There seem to be confusion among managers and academic researchers to what should be included in the term “Social media” and how Social media different from the concept of Web 2.0 and User Generated Content. So to understand we are going to take a step back in time and provide insight to where Social media come from and what they include.
By 1979, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis from Duke University had created the Usenet, a worldwide discussion system that allowed Internet users to post public messages. Yet, 20 years earlier the Social media era probably started. Bruce and Susan Abelson founded “Open Diary” that brought online diary writers together under one community. The term “weblog” was first used, and a year later it was shortened to “blog”. Because of the growing access to high-speed internet the concept got more popular which later lead to social network sites such as “Myspace” (in 2003) and “Facebook” (in 2004). This became the term “Social media” and contributed to how Social media appears today. “Virtual worlds” is the most recent addition to this grouping. Virtual worlds are computer-based simulated environments inhabited by three-dimensional avatars. Linde Lab’s Second Life is perhaps the best known Virtual world. A formal definition to the term “Social media” requires drawing a line between to related concepts; Web 2.0 and User Generated Content. Web 2.0 is a term first used in 2004 to describe a new way in which software developers and end-users started to utilize the World Wide Web, which is a platform where content and applications no longer are published by individuals, but constantly can be modified by all users. Personal web page, Encyclopedia Britannica Online and the idea of content publishing belong to the era of Web 1.0, but are replaced by blogs, wikis and collaborative projects in Web 2.0. There are a set of basic functionalities that is necessary for Web 2.0 functioning, such as Adobe Flash (for adding animation, interactivity and audio/video streams to web pages). RSS (Really Simple Syndication, a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content, such as blog entries, or news headlines, in standardized format), and AJAX (Asynchronous Java Script, a technique to retrieve data from web servers asynchronously, allowing the update of web content without interfering with the display and behavior of the whole page). In this article we consider Web 2.0 as platform for the Social media evolution. When Web 2.0 represents the ideological and technological foundation, User Generated Content (UGC) can be seen as the sum of all ways in which people make use of Social media. The term achieved high popularity in 2005. It usually describes the various forms of media content that are publicly available and created by end-users. UGC need to fulfill three basic requirements:
- It needs to be published on a publicly accessible website or on a social networking site accessible to a selected group of people.
- Excludes content exchanged in e-mails or instant messages.
- It needs to have a certain amount of creative effort.
- Excludes mere replications of already existing sites content.
- It needs to have been created outside of professional routines and practices.
- Excludes all content that has been created with a commercial market context in mind.
UGC has already been available prior to Web 2.0. The increased broadband availability and hardware capacity, the increased availability of tools for the creation of UGC, and the rise of a generation of “digital natives” and “screenagers”; younger groups with high technical knowledge and willingness to engage online make UGC nowadays completely different from what was observed in the early 1980s. When we now have clarified what Web 2.0 and UGC are, we can get into a more detailed definition of what we mean by Social media. Social media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.
There is no systematic way to categorize the different types of Social media applications. New sites appear on cyberspace every day, so it is important that any classification scheme takes into account applications which may be forthcoming. To create a classification scheme in a systematic manner we rely on a set of theories of media research (social presence, media richness) and social process (self-presentation, self-disclosure), the two key elements of Social media. Media differs in the degree of “social presence” – defined as the acoustic, visual and physical contact that can be achieved – they allow to emerge between two communication partners. Social presence is influenced by the intimacy (interpersonal vs. mediated) and immediacy (asynchronous vs. synchronous) of the medium and can be expected to be lower for mediated (e.g. telephone conversation) than interpersonal (e.g. face-to-face discussion) and for asynchronous (e.g. e-mail) than synchronous (e.g. live chat) communications. The higher the social presence, the larger the social influence that the communications partners have on each other’s behavior. Media richness theory is based on supposition that the goal of any communication is the resolution of ambiguity and the reduction of uncertainty. Some media are more effective than others in resolving ambiguity and uncertainty because of the information they allow to be transmitted in a given time interval – that is the richness they possess. A first classification can possibly be made based on the richness of the medium and the degree of social presence it allows. People want to control the impressions other people form of them when using self-presentation in any type of social interaction. On one side this is done so others can gain reward. On the other side this is done so one can create an image with one’s personal identity. The main reason for people to create a personal webpage is so they can present themselves in cyberspace. The presentation is usually a self-disclosure, and the personal information usually contains feelings, thoughts, likes and dislikes that is the same image one would like to give. Self-disclosure is a critical step in the development of close relationships like dating, but it can also occur among total strangers; for example talking about personal problems with the person seated next to you on an airplane. Second classification can be made based on the degree of self-disclosure it requires and the type of self-presentation it allows. Combining both aspects leads to a classification of Social media.
Collaborative projects (e.g. Wikipedia) and blogs score the lowest. Because they often are text-based it is a relatively simple exchange. Next level is content communities (e.g. YouTube) and social networking sites (e.g. Facebook) where you in addition to text-based communication can share pictures, videos and other forms of media. The highest level are Virtual game and Social worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft, Second Life), where they try to copy all dimensions of face-to-face interactions in a virtual environment. Usually blogs score higher than collaborative projects as the latter tend to be focused on specific content domains. Social networking allows for more self-disclosure than content communities. Virtual Social worlds require a higher level of self-disclosure than Virtual game worlds, as the latter are ruled by strict guidelines that force users to behave a certain way (e.g. as warriors in an imaginary fantasy land).