What is Social Media?

Social media is simply anywhere online where two people can have conversations one-on-one or with a group. Really. It’s that simple. Oh, and no, it’s not new. Not at all.

What we call social media is what we used to call online community. If you’ve been around for a while you’ll remember IRC (Internet Relay Chat) chats where people came in an amorphous form and talked about whatever their passions were. Sometimes they were anonymous or used avatars to identify themselves, unlike today where most social networks promote transparency in identity.

There are some who say that a “social network” consists of a network where a user creates a profile, identifies their friends and share friends lists with other users, and that the public display of profiles and connections is what sets it apart from the older forms of social media use.By that definition the first social media site was SixDegrees.com which launched in 1997.

Unfortunately SixDegrees may have been ahead of it’s time. Even though they attracted hundreds of thousands of users it simply couldn’t survive the dot com crash and shut down in 2000.

About the mid 90’s forums became popular and allowed for archived discussions, email news lists flourished and this made “social media” more accessible to people who weren’t geeky enough for IRC and ICQ.

The social media networks of today are based on the same concepts but much more advanced. When you join a network you can add collated data from dozens of networks on your friends and co-workers. Sites like Twitter and YouTube make it perfectly normal for us to converse with total strangers about our personal preferences, politics and much more.

I wonder what we’ll think 20 years from now when people use the phrase “social media”. Will we reach a point where it’s so deeply engrained in the way we communicate that it’s no longer special? I think so.

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