The Social Web: Redefining the Online Landscape

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More and more parts of our lives are becoming tangled in the Social Web – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Digg are buzzwords everywhere you turn, and everyone *could be* paying attention to your social doings these days… But are they? In any case the fact is, social media is creating a new organizational framework for the internet, the way we interact with others, and the way we manage and conduct our daily lives, online and off.

The social networking industry is worth billions and over 35% of US Web users 18+ actively use social networking sites, up from just 8% in 2005. That’s in addition to a whopping 65% of 12-17-year-old Americans who are currently on social networks, said the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey in January 2009. With SO many different networks, the virtual world (Wide Web) is quickly becoming as socially diversified and segmented as the real world. Cliques and niche groups now have the resources to form their own SNs and cut out a large chunk of the “noise”. There are sites for professional networks, social groups, charities, churches, schools, universities, doctors and pharmacists, parents, micro-bloggers, video-sharers – a site for them all…

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But wouldn’t life be easier if all of those various personal and professional contacts could all just be on one social networking site, or in one place, one destination? Instead of keeping up with five or ten different sets of contact info, profiles, links, status updates, applications, comments, jokes and photos… I mean, we’re already struggling to keep up with five thousand different people here – give us a break!

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Social media is still in its infancy. Its rules and dynamics have not yet been defined. The future is uncertain, but bright. The rate of adoption is rapid and this new landscape provides a throng of new opportunities and challenges for us all (whether we like it or not). The more features, tasks and tools that social media outlets continue to integrate, the more we rely on SN providers to keep us safe, secure and most of all, satisfied. That’s why it is important to know what’s happening in social media – because it’s one place where we can all truly take part, even shape the future – in the Social Web, our votes count.

Experts and writers from multiple fields of study have been predicting the rise of a Social Web long before they knew the technology was possible. In fact, the technology (in some ways) enables a more connected society than was ever before possible, thus enabling many predictions on society and media to be even further realized than their authors had originally intended. So much so that Marshall McLuhan’s definition of “games” relates more directly to the Social Web than it did to my definition of either VW or MMOG in the previous section.

See for yourself – just try replacing the word “games” with “social networks” (or even “social media”) in McLuhan’s definition:  “That games are extensions, not of our private but of our social selves, and that they are media of communication, should now by plain. If, finally, we ask, “Are games mass media?” The answer has to be “Yes.” Games are situations contrived to permit simultaneous participation of many people in some significant pattern of their own corporate lives…” (from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan’s 1964 expose on the state of mass media).

Sure, he didn’t know exactly where we’d be in today’s online landscape, but it seems our social relations online are very much like the offline ones, so McLuhan’s explanation of games will work no matter the mode of human interaction. Another perfect example is from Neal Stephenson, who explained the Social Web almost precisely in his fictional “metaverse” from the 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash: “a virtual world, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses a metaphor of the real world.”

Society is experiencing a virtual shift to a more Social Web, highlighted by the reorganization of online communities and a redirected flow of information. New egocentric networks, with individuals at the center of their own community, are redefining our online relationships and networks to be more like real life ones – composed of webs and networks, not groups.  All of these factors contribute to social media’s future, which can be summed up for all intents and purposes in one word: aggregation.

Coming up next – Digesting all the “noise”: aggregation and virtual desktops

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