Social Media & The Wright Brothers

I wrote a quick post on BINGenuity last month for Wright Brothers day. There I commented about how maybe nothing has had a bigger effect on bringing people together and closer than the Wright’s invention, other than the computer.  So what about that computer?  2008 was a huge tipping point for social media (SM) and it is really starting to deliver on SOME of the hype.  And one of those things is certainly this connectivity.  SM is allowing creating and fostering connections with more people and organizations on more levels than could have been imagined.  It could be debated how significant those connection are, but I and millions of others are connecting and rekindling many distant friendships that I am certain would have just faded away without SM tools like Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter.

I recently listened to a Science Friday podcast discussing the future of SM that featured Tim O’Reilly, the founder and the CEO of O’Reilly Media.  Tim is a true technology icon with very keen insights.  Below are a few nuggets from that discussion:

  • Simple SM Definition – “Systems that get better the more people that use them.”
  • Dunbar’s Number – theoretical limit to the number of people (proposed at about 150) with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.
  • Types of Social Media: Implicit and Explicit – Tim contends the affect of some SM are obvious and it is mistake to think that this is a recent phenomenon.  O’Reilly contends that there are the sites and the tools that are explicit such as the blog like you are reading now, or Twitter, or Flickr where the tools express their social features outwardly.  However, the social aspect of many tools has also made them better in a more implicit way.  For example Google, the search engine, has not appeared like a social media application.  But one of the things that made Google so effective was the accuracy and relevance of the search results. This was in large part due to ranking formula that Google used which was implicitly social.  The ranking of any site increased with the number of other relevant sites (a community) that linked to a site.
  • Communication On Your Terms – Many SM tools, are very different than email and are more like a river. You can stand by the river when you want and just watch what floats by and stick your toe in only when you want. If you don’t participate in it for days or even weeks at a time, no big deal. But like the description of social media above, the more that you do the better the system gets and what floats by is more relevant.  This is very different from email, which is point to point, requires some personal connection, and often an expected response.  Flickr, the photo and sharing tool, is another example of this difference. I tend to use it solely for the utility of the tool – the convenience, sharing, bandwidth and back up of my images, instead of the community aspect of the images themselves. But from time to time, someone tags one of my images as a favorite and I get a little involved in the community aspect, but it is my choice.

So fasten your chin straps, 2009 has lots in store. There are many predictions driven by social media and web 2.0 (a term created by O’Reilly Media).  But I am certain that community is becoming the killer app and SM will truly become a core marketing approach.  And a final note to the entrepreneurs still looking to have us download and try their latest social media gadget this year, your pitch may no longer be “come try this, it’s new,” but instead, “come try this, it really is useful and it helps.”

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