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Defining Social Media: 2006 – 2010

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana, Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, 1905

A few years ago, I was part of a dedicated group of people who worked together to establish Social Media as an official stage in the progression of New Media. An evolution that is well documented and a conversation still continues today.

As referenced in the original Social Media Manifesto published in June 2007, “Monologue has given way to dialog.”

Before Social Media was officially “Social,” several well-known pundits observed the composition of socially-driven ideas and technologies and as such collaborated to help document the landscape and also define and defend Social Media as a legitimate classification for the democratization of publishing and the equalization of influence.

As the category gained momentum, it elicited a series of opposing views and introduced new ideas as the saga unfolded. At the same time, it also opened Pandora’s box and consequently invited the very masses it was designed to empower to define Social Media. Years later, the definition and its history as documented in Wikipedia are truly representative of just how much and how little we know and also agree on its definition and its destiny.

The initial entry was submitted to Wikipedia in July of 2006 and since then there have been hundreds of edits and iterations – most of which are inaccurate and misleading.

In June of 2007, I called for evangelists, experts, and visionaries to collaborate on seeking and documenting a simple and functional definition for Social Media. The goal was to establish a common point of departure from which we could convert uncharted paths into navigational waypoints documented through shared experiences. In many ways, we were, and still are, digital cartographers.  Those actively involved in the ongoing discussions included Doc Searls, Stowe Boyd, Robert Scoble, Jay Rosen, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel, Chris Shipley, Deb Schultz, JD Lasica, et al.

After much analysis, hosted conversations, debates, and continued research, a working definition was proposed, and for the most part, continues to guide many practitioners today.

Short Version

Any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversations.

Long Version

Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.

The discussion continues, inspiring modified definitions that are both brilliant and sometimes inexact. Perhaps uniting around a common definition is implausible.

As Social Media evolves it elicits advocates and experiences as it migrates from the edge of early adoption to the center of prevalence.

But as it pursues ubiquity, Social Media, as a designation, is largely misunderstood and as such, guides many practitioners away from their true opportunity and purpose. Their social compass is unknowingly misaligned and what should point to true North may in fact, displace their center of principles and values.

Indeed, Social Media was embraced by many and still continues to trend upward today as the methodologies and opportunities linked to it persevere, inspiring optimism and igniting ambition along the way.

However, the moment social media was christened, its path towards coalescence was imminent. Experts predict that as soon as 2010 or 2011, Social Media will simply merge into the ongoing development of New Media to set the stage for what’s next. Simply said, Social Media will eventually become “media,” representative of an important chapter in its advancement and transformation.

As I shared with Jennifer Leggio in a recent post on ZDNetthat collected 2010 predictions exploring the potential ubiquity of Social Media:

2010 will be the year that we save us from ourselves in social media…we will stop drinking from the proverbial fire hose and we will lean on filtering and curation to productively guide our experiences and production and consumption behavior and interaction within each network. 2010 will also be the year that leaders and pioneers stop referring to social media as a distinct category of media as they/we usher in an era of new collective and machine intelligence that improves collaboration and interaction – freeing us to focus on the engagement that engenders long term relationships.

It’s not so much what it’s called, but what it represents that counts for everything. This is the democratization of information and the equalization of influence. But, in the end, Social Media is only but a chapter in the evolution of New Media and the pages are slowly turning to the future.

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