The Social Media Paradigm

Recently, while watching 4OD – Channel 4’s Video On Demand service – I saw an advertisement for Google’s ubiquitous web presence. In this video we can see snippets of the life of a little girl growing up, and various information linked to her first years. Pictures, videos, e-mails, but also a caption of Google’s street view was included into this short and emotionally appealing spot from a company that was founded in 1998, and hence is relatively new. Google has since then become a great success story, and have been an innovating company since it first started ranking web-pages according to “votes through links” in addition to relevancy in semantic markup.    [youtube][/youtube]

This video displays that they understand an important aspect of digital media: how it is being adapted and molded by its users. It is stories such as these which gives the physical nodes, the TCP/IP protocol and other technical perquisites, physical or not, its soul. How we take advantage of, adapt to, redesign and develop these platforms, and change the uses and conventions of the underlying frameworks is what makes this platforms so interesting to study.

I recall two speeches from my years as an undergrad of Digital Media in Oslo. One of these year an election was held (as it is every second year fluctuating between local and regional elections, and parliamentary elections), and Jens Stoltenberg, now Prime Minister of Norway,  in one of his first speeches after the votes was counted and result published thanked the organisational apparatus of The Norwegian Labour Party. Nothing particular about that. What caught my attention was that he juxtaposed their job with the effect of election work in social media. Could it be that a service that Generation Z, or as Don Tapscott coin them/us: the Net generation, had used for a couple of years could be equally  important as the biggest political party in Norway? Later the same year the King of Norway, Harald V, in his traditional New Year Speech mentioned the social network Facebook. From being a subcultural phenomena and youth activity the Internet as a social platform had now become a part of the agenda of the mainstream. In the years to come it would also change the agenda of the mainstream media.

Let us forward a year or two to the US presidential campaign and election that Barack Obama won. Through active use of social media, community and grass-root involvement, micro-funding economic support, and active participation in what until recently was perceived as a “virtual” playground of a second life Obama created a best practice example of what social media can be and do.

So, we have established the claim of the attention and perhaps exaggerated importance of social media, but what is it all about?

Publisher Tim O’Reilly gives a good introduction to some of the core ideas of what he coins “Web 2.0” in the blog post with the descriptive name What is Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is not just technological improvements, but also a change of mentality in development, maintenance, content production, and use of web platforms. The blog post was put online six years ago, and most of the concepts are already a part of the digital media discourse, but here are some keywords just to give you a brief summary: collective intelligence, crowd sourcing, service not version, perpetual beta, user involvement, user content creation, some rights reserved, leveraging the long tail. In case you not have  read his article, I recommend that you do so.

A popular understanding of social media can be found in the roles we are when we use media. This is not just the nouns we are, but also the verbs we do. If I go to the shop to buy a product I will be a customer, and in a larger scheme I will probably also be categorized as a consumer, and consummation is often perceived to be passive. If I was taking the opposite role (note the binary pairs) and make something, no matter if it was tangible or not I would have been producing. This schema can be superimposed on many other contrasts. Work and home, labor and leisure, (men and women in families of the 50s?), and important in communication: sender and receiver. The information model is more complicated than just sender and receiver, and in various versions there is also a feedback channel, but what is important here is that if you speak into the TV or Radio it would be in vain, it has no capabilities to send back, and is used for broadcasts. Sure, amateur communication existed, but most of the channels which were built for two way traffic was not built for many users. This was also true for the computer and the Internet in the early years.

During the first years of the mass Internet not many had web-pages. The HTTP and HTML standard made it easy to mark up and publish content, but few did. Some did, but many of these can be summarised with a common link title in the 90s “click here to see my dog”. The early web was not built for harnessing the power of the people. Yes, you could send e-mails, you had mailing-lists and news group, even dynamical solution for create-content-on-request, but trough several steps technologies, modification and new use changed the paradigm. Perhaps Stoltenberg and Harald’s speeches marked – at least for me – the tipping point. The net is not just about what technologies things are built on, and posibilities, but also about it users and usage. With dynamic technologies easier publishing emerged and the aggregation of content grew as well did the number of users.

The five last year has brought about an increasingly attention to social media. Facebook has now over 500 million users, and its story is turned into books and a movie. Facebook and Twitter is cited on a daily basis in news media, and have even been ascribed as a reason for the revolutions in North-Africa. Bloggers are having real-life meet-ups, competition, and tax numbers, and an increasing number of people write or publish other content online. The exponential development we have seen recent year was almost unimaginable when my friends and I was sending small messengers to each other through ICQ – The flower IM -, and later through HamarUngdom, a surprisingly early local social network for the Hamar region north of Oslo, or other early solutions.

Today, social media has developed into even more. It is no longer what users of the web explicitly do, say or write (if it at some point just was this). Sites where users upload pictures and videos also plays a big part, not just in the value of the artifices, or the abundance, but perhaps more important is the combination, tagging, and application of intelligent code on all this data. Important is also the mass-amateurisation, the DIY culture, and changes in licensing that has been introduced. Whether this phenomenon will develop to be of any significant value in years to come will only the future show. The seed is planted and it grows rhizomatic. It will become what people make of it. The fun has just begun.



This video has been seen by 14 Million viewers on YouTube. It does not deal exclusively with digital media, Internet, or globalization, but the Internet has brought with it a cultural disruption and been a game changer in many structures (structures can be deducted to information?). This shows some interesting figures, numbers and facts. This is one of many videos online which leaves a feeling of *wow*. For a less intense, but equally saturated view on the changes we are experiencing as we are realizing the world is getting smaller please look at this interesting talk by New York Times collumnist, and best selling author, Thomas Friedman from MIT World: The World is Flat 3.0



The article picture is licensed under a Creative Common licence by the Opte Project. Please refer to their webpage for more info. The picture is a visualisation of the Internet with nodes and connections between them. Pictures from the project can be found online, but also at Boston Museum of Science and The Museum of Modern Art.

Grown up digital

Grown up digital is the second latest book signed the Canadian author Don Tapscott. Published in 2008 it was released twelve years after one of his earlier books Growing up digital. The book is a generational study of the Net Generation, and throughout the book Tapscott presents traits associated with NetGeners, and how these affect different institutions. The institutions which the computer-savvy generation is affecting includes the educational and the commercial sector, the work place, the family and the political system in both state and volunteer form.

The Net Generation is made up of the cohort born between 1977 and 1997, following the Baby Boom Generation (1946-1964) and the Generation X (1965-1976). They differ from their parental generation in various ways, and their exposure to digital media plays an important part in their life. The experience of one-way communication, strong hierarchies, slow procedures is something the Net geners do not like since they have grown up with a technology enabling immediate response, constant communication with their peers and constant access to information. The Net geners are not just being subject to the digital technology, they are also changing it, and since this is an important aspect of the knowledge economy this may be a reason to the flatten hierarchy of the family, of the work place and in their education. The Net generation has been involved in a bigger part of family life taking part in the decision making process in their home, they are expecting to be a part of executive decisions at the work place, and to have influence over arenas where they participate. The book does also imply a paradigmatic shift from the workplace, the politics and the education of the industrial age, which now have to be replaced with a more egalitarian, faster, flexible and entertaining system to fit with the norms of the Net Geners.

Tapscott lists eight Net Generation norms: freedom, customize, scrutinize, integrity and openness, entertainment and play, collaboration and relationship, speed, and innovation (34-36). These norms are important throughout the book and make up a framework for how the new generation can be understood. Freedom is important in, for example, how the Net Geners want to work. Instead of face time at work, they want to have the opportunity to work from home, work flexible hours, to combine work with family life and to try out new jobs (161). The broadcasting model is obsolete; with two-way communication enabled through the Internet two way content is also expected, this changes how things are done. Regarding politics Tapscott mentions the presidential campaign of Barak Obama as a new way of doing political campaigns. The leader of his online presence Chris Huges made a people-powered campaign to win the election. Through the influence of friends on social networking sites, through authentic encouragements from famous people on YouTube, through a web page filled with content and do-it-yourself instructions and a financing model based on many small contributions rather than few large sponsors played an important role in Obama winning the nomination and the election. It is also a moral side to this, since the Net Generation is used to navigating through the Internet where content can be published by everyone, and where companies, peers as well as more negative aspects such as bullies and other threats are lurking around the generation has developed a higher criticism to information. This combined with the powerful search and storage functions of the cloud politicians, companies both as producers and as potential employers and other are subject to scrutiny. Videos on YouTube are juxtaposing video clips of politicians presenting inconsistent opinions to different groups, or videos of speeches years earlier purporting different opinions from what they are presenting today. Youth in developing countries are writing about corporate behaviour in the south, and this is influencing consumer behaviour in the north, and user reviews with elaborated technological specifications makes the active consumers choose between the products which are best fulfilling their needs. All information needed is online, and if not the Net Geners are able to publish what is missing.

The book begins and ends with negative claims about the Net Generation written in books such as The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future by Mark Bauerlein, Crazy Busy by Edward Hallowell or the Spoiled Rotten: Today’s Children and How to Change Them seminars held by Fred Gosman. I perceive Tapscotts book as an answer to these claims about the generation growing up with digital communication technology. The book consists of many examples used to falsify the claims of the Net Generation being lazy, stealing, unengaged in society and other vices. The book is a good introduction to understand the Net Generation and how they are affecting the society, it sees the generation from a positive perspective and includes many interviews, examples as well as statistics to reinforce this view.

Reference: Tapscott, Dan (2008). Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world. London: Mc Graw Hill

*I have deliberately referred to the net generation as second person plural to keep a distance while reviewing the book.

Valg i USA

I kveld er det igjen duket for amerikansk valgkamp, denne gangen mellom demokratenes Barack Obama og republikanerenes John McCain. Her i Stuttgart kan valget følges på det tyskamerikanske handelskammeret i byen, om jeg kommer til å være der i kveld vet jeg ennå ikke. At det er amerikansk valg igjen minner meg på at tiden går fort, jeg kan huske forrige valg mellom Bush og Kerry, jeg kan også huske valget mellom Gore og Bush for 8 år siden.

Det var på ungdomsskolen, og vi hadde en debatt i samfunnsfagtimen, det var om valget i USA. For oss dreide dette valget seg mer om de moralske aspektene rundt dødsstraff. Som seg hør og bør var det en høylydt debatt. Jeg kan huske at jeg ikke hadde noe særlig til overs for George Walker Bush, men jeg kan ikke huske helt hvorfor. Valget ble avgjort ved en opptelling i Florida og det var mye ståhei om feil i tellingen -jaja, gjort er gjort og spist er spist.

Fire år senere var det en mulighet til å bli kvitt Bush. Mange europere hadde tro på at problemer i Irak og Afganistan skulle få velgerene til å kaste texas-Bush og velge den høye ketschupbaronen fra Massachussets, John Kerry. Slik gikk det ikke og Bush fortsatte ved roret.

I dag skal det velges ny president og det virker som at mediene og de fleste her i Europa – inklusiv meg – krysser fingrene for Barack Obama. Blir han valgt vil han også bli den første ikke-hvite presidenten som pakker ut sine esker i det hvite hus. Dessverre tror jeg at mange amerikanere stemmer mer konsevativt enn det våre medier gir utrykk for. Jeg tror John McCain kommer til å gjøre det bra. Det eneste jeg kan gjøre er å håpe på et parti-bytte i det hvite hus. -Vote for change-