April 7, 2009

Social media and social tools defined

Stowe BoydI am reprinting the following from Get Real — originally published 6 December 2005 — since a number of folks (@socialtechno, and others) were discussing the earlier post and my definition of social media, which I think holds up pretty well today, although I would enlarge it beyond blog posts and the blogosphere to include a greater range of social tools, now:

I was having coffee with Ian Kennedy and Havi Hoffman of Yahoo this morning in Palo Alto, just catching up, and Ian asked me for a short definition of “social media.” I temporized, saying I would root around in the archives and see what I had in the way of elevator-speak on the subject.

Here’s an attempt:

Social Media are those forms of publishing that are based on a dynamic interaction, a conversation, between the author and active readers, in contrast with traditional broadcast media where the ‘audience’ is a passive ‘consumer’ of ‘content’. The annotations or social gestures left behind by active readers, such as comments, tags, bookmarks, and trackbacks, create an elaborate topology resting on the foundational blog posts, and this enhanced meta-environment, the blogosphere, is the context for and the realization of a global collaboration to make sense of the world and our place in it.

Since we’re on the subject, I thought I would also post the definition I came up with for social tools, way back at the dawn of time, in 1999. This was published in August 1999 in the last issue of my electronic newsletter, Message. I then slipped into blogging.

A new category of software is emerging, software intended to augment social systems. Not to change the company inadvertently, like email did, when the electronic analog of interoffice mail became something else, grew into something else by changing the way people communicated, and led a change in the structure of the company. No, this generation of software is intentional, designed from the start to guide human behavior into new paths and patterns, to counter prevailing ways of interaction. I call these social tools: software intended to shape culture.

Stowe Boyd is an internationally recognized authority on social tools and their impact on media, business and society. Contact Stowe or leave a comment below.

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  • Stowe, very prescient observations.

    I'm sure we all agree there's no single definition of social media, so here's an even shorter version that I sometimes use:

    Social media is any online technology or practice that lets us share (content, opinions, insights, experiences, media) and have a conversation about the ideas we care about.