The Social Media Paradigm

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.

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