About a month ago a smart friend of mine, Ethan Bauley, posed that question to a few friends, myself included. On the surface it seemed like an easy question to answer. In fact, at first I rolled my eyes at the question feeling like it had jumped the shark to even be asking that question today. But, dozens of emails later and about a month of discussion has produced what I felt are some compelling thought on the question. I’d like to share a summary of our discussion points publicly to jumpstart some rework of the Wikipedia entry on social media.
Popular usage vs. need for a standardized definition of social media
The first problem we uncovered was the need to delineate popular usage from what feels like the need for some standards of the term. As companies move further into the social web, the need grows for a common language with shared meanings. Our assessment is that it would be good for people looking at the Wikipedia entry on social media to explain the difference between:
- Current, popular usage of the term “social media” and;
- The need for a more rigorous, standardized definition for a bevy of interconnected terms, social media included.
So, how do we go about writing a Wikipedia article that objectively covers what the popular usage of social media is while also identifying the conflicts among the various usages to drive us toward a more standardized definition? We felt that we don’t have to crack the definition, just clearly present the current state that the defining process is in. An article with the following may do the trick:
- Initial uses of the term social media
- Current, popular usage
- Known problems with strict usage of the term
If we draft something that captures this discussion in the above format, then the community can work on two follow-up projects that will help flesh out the article’s details. First, we can do a survey to gather stats about what people believe the current, popular usage of social media is. Then, we can also facilitate a more formal dissection of the term through our blogs to build momentum and interest in drilling down on what social media is. I don’t suggest we wait to update the Wikipedia article before we do either of those two projects. I don’t think the survey would be hard to pull off, but a more in-depth exploration on what social media is and isn’t will take some time.
4 big questions that need to be answered to define social media
While these may not be all of the big questions that need be answered in order to define social media, they were the ones we saw emerge from our discussion, which are as follows:
- Does media need to operate on or at least integrate with TCP/IP?
- Does media earn a “social” designation from having a particular set of features or from applied usage?
- Does the participating audience size matter?
- In order for media to be considered social, is there a ratio of message creation devices to creators as well as message reception devices to receivers?
This post is intended to start the social media definition meme by sharing these 4 fundamental problems with the term’s definition. I’m sharing this here to vet the content before we draft a revision of the Wikipedia article on social media.
Big thanks to Ethan for starting this discussion and inviting me to be a part of it from the start. Also many thanks goes out to the other participants from the original email chain: Taylor Davidson, Bryan Landers, and Clinton Schaff.