The Future of Computing (Now) – Social Networking


Social Networking is Facebook, right?

Well, not quite.
It is a lot more than teenagers posting updates on Facebook.
It is definitely about business – and the general public – now.
A recent commentary (http://www.web-hosting-newsletter.com/2011/05/06/surprise-social-media-actually-delivers-real-value/, as at May 2011) stated:
“With the dramatic rise in use of social media, entrepreneurs were decidedly placing themselves in one of two camps: those who saw NO potential value in social media and those who jumped on the bandwagon without a clue to where the train was heading. Game Over. Now, after a lot of experimentation and evaluation by experts and novices alike, it seems there are some real opportunities in social media for businesses of all sizes.”

Social networking is about instant communication, within an extended social setting (rather obviously). It is about stating “Your Message” – directly and instantly, to a wide group of people, rather than through some intermediary.

Historically, the intermediary is a publisher of some sort, some business which determines what is published to the wider community and what is not.

Communities

Now, one has the opportunity to build one’s own community of like minds – as large or as small as one desires (it should be noted that social networking does NOT mean that one automatically gets a “free” community. Building a community requires effort and work. If one desires a large community, one must expend substantial effort to obtain that community. The point about modern social networking is that it is possible to build such a large community with less capital outlay than was ever required previously – making the ability to reach such large communities within the hands of every individual – provided they so desire and make the requisite effort.

In many ways, this is similar to the advances in music production bought about by the digital age. Today, everyone has the capacity to produce high quality music. Not everyone does so, though, nor, for those that do, they are heard. Why not? Because (1) most people are just not interested in producing music (they would rather just listen to it); (2) many people, even though they may be technically capable of operating music studio production software, do not have the requisite talent, experience nor application to produce anything of general worth; (3) many people can and do produce excellent music, yet few hear it – simply because the steps associated with making this music available to a wider audience are not taken; and (4) even if some-one makes their music available, many will not hear it, due to the glut of content available, meaning that distribution and marketing take precedence in terms of music awareness – which returns us to the issue of social networking – another means of making a wider community aware of one’s content).

Social Networking Facilities

Facebook not the first

Most might consider that social networking began with the advent of Facebook in September 2006. Although Facebook would no doubt classify as the largest “social networking” site existing currently (as at 2011, with more than 500 million users world-wide), it was not the first such entity (indeed, Friendster (started in 2002 http://www.friendster.com/ – now concentrating on social gaming) and MySpace (started in July 2003 http://www.myspace.com/ – now concentrating on music and bands) pre-dated Facebook and were much more successful early on but were soon eclipsed by their successors) and is certainly not alone in terms of providing social networking facilities (other examples include Bebo (formed in 2005 http://www.bebo.com/). Indeed, many web-based / cloud computing based applications offer collaboration / social networking capabilities as either core or adjuncts to their offerings. It appears that if a product is not “socially”-enabled then it will not sell.

Blogging

Early examples of social networking were Blogging – a “en-verbened” and shortened form of the phrase “web-log” – a facility whereby one maintained a log of events / occurences / thoughts / ideas / writings / anything of interest – on the web (as a series of web pages). Specific software to allow people to create (post) and display their blog entries were soon created, with an early contender being Blogger (http://www.blogger.com – founded in August 1999, now a Google property, and also known as Blogspot), soon followed by other major blogging platforms (WordPress in 2003 http://wordpress.org; Typepad on 6 August 2003 http://www.typepad.com/; Movable Type in 2001 http://movabletype.com/; and Live Journal in 1999 http://www.livejournal.com/).

Micro-blogging

Blogging was followed by micro-blogging – the best known example being Twitter (http://www.twitter.com, formed in 2006 / 2007). The concept of a micro-blog is to keep the entry down to a minimum – in the case of Twitter, to 140 characters – the size of a SMS (Short Message Service) message from telephony minus 20 characters to allow for special addressing etc, such that a micro-blog entry could be made from a mobile phone. Twitter is not the only major micro-blogging platform (others include Status Net (formed in July 2005 http://status.net) and its public face, called identi.ca (http://identi.ca/); and Plurk (formed in January 2008 http://www.plurk.com)). Other products exhibit micro-blogging qualities, through their status update capabilities (such as in Facebook, but also, for instance, Google Buzz, announced on 9 February 2010, which integrates with most Google products as well as a range of external offerings).

Mini-blogs

And not to be left out, there is also the concept of mini-blogs – a cross between a full blog and a micro-blog, combining the ease and immediacy of micro-blogging with the extended entry capacity of blogging (longer text, photo’s, video’s, etc). The major examples in the mini-blogging niche include Tumblr (formed in 2007 http://www.tumblr.com); and Posterous (formed in July 2008 https://posterous.com/).

Secondary Support Applications

The success of the various blogging / micro-blogging / mini-blogging platforms has led to the creation of a vibrant secondary support industry of individuals and organisations writing applications which integrate and work with the major products. As an example, there are a range of products which allow one to view all the “streams” of information to which one subscribes – one’s Facebook stream; one’s Twitter stream; one’s blogging news feed and other such sites. Such products include Hootsuite (http://www.hootsuite.com); TweetDeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com/); Stroodle (http://www.stroodle.it/) and the Ubermedia apps (http://ubermedia.com).

People and Place

Social networking is not only about connecting people, but also about connecting people and place (see http://biznik.com/articles/location-aware-social-networking-sites-the-next-wave-of-relationship-marketing). Location based social networking is enabled by smart-phones with both GPS and 3G/4G internet capabilities – people are always connected, no matter where they are.

Possibly the most pre-eminent site in this category is FourSquare (http://foursquare.com), allowing people to check-in to places and comment on what they are doing there, or what they experience (say, comment on a restaurant, or service from a shop, or being at a concert, etc). Google has a similar product called Google Latitude (http://www.google.com/latitude). Other examples include Gowalla (http://gowalla.com/), specifically targeted at travel and exploration; and Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/), which bills itself as “the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses”. Indeed, even Facebook is now in on the act, with its Facebook Places (http://www.facebook.com/places/).

Video

Finally, don’t forget that social media is not just text – it is all types of media, most notably video. YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) is the most famous – or possibly, infamous – of the video sharing sites, which not only allows anyone to upload video, but for others to comment on and share videos. The measure of popularity of an event or item can be measured by the number of Youtube “views” that a video will receive. Another well used video sharing site is Vimeo (http://www.vimeo.com/), similar in concept to Youtube (allowing uploading and sharing of videos), but possibly more oriented towards information sharing, particularly in a business context. It headlines itself as: “Vimeo is a respectful community of creative people who are passionate about sharing the videos they make. We provide the best tools and highest quality video in the universe.”, indicating its focus on a defined community, as opposed to the “free-for-all” which could characterise YouTube.

These types of social networking are not in isolation from each other any longer. People share their Youtube videos using Facebook. They receive their entertainment (TV shows, viral video clips, information and infotainment) through Youtube, which they then share with their friends. Breaking news is now Twitter and Facebook and Youtube – the news is witnessed by, photographed or video’ed by people, on the spot, using their mobile phones, immediately uploaded and instantly available world-wide.

Another type of multi-media based social networking tool is Skype (http://www.skype.com), allowing individuals and groups to make voice and video calls across the internet, integrated with a set of contacts.

Social Networking and Business

Social networking is not limited to individuals or personal matters. As mentioned above, and throughout this article, social networking is increasingly being used as a business tool (eg for marketing purposes) and within businesses themselves. To provide a more “serious” description of social networking for business use, it is also known as “Enterprise Social Software”. From a business perspective: “Social media at its core is all about having a dialogue with your customers – it’s about people investment.” – Blake Cahill (Principle at Banyan Branch, quoted from http://blog.ning.com/2011/02/ning-at-social-media-week-trends-and-the-future-of-social-media.html).

Blogging and wiki capabilities for business are provided by a wide variety of systems, commercial and open source – which can be installed and operated in-house or using a software-as-a-service model. Systems such as WordPress, Typepad etc can be used in this manner. Micro-blogging facilities are available from a number of sources, such as StatusNet and Yammer (formed in September 2008 https://www.yammer.com/) which is billed as a “free private social network for your company”.

Social Networking for Professionals

And there are specific social networking sites just for professionals. The largest is LinkedIn (formed in May 2003 http://www.linkedin.com/) is where “Over 100 million professionals … exchange information, ideas and opportunities” (according to its website). XING (formed in August 2003 http://www.xing.com/) also bills itself as a professional business network. Both these sites are about making connections between professionals, particularly with respect to job hunting and career development, but also in terms of maintaining contact with one’s network.

And the final site is a hybrid business / individual social networking site, specifically for maintaining an address book, called Plaxo (http://www.plaxo.com).

Social Networking and Applications

As mentioned above, many products with other tasks / functions at their core are increasingly adding collaboration and social networking / media capabilities to their offerings, since, even if not an integral component of the functionality of the product, these facilities must be provided for the product to sell. Prominent examples in the area include the myriad of project and task management products available, as well as CRM, DMS, CMS and other such suites.

Social Networking is Mainstream

As evidence of the rise of social networking, Facebook has become so ubiquitous that mainstream companies, who have nothing specific to do with ICT, are creating Facebook accounts and pages, displaying their details in their advertising – such as on business cards,in print ads and on TV. Car companies, banks, insurance companies (and increasingly, everyone else) are now using Facebook as their consumer entry “page”. One’s local car yard, one’s local plumber all have Facebook pages.

Social Networking – Today and in the Future

What is social networking and social media being used for today (and in the future)?

Some elements include:

  1. one-to-one conversation;
  2. one-to-intimate group “conversation” / “discussion” / “information dissemination”;
  3. event- notification, organisation, attendance;
  4. location based notifications, and recommendations etc;
  5. marketing, advertising and selling;
  6. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) enablement;
  7. disseminating materials, such as brochuresm eBooks, etc;
  8. photo albums and video collections;
  9. match-making;
  10. emergency management – notifying communities and constituents during flood, fire and earthquake, etc;
  11. political advertising and commentary;
  12. political activism – dissent (and assent, if you will);
  13. automatic updating of location and connectivity, incorporating geo-mobile technologies and “internet of things” technologies;
  14. automatic understanding of one’s environment (facial recognition, for instance) and context (through natural language processing);
  15. greater decentralisation – many elements of social networking will inter-operate;
  16. search engines will embrace all social networking interactions;
  17. content aggregation (introducing a new element of electronic intermediation) will work towards sifting, analysing and presenting the mass of online data from a wide variety of sources (including all social media sources) into a useable form for the individual (and businesses);
  18. greater use of analytics – particularly big data and deep analytics, sifting through the massive amount of data generated by social networking tools and systems, to identify patterns and understand what is happening, or what is relevant to one’s area of interest (business or otherwise);
  19. social rating – of sites, of products, of places and of experiences – will assume a marketing prominence;
  20. universal identities – the same identity used on all social networks (most likely integrated with security a la OpenID):
  21. a single social graph, integrating not only “standard” social network sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn but also all of email, Skype, IM etc;
  22. more platform facilities and uses, for applications, games etc within a social networking site (such as the Facebook Platform);
  23. greater integration with mainstream business applications – packages and custom built systems. Email, database management systems, document management systems, content management systems, and many others will integrate collaboration and social networking cabailities.
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