There is no such thing as “Social Media”

For the past several years I have hitched my name to the phrase social media. I used it as a handle to describe the mix of blogs, photos, status updates, and other methods of personal broadcasting that I used to get the word out and solicit feedback on new ideas. In the past, there was a clear distinction between media produced this way, collaboratively, often by amateurs, and that which was popularly referred to as mainstream media.

We’ve reached a tipping point. In my mind the lines between social media  and other types of media are so blurred that it’s not even useful to distinguish the two, just drop the “social” because all media is now social. Take these examples from just the past few weeks:

Along with others, I first heard about the crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson via twitter. I was also amazed to see the twitpic photo featured on the network news stations – quality of composition was trumped by a camera phone that was in the right place at the right time. While the first reports were from twitter, more comprehensive coverage was to come later from the professionals but the twitpic and reader comments made up an important part of the overall package.

For the inauguration yesterday, CNN and Facebook shared a single URL. On the left side was a live video stream from CNN while on the right side was a stream of comments from Facebook.

CNN & Facebook

Screen Capture by Steve Garfield

While the video was very compelling, I have to confess that the real-time commentary from the peanut gallery on the right was absoultely captivating. If you measure media by the amount of attention given, most of my time was spent on Facebook feed. Mashable’s got more details on the numbers but it would be interesting to see a heat map of where people collectively spent their time on this page.

A couple years ago I asked how to define social media. In that post, Stowe Boyd said that is was defined by the, “annotations or social gestures left behind by active readers, such as comments, tags, bookmarks, and trackbacks.” Based on that definition, what we saw on CNN yesterday, and the ease with which people can create, reference, and annotate all media, it’s no longer useful to segment out something called “social media.”

There is no such thing as social media when all media is social.


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