Whenever anything new enters our lives we sooner or later explore it. Some people do this instinctively and others ignore it until it becomes clear that the new “thing” will not go away. The more familiar we become with this new object/tool/set of ideas, the better we think we understand it. Other people share their understanding with us and together we begin to build a picture of what it does, how it works and eventually what it “is”.
Society at large is still going this process with social networks and social media platforms. Whether it’s an online network of people or of digital media we’re still not 100% sure how it’s all working for the user. What are people using these sites for vs what do these sites offer? How reliable and consistent is their behaviour? And then the big question: how can we make money from this?
It’s easy to forget that a little over 5 years ago most of us had never been on Facebook. I was vaguely aware of what a blog was, I’d used forums and even watched YouTube, but for the world at large this whole category of “thing” barely existed. As the networks have grown we’ve become better acquainted with them, so much so that they’ve been given their own category (“social media”). Even if we don’t know exactly who’s using them or how they’re connecting to everything else, it’s a pretty good starting point.
Here comes the fun part: we have no option but wing it. Even now these sites are evolving, both to cater for our roaming tendencies (mobile phones), and to give us new ways to connect to others. And they’re nowhere near reaching any kind of end point, so there’s simply not the time to study them in a rigorous academic way.
It’s easier than ever before to refine these tools and people will keep at it. We will never reach a point where the dust can settle, we can look out on across the digital landscape we’ve built and admire the completeness of it all. For me that’s where the fascination lies. Nothing is static, and what we thought was true now isn’t.
New relationships will be forming all the time. Take the emerging battle between Facebook and Twitter. Clearly these are the two most popular (as in well know) networks and they’re covered in the media pretty much every day. In 2007 Facebook changed its “status” function to make it more flexible, which was the same period in which Twitter began to gain traction. Essentially this meant that Facebook could offer the same live update function as Twitter, as well as photos, groups, events etc. enabling it to compete directly. As these two vie for supremacy, there will probably be increasing numbers of acquisitions by these two and others.
Everything is in beta. We’d better become used to this state of flux because it’ll be around for a long time to come. Say, forever?
(The title was Bowie btw.)