There was a time not that long ago when the World Wide Web was little more than a fancy online magazine stand full of static web pages — things like company profiles, personal home pages, and traditional media sites. Users went there for information that had been published by others. They read it and left. When those users began adding their own content to the web through a type of personal online journal called a “web log,” the change was noted, but not widely appreciated, at least initially. When social networks first appeared, they were largely viewed as a teenage craze, not evidence of a changing web. And the first few wikis just looked like nutty experiments, nothing that would ever become a serious business tool.
How times change. You don't often hear the word “fad” these days when the discussion turns to blogs, social networks, and wikis, three types of the user-generated web content that we have come to call social media. You're much more likely to hear phrases like “paradigm shift” and “social media onslaught.”
And an onslaught it is. You can barely pick up a newspaper or magazine, flip to a television show, or tune in to a radio station without bumping into a reference to Facebook, Twitter, or Wikipedia. Every other episode of Law & Order (pick your flavor) seems to include the discovery of a clue on the victim's “MyFace” page. Most national and local TV news programs now end with some version of, “And don't forget to follow us on Twitter.” And there are so many bloggers out there that even traditional media types keep a watchful eye on the blogosphere.
Yet it's easy to sympathize with the doubters and the reluctant adopters who look at all this blogging and tweeting and “friending” with skepticism. “Facebook Shmacebook,” they say, “I have real friends.” Or “Step outside; the graphics are great.” Snarky maybe, but understandable. There's almost a cultish quality to the social media hype, and enthusiasts can seem like true believers who chugged the Kool Aid.
What gets lost in the hype is the organic quality of the social media phenomenon. This isn't a techie trend driven by coders and gadget geeks, though they created the basic platforms and are now cranking out software to support and exploit it. And it's not a pseudo trend concocted by corporations to make money, though plenty of companies are now jumping on the social media bandwagon for that very purpose. Instead, social media grew and spread mostly unplanned in the hands of the end users.
Those end users have changed the web, dramatically and irrevocably. What was once primarily a publication platform is now a highly interactive environment full of user-generated content that trend watchers have dubbed “Web 2.0.” And the end users are filling up this second generation of the web with their own ideas, reflections, and recommendations.
The result is exciting and compelling — and as confusing as a season of Lost. Seriously! Even the mainstream reporters who cover this stuff get it wrong all the time. What you have in your hands is my attempt to sort it all out and to get the Big Social Media Picture into focus.
The Everything® Guide to Social Media is a hybrid, a combination overview and how-to, covering just about everything in the social media space, from blogs to social networks, photo-swapping to wikis, review-and-opinion sharing to virtual worlds — and even the recent entries into the “location” category and emerging trends in social media marketing. You'll find some history, some current events, and some nuts and bolts.
This book gives readers a 50,000-foot view of social media, examining the origins of the phenomenon, and explaining the concept as it's understood today. It also provides examples of the types of social media services you'll find on the web, and describes in broad terms how they work.
Among the social media explored in this book are: blogs, including micro-blogging services such as Twitter; social networking services, such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn; photo-sharing services, such as Flickr, Webshots, and Photobucket; video sharing, including a close look at the YouTube phenomenon; social bookmarking, an increasingly popular social media niche; social news, a sub-category of social bookmarking that is also becoming popular; the opinion-sharing phenomenon, exemplified by services such as Yelp and Epinions; wikis, the collaborative websites that allow just about anyone to add content; location sharing, a hot new application of social media; and virtual worlds, which generate a unique type of social media in which “avatars” interact with each other in fully realized virtual environments.
This book also looks at the white-hot social media marketing phenomenon, and the ways in which companies and individuals are using social media to promote their products and services. And it offers a peek at what might be next in the evolution of the social media phenomenon.
The truth is, the topic of every chapter in this guide is worth its own book. But The Everything® Guide to Social Media pulls them all together. It gives Web 2.0 newbies a place to start, and it gives the social media savvy a broader navigation tool than they'll find anywhere else.
If you're new to social media, keep this in mind: This stuff isn't just for techies or sophisticated computer users or the tech-savvy digital natives for whom texting is as natural as breathing. If you've ever surfed the web, you've got just about all the basic skills you'll need to participate.
And keep this in mind, too: The social media phenomenon isn't a fad. Hundreds of millions of people now belong to social networks and log on every day. Tweets are flying around at the rate of about 600 per second. And blogging has become a real profession. It's clear that social media are here to stay, and they're affecting our lives in ways we're only just beginning to understand. The good news: they're accessible, interesting, useful, and fun.
Note: The dynamic nature of social media presented a few challenges during the writing of this book. The layouts of the social media websites in particular proved to be lively targets. Many made both big and small changes as this book was coming together. A few new features cropped up, as did rumors of changes yet to come. Most of those changes were incorporated into this book, but some were still underway at press time. Consequently, it made sense to avoid screenshots that might soon be inaccurate, even in the how-to chapters, and to provide generally applicable explanations that wouldn't be affected much by the changes.