I can’t remember exactly when I first started hearing about the so-called “Social Media revolution.” It was right when I was starting to really get into web development. It was easily at least 3 years ago, before Twitter had hit the mainstream like it has now. All I remember is that I didn’t buy into it.
I had been a member of a social network called deviantArt since 2001, and joined Facebook quickly after it opened it’s doors to people who weren’t in school. I had graduated when it reached Australia, and wasn’t able to create an account. I had interacted with people through an online media for a long time before I heard the phrases “social network” and “social media.” To me, all this talk from marketers and web designers about leveraging social media, claiming that social media was the way forward, was just that – talk, nothing but hot air.
I think today I can say that I understand the social media revolution. All it took was to get involved in creating a social network.
I have recently changed jobs to an Austin company that is busy building it’s business social network. Working as close as I am with their social network and learning about how they plan to leverage the community, I can see that I took the wrong end of the stick with regards to social media.
I’ve read a lot of criticism lately about Facebook, with critics saying that Facebook is a hollow way to interact with your friends. They say that it cheapens relationships, and waters down the meaning of ‘friend.’ This is the view I’d had of all social media in the past, and while it may or may not be a valid criticism of Facebook, it’s certainly not a valid criticism of social media.
I had a discussion today with a friend about the future of publishing. She’s in the publishing business, and is violently opposed to e-books and the effects they’re having on brick and mortar book stores. It was while I was explaining to her my vision of the future that I realised the value of social media. We were musing on the role of publishers in a primarily e-book formatted world where there was almost no hand selling done. She was worried about the authors that weren’t super stars, and how they would get eyes on their books in a world where you didn’t have covers to browse, and browsing had a greater friction.
I explained that it would be social media and social networks that would step in. Websites like Goodreads are a good start, where people share their opinions on books and list books they’ve read and want to read. You’d build a network of readers that you know, and know the tastes of, and that would provide the data you’d need to make decisions about new books.
It was then that I realised the true value of social networks. It’s a new way for applications to gather real, meaningful data in the most efficient way. By crowd sourcing data, you build a knowledge base in a relevant domain in a very hands off way. By leveraging this data, you can provide very personalised and useful functionality in applications. Rather than make assumptions about your visitors and users, you can obtain hard data and act upon it.