Update June 2010 :
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
The term ‘social software’ broadly refers to software that is mainly accessed via a web browser but which can also be downloaded to the desktop in some circumstances and enables the user to communicate and interact socially with others online.
Online social communication is the general overall theme of this blog and we have explored several methods in earlier posts, but the over-riding characteristic of social software in the Web 2.0 age is that of consumers becoming users and taking ownership of the web in a way that wasn’t previously possible.
Perhaps some of the better-known and more successful names in this area now are those of YouTube, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Twitter, FriendFeed, MyBlogLog and of course Facebook and Myspace. More of these sites are springing up all the time (indeed, you can subscribe to even more from this blog!) and therefore this list is by no means exhaustive.
YouTube was purchased by Google in 2006 and is a video sharing site offering free online facilities for users to upload, view, share, comment on and subscribe to video clips. It is not permissible to download these clips to the desktop, but users are able to copy and embed clips into other websites, blogs and social networks as desired. YouTube is an extremely popular website storing around 83 million videos amongst 3.5 million user accounts and its bandwidth requirements are huge. It is estimated that the bandwidth consumed by YouTube alone in 2007 was equal to the bandwidth of the entire internet in 2000.
As mentioned in a previous post Evolution to the Web, Flickr and Del.icio.us are both owned by Yahoo and allow users to upload and share their photos and bookmarks with others.
Social bookmarking services are a relatively new phenomenon and in some ways capture the very essence of the Web 2.0 philosophy. Hyperlinks (or more simply links), are at the core of the World Wide Web, as each site links to another, then another and so on. Whilst search engines are wonderful tools, it is never going to be possible to find every apposite or relevant link during one’s lifetime. It is quite possible however that another like-minded individual may have found just such a link and stored it in their browser bookmarks for future reference.
Social bookmarking tools allow users to upload their own personal browser bookmarks to an online database where they can not only retrieve them themselves from any computer with internet access, (Yahoo has facilitated such a system for years on their My Yahoo pages) but can share them with others, add to them at will and ‘tag’ them for referencing. Many blogs, articles and general websites – including those of major mainstream newspapers – now offer users the opportunity to add their content to Del.icio.us and other similar sites by a simple click of a button on the page.
Tagging refers to a non-hierarchical categorising method of adding freely chosen keywords to links or articles. Other users typing in the same keyword in a search will thus be able to easily find these links and articles. This method of collaborative referencing has been dubbed a folksonomy referring to a user-generated taxonomy (classification). Tagging has become a major feature of Web 2.0 social media and is routinely used throughout such applications for photos, videos, comments, forum and blog posts as well as bookmarks, thus enabling simple and easy sharing of relevant and interesting content with other like-minded users or ‘friends’.
The concept of ‘Friends’ in its online context has taken on a much more wide-ranging connotation than the generally accepted term in offline use which normally refers to members of one’s own personal social circle. Unless one is either famous or exceptionally popular, this social circle is usually reasonably small and intimate, made up as it is of people that are actually and physically known to a person in their real life.
Online friends are different of course, because the ‘global village’ that is the world wide web enables people to befriend others on the other side of the world without ever meeting them. This began to happen in the first web communities and forums when people were able to join groups that were not based in the same geographical area as themselves. This often led to personal bonds being formed between people (typically across the Atlantic because most web hosts and servers are based in the United States) but East to West communication also took place. I am firmly of the belief that such bonds greatly assist with tolerance and understanding of diverse cultures and is to be encouraged wherever possible. Many long-term international friendships have been nurtured in this way.
Web 2.0 social media applications take this concept one step further by labelling every online person you make contact with as a ‘friend’.
Twitter and Friendfeed enable users to share details of their everyday lives both on and offline by posting ‘tweets’ or short messages directly to the Twitter.com website, via text message from a mobile phone or from a small desktop application that sits in one’s system tray and pops up periodically when one receives a ‘tweet’ from a friend. Users may also send RSS (Really Simple
Syndication) feeds from their blogs or websites to Twitter to enable their friends to quickly read and/or comment on new content as it is created. Friendfeed is a service that collects and aggregates all such services in one single feed. Even more integration is made possible by Minggl an internet start-up company which has developed the Minggl browser toolbar (currently in beta), to allow access to all your friends from several different social networks in your browser sidebar.
MyBlogLog offers a blog tracking service with simple statistics and the opportunity to make ‘friends’ and follow the activities of others within the MyBlogLog family of communities.
The following images (again with grateful thanks to Dion Hinchcliffe) depict graphically how social media works in relation to Friendfeed and the other services discussed above:
In our next article, we will be taking an in-depth look at Online Social Networks which are, in many ways, the all-singing, all-dancing successors to the MSN Communities that we discussed in an earlier post; Evolution to the Web.
Read the next article in the series:
Which Online Social Network?
Update June 2010: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA