Web 2.0 and social media – what’s the difference?

Dave Briggs posted some thoughts over the weekend trying to explain what the terms web 2.0 and social media actually mean, and how they complement each other. He also published a neat little diagram supporting his ideas:

Dave Brigg's brilliant social media / web2.0 diagram

I must confess I’ve been using that diagram for quite a few months, and without attribution because I forgot where I’d picked it up from. Meeting up with Dave last week I quickly realised my mistake! In the meantime I’ve found it really useful giving presentations and in conversation as it rather neatly delineates the technology developments driving changes online, and the user-generated content that together drive ‘social media’.

My take is that social media, web 2.0 and related labels are just well devised media inventions created to generate momentum for an industry that was reeling from the dot com meltdown of the early millennium. The underlying programming languages and technology, functionality, aspirations etc haven’t really changed.

Sure, they’ve matured and developed, but that would be expected in any industry – especially a tech industry. What the the basket of things that come under the umbrella of ‘social media’ do do though is bring us closer to the original vision of the web as described by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 90’s – a ‘read-write’ web where it is as easy for users to contribute and participate as it was to consume.

Its becoming progressively easier for users to create, publish and or share content. That is one of the two key defining characteristics and in Dave’s diagram that is the social media bit.

So creating and sharing content are crucial – that’s the essence of social media. But something equally important is the methods that allow that content to be published, shared, and consumed. These are the enablers that Dave describes as web 2.0.

These definitions are really for me what it is about – the development of technologies that allow people to share and be active online, allowing them to be creators and collaborators as well as consumers.

But there are some developments in the market that have hastened the adoption of social media. Here are the four that spring to mind:

  1. The technology in our homes, on our desktops, on our laps and now in our hands has improved dramatically. This makes it much easier for users to crop photos, edit video, mix music etc.
  2. Improved speed of connection – we’ve gone from slow dial-up, through ISDN and early fixed broadband, to the point where wifi is so ubiquitous that not only is it installed in many homes but increasingly in a large number of towns and cities(sometimes at a cost, sometimes free). Free municipal public wifi is probably not that far ahead.
  3. The scale of connectivity in the home and the workplace – many businesses and public spaces like libraries have broadband connectivity. In the UK, latest figures show almost 15 million households in the country had a home internet connection – that’s 61% of households. Of those 84% have a broadband connection. Although overall home connections are slowing, the percentage that are broadband is increasing fast.
  4. Generational change – the rise of the so-called digital native. These people have grown up around the internet, its for them they are growing up and will have expectations about interacting with business and the public sector based on their experience.

So, to recap, I don’t think the underlying technologies of the internet have really changed, merely matured. What is different is the ease in which users can participate and collaborate, as well as the developments in creation and delivery technology.

And why are these distinctions important? In my day to day dealings with people, there is still a mystique about all this ‘social media’ stuff. Dave’s diagram brings some clarity to explaining how technology + users (content creators) = community and collaboration.

  1. I think I’d go further. I think the thing missing from Dave’s diagram is the cultural shift that is happening. There is the technology which is doing stuff. There is the new open source media forms that are providing the content (sic… I mean stories) but there is also the cultural/language shift that is giving people permission to be human, to talk with a real Voice and to stake their claim. This is the irreverance and wikified feeling of power that is driving and enabling people to use technologies to do web 2.0. The reason that this is important is that it is at that level of cultural practice and discourse that we have to engage with the society we want to reach or talk to. We all agree we shouldn’t get hung up on tech, but we need to make sure we don’t get equally dazzzled but ugc or ‘social networking’ rather than the culture that is driving them.

  2. Generational change is a factor. However I find that older baby boomers are active in the new e-democracy arena. It is certainly true in Australia, particularly with political blogs.

    • futurewww
    • February 24th, 2008

    I think the world you describe, though, is rather exclusive. There are millions of people who would not recognise what you are talking about. They may be using elements, but it will be part of their mix of communications. To them, they are just making use of ‘what is out there’. The basic, underlying approach is the same as it ever was. I remember using pirate radio in the 8o’s in a similar way to my kids now use FB, MS, etc, ie the pirates broadcasted for short periods, but read out tel. messages from your group / community of school friends. Everyone (who was anyone) listened and it was the talk of the school the next day. Today, the ease with which this is done, the speed and the volume are different, but does that mean the underlying motive is any different? I suspect I could’ve drawn a very similar diagram to this one in each of the last 20 years, substituting more traditional communication methods.

  3. Exclusive in what way? I get asked all the time by colleagues to explain what this all means, anything that helps to set it in context is a good thing. You are right though, these are just elements in a communications mix. But then communications mixes get explained away in multitudes of models. Probably not of interest to the many, but powerful tools for the few. I’m not sure if I can draw the same conclusions about pirate radio though, how does the two-way immediacy of communication work in that analogy?

    • futurewww
    • February 25th, 2008

    There was a sense of 2-way communication, but it was more ‘1 to many’. Key to this was the experience; it was ‘must d0’ activity each night, much as myspace is now. You could send in stuff, phone in, and have things read out. They broadcast only in very small geographical areas, so there was a real cluster effect. It doesn’t compare to the volume and reach of web now; but is that significant? In behavioural terms, it is humans using whatever is at hand, to communicate. In 20 years, it will be something different. The focus on web misses the point – it is people, how they interact and what their needs are, this is what needs attention from this community. For egov people, this is crucial – how will we use these communications tools (that happen to be around today but will be replaced by something else tomorrow) to benefit citizens? They won’t replace traditonal, off line channels, but they can complement them.

  4. @futurewww: Funny, I was thinking back to my youth after your first post and thinking about the parallels with CB radio, which was much more important amongst my friends than pirate radio.
    You’re right that technology moves on and it is the people and their behavioural patterns that are paramount. But I do think that scale is crucial. You only have to look at the numbers of people participating online to see that its not just a pastime for a niche group.

    • futurewww
    • February 26th, 2008

    that dates, you, 10-100!

  5. I asked for that 😦

    • Birgit Hapfelmeier
    • September 28th, 2009

    The blog post is now more than one year old but still valid. I am a Master student of QUT in Australia and I am currently studying a unit called Enterprise 2.0. We discovered many web 2.0 tools and definitions but until today I did not realize the difference between web 2.0 and Social Media.
    Thank you for the great diagram, it really helps to understand the difference.

  6. @Birgit Gosh thanks for that validation. I can’t take credit for the diagram, that’s all Dave Briggs’ work.

  1. February 20th, 2008
  2. December 11th, 2009

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