decided how information should be organized–a taxonomy. By contrast, everyone’s favorite pages on their personal web pages and blogs define the keywords that feed into the page ranking algorithm on Google. Ordinary people create the classification system, and if nothing currently fits, they create another classification system–that’s more or less a “folksonomy”.
Back to social media. What happens if no one is talking about your favorite topic? You create your own (possibly duplicate) group on Facebook, your own hashtag on Twitter, your own blog, or your own discussion board. Our associations no longer belong to the bureaucracy of “significance”. If one person is interested, it’s significant. You can now associate yourself with all fans of “Nuts the Squirrel” if you want to.