Many, many moons ago, I had a vision. No, not one of those funny ones you get after too much Guinness, but an insight into what I would like from a website. I wanted to set one up, but I saw too many barriers. I would either have to host it myself, or get someone to host it for me, and possibly pay for the privilege. If I wanted to add to it, I would have a tedious time logging on, creating the page, formatting it, and adding it. Then I would have to make sure everything else linked up properly. And none of this would be with any guarantee that anyone would actually find the site, or then be able to interact with it.
So, my vision was this: a simple text field, that I could quickly type into, press ENTER, and be done with. The software would look after making it look pretty, add links, and make sure everything remained intact. Today, I have that website: it’s a blog. And it also beams my content out via RSS, and people at the other end of the feed can subscribe to that, and, through aggregators, see my content quickly and easily alongside other subscriptions. It even enables people to comment on what I’ve written.
That’s why I blog. Because it’s quick, easy, cheap, and offers a way of reaching people. In other words, I blog because the barriers to entry have been removed.
It’s ok to be lazy
The Long Tail talks about how, when the ‘water mark’ of cost is effectively removed – cost of storage, retrieval, information gathering and aggregation – it exposes behaviour. I think social media generally can also best be explained through the removal of barriers which expose behaviour.
Specifically, these are barriers – or inconveniences – of:
- Cost – anyone can now participate without paying.
- Search – RSS beams out your content and people can subscribe to that without them having to return to my blog to find it. Tagging enables people to find this information readily.
- Information manipulation – news aggregators enable people to keep tabs on many conversations easily and efficiently.
- Information formatting – people can essentially use plain text – such as the editor I’m using right now – and leave the social media software to do the rest. If you want to include multimedia – images, videos, audio – you can do so without too much fuss.
- Entry – you can log on easily.
- Geography – you can log on anywhere.
When you remove these barriers you expose basic human needs: to share, express, and belong. When these barriers are up, they also expose a basic human trait: laziness.
Three technologies need to be in place for these barriers to dissolve:
- the ‘application platform’, that is, open-platform, many-to-many communication applications that run on the web.
- the ‘mobile platform’, that is, the ability to interact via mobile devices.
- the ‘live web’, that is, RSS enabling content to move readily between devices and the ability for people to tag content.
But it’s still all about money, really
So you could argue that social media is simply a coming together of technologies that enable freedom of expression. But never forget: the fundamental driver is, as always, financial. That is, the data sets enabled by mass interaction are invaluable marketing data. Facebook, Plaxo, Bebo et al are not run as charities. The incentive to provide these open, mobile, live technologies is monetary.
Companies are lazy too
This is why some ‘pre Web 2.0’ technologies may not register as truly social media.
For example, forums and boards have been around for many years, and have facilitated conversations between many people. They’re quick and easy to use, and generally free. So why aren’t they social media?
Well, they don’t show links or allegiances between users. As far as the administrators are concerned they have a great insight into what a fairly specific bunch of people are saying, but not the affiliations between them. Companies want to see these patterns without having to sift through many conversations. Twitter offers arguably a less rich environment for discussion, but is the single most effective way to encourage a social network with the minimum content input.
Or is it just me?
So, there you go. That’s my take on it. I’ve probably stuck my neck out just long enough for people to chop my head off here. Perhaps I should just be lazy and read what everyone else is saying about it…!