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"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me."
- Thomas Jefferson, via Mike Masnick

Sep 24
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The Biggest Irony on the Internet

I find it absolutely hilarious that the talk page on the Wikipedia social media article is relatively dormant (and that the article itself is completely inadequate).  With all the social media geeks running around Twittering and blogging their faces off, you’d think that the article would be more active than those of the two presidential candidates.

(Maybe it’s just that there’s little overlap among Wikipedia editors and social media geeks, but that’s another discussion)

At any rate, I’ve been baking a social media definition for a few months now and, at the behest of some of the people I’ve been sharing it with, it looks like it’s time to widen the discussion a bit more.

At the core, my contention is that if we’re going to call some media “social”, there has to be some apropos name for “non-social” media.  A lot of people go on and on about “traditional” or “broadcast” or “mass” media but that’s more wishy-washiness as far as I’m concerned.  I’m looking for something much more clinical.

I always look to a higher power when parsing issues like this, and so I’ll cut myself off and pass the torch to a genius work from someone who figured this all out years ago: the introduction of Yochai Benkler’s seminal book on network-based communications technologies, The Wealth of Networks.

As far as I’m concerned, Benkler defined social media in that book, except he speaks in terms of “the network information economy” and “the industrial information economy”.

In the network information economy, it’s cheap to communicate; ownership of the tools to communicate are broadly distributed in the population at large.  The vast majority of the population has the capacity to communicate to large audiences (e.g. they own a computer connected to the Net and can make a blog on Wordpress, which has the capacity to be read by billions of people).

Social media = “network information economy”

In the industrial information economy, communication is expensive; ownership of the tools is concentrated among a few commercial entities that can put the capital together necessary to purchase printing presses, television cameras, FCC-licensed spectrum, etc.

Both of these economies can co-exist at the same time.  But their economics are very different, and that calls for different business designs for the firms that play in them.

Ladies and gents, I give you: “social media” vs. “industrial media”.

I’ll get more into examples shortly.  Here’s some food for thought:

Which of the following are uses of a social medium?

- Direct message on Twitter

- Public access television

- BBS’s circa 1994

- A conference call where some people are using traditional landlines and some are on VOIP and some are on Skype and some are on cell phones.

- Dog pee on a fire hydrant

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