A Universe of Social Media


OK, here goes the first in (I hope) a long series of educational posts on Social Media. Each will be composed by a short video and some explanatory notes. Your feedback is truly welcome – I know my audience is very limited, but for once, please take the split second needed to post your thoughts about whether this is of any usefulness at all.

Oh, and before the grammar nazis bash me – I tried to decide whether the correct spelling was “An Universe” or “A Universe”. Mark (but he’s canadian, what does HE know?) says the grammar-wise it should be “An”, but nobody would use it, as it’s weird, so I have “An” in the movie and “A” in the title. Ecumenical.

A Universe of Social Media

I usually start my seminars on Social Media by taking stock of what the expression “Social Media” truly means. Everybody is talking nowadays about blogs, but back in 2000 when Matthew came to Milano from Atlanta and started lecturing us about what they had done at Nike Interactive, blogs were a true novelty that few had heard about, and yet they had been working with forums and newsgroups for quite some time already.

AdverGirl has a blog post in her Social Manifesto series where she proposes that only three basic types of activities exist on Social Media, and every activity there can be explained by mixing these three varieties of “pixie dusts”.

We have some differences in what is where, but I think this is an elegant approach worth subscribing to, and which is confirmed by our own experiences with client projects so far, so here goes my own explanation of the pixie dusts.


These are the people who write stuff – like this blog post, or pic uploaded to Flickr, or a Tweet. Whatever. The act of creation is hardly social, however. True, people create knowing that someone, sometimes might eventually come across the product of their creativity, but the act of is largely self-referential. I create for myself, primarily, and the value of what I create is in re ipsa.


This is where the added value comes from the social interaction among users: from the very simple stuff like organizing the evening out with a group of friends (did you know that this was the original need that led Craig Newmark to the creation of Craigslist ?) to planning one’s career, the typical places where this happens are Social Networks. Value here is generated by people being positionally “close” to each others, forming clusters, sharing interests.


The Long Tail theory says that no matter how obscure or remote a post may be, the system works in a way that someone will find it and alerto somebody else, who will alert somebody else. Here the value lies in the millions of readers who read and classify (as professor Michael Wesch says in his famous video), teaching the Machine.


Finally, there are the activities that are really a mix of all three flavors, and these we group in the User Generated Content center: discussion forums, newsgroups, wikis, YouTube-like platforms where the value lies in what you create, but also in how other people add to it, modify, enrich and evaluate. These are the most complete activities and perhaps is not surprise that in many cases they are also the oldest (relatively speaking).


Obviously the domain of possible social activities is not as clear cut as we are trying to portray it: the connection between one sub-domain to the other is one of the things that allows Social Media to perform so well: no content could be re-used without RSS (or, better, XML), stuff could not be found without an ubiquitous and reliable search function which, in turn, means our content cannot be found if our twin connectors of Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing are not up to snuff.

5 thoughts on “A Universe of Social Media

  1. I did not mean for this to be such a clear conclusion so early in the conversation, but if your value proposition is online (and there’s many situations where this is NOT the case) then yes, no Social Media project can truly come to fruition without SEO/SEM.
    Also – and perhaps more relevantly at this stage – there is more to the phenomenon than the damn blogs.

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