At the end of July I published the first part of my column about Internet, Social Media and Volunteering. On one hand it is part of my preparations for the ‘master class’ session at 19th Volonteurope Conference in Athens this year. On the other hand it is also an approach to raise the interactivity even before the start of the conference.

In my last blogpost I tried to describe the history of the Internet since the first really usable computers in 1957. I ended with the web interface “World Wide Web” as the Internet we know today. In this current post, which affiliates to the first one, I’ll try to explain (1st) what happened in the later 1990th until the early 21th century, (2nd) the rise of the so called “Web 2.0” and the term “Social Media” and (3rd) some basic standards in the field of Social Media.

(1st) Web 1.0 and its big crash:

At the end of my last post I pointed out that the World Wide Web was seen as the next big market place. Especially the technical development of graphical interfaces, that allows more than a cryptic flow of information as we know from films like The Matrix, lays down the barriers for ‘normal’ users. With the very popular web browsers MOSAIC (1993) and NETSCAPE (1995) the Internet became more and more a mainstream medium. Users could get informed via the Internet easily and the idea of something like a virtual shopping mall without any barriers of time and space stimulates this so called New Economy.

Everyone would take part in this development — everyone would get a piece of the pie: On one side there where many tradesmen who set up (once in a while crazy) business models, on the other side there where many private investors who wanted to earn money with the stocks of this businesses. Because of the scorching development and the very high stock quotas tradesmen could find venture capital investors for business models like selling e-mail ads to consumers — businesses that never sell anything. All in one the New Economy wasn’t a consumer based market. It was a phenomenon of the financial economy that got inflated like a soap bubble and even burst like it. The graph below shows the development of the NASDAQ, the biggest American stock exchange for those electronic businesses.

After the dotcom-bubble burst in 2000 many businesses disappear until 2001. Only a few start-ups from the New Economy survive. Start-ups like Google (founded in 1998) and Amazon (founded in 1994) that really offer a value to their users. But what was the value these services offer to their users? Why did they survive the big crash of the New Economy?

For Google we find the answer in the nearly exponential rising of the WWW (remember the graph at the end of my last post). If it was possible that users could get informed while surfing through the early WWW and clicking from one site to another now they have to search for information they’re interested in. With the PageRank Google offers the first search engine that afforded really usable search findings. (The Pulizer Prize winner David A. Vise wrote down the whole amazing story of Google.Inc in 2005) But what’s about Amazon? In contrast to Googles PageRank a bookshop was really not a new invention. Actually Amazon seems to be the result of the New Economy and it’s thinking of the Internet as something like a virtual shopping mall.

Sure: primarily Amazon is a bookshop. The major difference is the great variety of books Amazon offers, and the way it sells them. First of all: Amazon uses their advantage that they don’t really have to store all the stuff they sell. In contrast to the bookshop around the corner online bookshops like Amazon are able sell special books and niche products they could order if someone ask for them. Because Amazon is the biggest player in that market they earn money with an effect named “Long Tail”. The embedded video shows a lecture by Chris Anderson about the Long Tail from 2006.
[youtube=] The other value that Amazon offers, are the ratings, descriptions and comments from their users. On one hand user references are more reliable than ordinary ads sended by the companies that earn the money. On the other hand the advertisement for the niche products they sell is simply not lucrative.

Taking Amazon as an example I think we can point out, that only those services survived that offer real values to their consumers and users. Amazon used the advantages of the web strategically and created values that are only imaginable with web technologies. Even if we won’t earn money with our web services in the way Amazon do it, we have to keep that in mind. In view of the still rising number of web services, private homepages, blogs and social networks we shouldn’t step into this field without a strategy that present unique values to the users.

(2nd) Web 2.0 and Social Media

But what exactly means “Web 2.0”? At the end of my first blogpost I wrote about the ‘social part of the Internet’ that exists next to all the others like e-mailing or shopping and information sites. The Web 2.0 is not about a further development of the Internet as a technology. Protocols like the TCP/IP and decentralised data are still the core of the Internet — and equally the core of the Web 2.0. Actually the term Web 2.0 is nothing more than an advertising phrase that means a new way to use and develop the existing Internet technologies.

Tim O’Reilly — whom ascribed the invention of this term — published a very popular article about “What is Web 2.0” in 2005 (it also got translated in several languages). In his article he pointed out several transformations from the Web 1.0 to the Web 2.0. For example, the transformation from the information cannel Internet to the Web 2.0 as a daily (working) platform, the transformation from expert knowledge to crowd intelligence and the transformation of the relation between technology and processed data.

Tim O’Reilly shows in his article that the usage of the Internet has changed after the burst of the dotcom bubble. (I described above.) Unfortunately there is not really more inside this article — especially because the differences between the Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 don’t get really clear. Private homepages e.g. where used as diaries even before the term “weblog” came up and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s WorldWideWeb-Broser (the first browser developed by the father of the Internet himself) allows its users to edit the web even before the term “produser” was invented.

What after all really makes a difference between the Internet before and the Internet after the millennium is the range of Social Media that increase every year. If an editor of the early WWW needed a lot of knowledge about HTML an editor of the Wikipedia or even a blogger like me don’t need to know about <table>, <border>, <head> or <body>. The usability of web services like the Wikipedia and blog software like WordPress got much easier in bygone years. Everyone can use social software easily. Everyone can set up a weblog and start using Twitter or Facebook within 10 minutes. Everyone can use social software and take part in Social Media.

Social Media after all allows us to take part and face its development not only as users but also as producers (“produser”). But since I asked above, what “Web2.0” exactly means, I also have to ask what the exact meaning of “Social Media” would be. If we’re stickler for the term Social Media it seems to be a tautology. Because every social act is about communication every media we use to communicate have to be social. According to Social Media there’re two reasons to use the term anyhow (following Stefan Münker 2009):

  • First (the less good reason): “Social Media” is a proper name for a kind of media that allows us to socialize via the Internet. It’s even pointless to criticise the sense of proper names. I could just as well ask what my parents goal was, when they named me Hannes.
  • And second (that’s the better reason): There is really a difference between “old” media and Social Media. Even if nobody read a book (as an example for an old medium) the book is a medium that allows a social process (reading, learning or whatever). If nobody uses, reads or writes in Facebook, Twitter or other Social Media services they don’t allow any social process — they’re simple inexistent. Social Media, we can say, are the result of its use.

(3rd) Using Social Media

But what means using Social Media? At first please have a look to another commoncraft video, a town named Scoopville and some delicate sorts of ice cream 🙂
[youtube=] The inhabitants of Scoopville use Social Media at first to inform about and advertise for their ice cream. Secondly they’re using the house boards to develop their products while asking for feedback. Using Social Media makes getting feedback pretty easy. But that’s not all. The creation of new sorts of ice cream became possible because they got a new technology with which they could match flavours they know with the regular ice cream.

As I pointed out above, this technology is not about a new protocol, a new release of the Internet or less than ever any kind of a machine. It is a metaphor for the development of the Internet itself. We saw that the Internet’s core is decentralised data and it’s automated put together via web browsers (remeber the second video in my last blogpost). Exactly this remains even if the development goes on. Decentralised data no longer means only that the websites are saved at servers from which they are made available. It also means that the content (the images, the videos, the animations and the textes) cames from many different servers. At the website this content only gets matched (or better: mashed) by the carrier of the web service.

To summarize this post I think we can point out once again that the only thing that changed in the last decade is that nowaday ‘normal’ users are able to match the content — not only paid experts. This mashing up existing content to new products at the own website, the possibility of giving and getting feedback, the information about what is going on and the advertisement for created products are some of the basic standards in the world of Social Media. If you have a closer look to this website (my blog) you’ll find all of it.