Looking backward at social media

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I was on IM with my colleague Melvin the other day and described my use of Twitter as like a BBS (bulletin board system). It was a throw-away comment at the time, but like a grain of sand in my shoe it irritated my thought process and writing this post is me tipping the shoe up and shaking the unwelcome sand out.

My online discussion with Stephen resulted him describing it as a ‘simplistic version of the BBS‘. I think that this simplistic approach is one of Twitter’s strengths in its user engagement and community management.

The limitation of 140 characters gives participants enough room to write a quick status note, or a commentary and a shortened URL (via a service like TinyURL) to content offsite. It prevents the communities on Twitter from being clogged with overly verbose posts and abusive flame wars.

So whilst Twitter has a limited utility to the trial user, once you have a community on there (like my community of marketing, social media and pseudo geeks) you can share joys, tragedies, ideas and recommendations.

The idea of a basic technology being the ‘mother of community‘ is not a new one. Clay Shirky in is presentations to market his latest book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations highlights The Bronze Beta which is a community of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans. The site was originally supported by WB network as The Bronze as part of its marketing efforts for the television series. Corporate politics got in the way and rather than have their community fragment by demise of their online destination the community chipped in to pay for The Bronze Beta (think of beta as Mark II, in this sense rather than the web 2.0 sense of consumer as guinea pig).

Part of the reason why web 2.0 applications took off was because of their simplicity and simple-mindedness in their form and function. 37 Signals’ Getting Real writings encapsulate this philosophy really well.

Looking back at social media gives me an increased sense of unease about the increasing layers of complexity that confronts many social media users from games and the ambigious views in Facebook to privacy control panels reminds me a bit about why I gave up scuba diving. I used to spend so much time on the technical aspects of diving in terms of the pre-and-post dive mathematics, in dive monitoring my air supply direction and time that I lost my sense of wonder and became focused on the numbers rather than the wonderful surreal underwater environment. Taking this back to the web are we losing the strength in communities by requiring an audience focus on operative skills instead?