- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that social media has taken over the web. Facebook now has some 500 million users (almost twice the population of the US), and it has recently surpassed Google for the #1 spot in terms of time spent online. My question: is the social web leading us to a new era, or is history repeating itself? I think that likely the answer is, well, both.
Taking from the history of the web, it seems that the best way to predict the future is to look to the past. From my own experience since creating my first AOL screen name 10 years ago, it seems the web is constantly reshaping and reshifting, taking the best elements from each of the past phases to create the next one. See what I mean below.
Web 1.0: The First Social Age
The web is inherently social, and the idea of "social media" is nothing new. My first experiences with the internet in the early to mid 90s were not web pages or Google searches, but rather the suite of social tools which comprised America Online. My online time was spent communicating with others via email, instant messaging, chatrooms and personal profiles; only a small fraction of my internet usage actually involved AOL’s web browser. I imagine the same went for a large percentage of Americans. In fact, it was AOL’s leverage of social tools which brought the internet into the hands of so many common consumers for the first time and hence allowed the internet to finally permeate massive audiences.
Web 2.0: The Information Super Highway
In the new millennium, broadband internet and the emergence of new technologies allowed for the massive proliferation of individual websites, and hence, the information revolution, or at least the online portion of it. Google was the face of this effort, offering to bring you the information you yearned for with just a few quick clicks. But as information centralized at Google, the social web decentralized as communications tools spread across various clients, from Hotmail and Yahoo! to AIM and message boards. This was the first major shift in the internet that I experienced, so to me, the Google age was the real web 2.0.
Web 3.0: The Rebirth of Social Media (a.k.a. the Present Day)
The revolution in social media, what many call web 2.0 (I would argue it’s actually web 3.0) has a striking resemblance to the social web of the 90s, but on steroids. With Facebook, people again have a centralized platform for profiles, messages, chatting and more; they again have a home for their online identities and networks. But before we start getting nostalgic about the rebirth of relationships, we must remember one key difference, that modern social media was born during the online information age, and it’s very easy to recognize.
How many tweets contain short links to news articles or blog posts? How many Google search results lead to a Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin page? While social media does encourage a déjà vu of the era of human relationships and communications which defined the 90s, and while social media is still predominantly peer-to-peer sharing, the modern social web is becoming more and more predicated on the sharing of information, which is leading to another major shift in the way we use the web (or in some senses, the way the web uses us).
Web 4.0: The Era of Social Information (a.k.a. the Future)
It seems to me that the fourth phase of the internet will actually be a hybrid of the last two phases, though we are not quite there yet. While Facebook is now #1, Google is still #2, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. The social market is not replacing the information market; they are simply joining forces instead.
All of the internet giants are making moves to be the first to straddle the boundaries between relationships and information. Twitter has evolved into a leading source for news and information, and Microsoft (Bing) and Facebook have struck a groundbreaking deal, combining their best resources to make search more social; not to mention how Facebook Connect is offering social information to businesses everywhere. And of course we certainly can’t discount Google’s multiple attempts to break into the social media market [infographic], in a quest to optimize their services to their users’ social preferences.
Once these organizations can successfully arrange the perfect marriage of social media and information access, I believe the transition to the fourth phase of the internet will be complete. In my next post I will attempt demystify what these changes mean for nonprofit organizations and general web behavior, but in the meantime, let me know what you think.
How is the battle between Facebook and Google (and Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, etc.) reshaping our lives, and how is this going to change in the future? How might the battlefield change with the rise of the mobile internet? I’d love your input before I start crackin’, so drop your thoughts in the comments section below.