How do you define “Social Media”

I joined Havi Hoffman (a Social Media partner in crime here at Yahoo) and Stowe Boyd for coffee in Palo Alto this morning and asked Stowe if he would come up with a two line definition of “social media.” He took a shot at it and came up with a good working definition that I look forward to seeing polished over the next few days.

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.

I especially liked Stowe’s phrase, “social gestures” that he uses to describe the artifacts of the tools that are used to create social media. I would only suggest expanding this to include things like the aggregate votes of users on ratings and review sites because the collective vote on something is also a form of “user-generated content.”

What I really like is the phrase, “making sense of the world and our place in it” because it gets to the greater philosophical question of how your content on the web defines who you are. If it’s cogito ergo sum in the physical world, it follows in the digital world that you are defined and understood by the sum total of everything you contribute to the web. Our collective voice on a subject or theme is going to be the digital representation of our world’s understanding of that topic.

UPDATE: An alternative definition that I learned at ad:tech. Social Media is, “communication and media that doesn’t require interruption.” In other words, media that is used as part of a conversation between two people, media that is personal and relevant to the conversation, not ancillary.

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