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The social media landscape: four useful diagrams

Some of these have been around for a while, but I thought it worth putting them all together in one blog post, as they all add insight into understanding, categorising and visualising the complexity that social media now is, and how to understand that in a business/communication context.

Fred Cavazza created the diagram below in 2008. It segments sites and services partly by function (sharing, discussion, etc) as well as by type (Virtual worlds), which may not be entirely consistent (it missed out comments for example) but it does at least give us a fairly broad view of the landscape. It also helps us to understand why some functions within each tool may not be as prominent as in others. For example whilst it is possible to network and connect with members using Delicious it’s main purpose is bookmarking and sharing those finds.

The Conversation Prism (below) by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas of JESS3, now in it’s second iteration, takes this several steps further. It segments social media by type (wikis, blogs etc.) that currently exist and also their function and role within different forms of communication. It has been designed expressly for understanding social media within the business and brand context.

(Click on the image below to view the image full scale).

Conversation Prism
Conversation Prism

Although it’s worth noting that the downside to greater precision is that the over view that we could see in the first diagram is lost in amongst the masses of detail.

Forrester’s segmentation of social media behaviour by users, which it describes as Social Technographics, helps with another piece of the jigsaw. Forrester classifies people into how they use technologies and aims to quantify the size of each group through regular surveys. The classifications are:

  • Creators
  • Critics
  • Collectors
  • Joiners
  • Spectators
  • Inactives

This slide show explains more:

The basic results of their surveys are freely available via the Groundswell Profile Tool. For example, here are the results for 25-34 year old females in the UK:

Forrester Groundswell tool example

This last diagram by Gary Hayes and Laurel Papworth shows a possible way of structuring a ‘campaign’ or long term ways to communicate.

Note: To me the diagrams also begin to hint at a much older science, one which the Victorians excelled, that of identification and classification, but development of that idea is perhaps for another day.

Innovation Reading Circle: Communication Power in the network society

Book: Communication PowerLast night the Innovation Reading Circle run by Nico Macdonald met to discuss Manuel Castells Communication Power (previously reviewed here). Nico kindly asked me to introduce the book, which on arrival became mildly more nerve inducing when I learnt I was sitting next to the George Por, a former academic colleague and friend of Castells, but he was most generous.

Below are some of the words I used as a basis for the introduction, but I can highly recommend reading Christian Fuchs review (PDF) of Castells book, as he breaks down each section and topic and clarifies many areas of the book.

Joanne Jacobs live blogged the evening and her concise summaries of what was said again make everything much clearer.

On which note, as a group we recognised that very little had been written or discussed about Communication Power and for our part in rectifying this everyone attending has been asked to write a few words on their thoughts. These will be added to the Facebook group page, more background material also can be found on the Innovation Reading Circle page for those wishing to follow the discussion further.


Innovation Reading Circle
14 September 2009

Communication Power
Manuel Castells
Hardback, 575 pages (of which the Appendix, Bibliography and Index take up the last 150 pages)
Published: July 2009
Oxford University Press

Communication Power, it needs to be said up front, is an academic book written in an academic style with references within the text to other academics and books. It is not an easy read, despite Castells’ hopes of it being read by anyone interested in communication and power. It takes time and dedication and there is much to digest.

The book builds on Castells’ series of three books looking at the Information Age published in the late 90s, early 2000s and his book The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective. It therefore assumes the theory of a network society thus, for those seeking theoretical criticisms of the book they should also consider looking at analysis of the network society and the extent to which networks are influential on individual and institutional decision making – which is beyond the scope of this introduction, but anthropological research on how socially many of us respond to and as the herd, despite ourselves is worth reviewing.

Castells begins by relating his personal experiences living and growing up in authoritarian Franco Spain where control of information and communication were paramount to maintaining power. If Castells wanted to read Freud he had to visit the only library in Barcelona with access to Freud’s work and fill out a form explaining why he wished to read the text. To read Marx or Sartre a journey in to neighbouring France was necessary – Franco’s Spain was resolutely anti-communist. Such was the political regime and common place censorship that influenced Castells understanding and interest in power and communication and how it applies within a global media industry and age of digital and internet communication.

In the first part of the book Castells takes us from an analysis of power – referencing a great number of thinkers not normally grouped together along the way – to how this understanding of power can be applied to a network society. He describes his perspective on power as “ecectic” and summarises that:

…power is not located in one particular social sphere or institution, but it is distributed throughout the entire realm of human action. Yet, there are concentrated expressions of power relationships in certain social forms that condition and frame the practice of power in society at large by enforcing domination. Power is relational, domination is institutional.

Castells identifies four kinds of power within the network society:

  • networking power
  • network power
  • networked power
  • network-making power

The book then examines communications in a digital age, looking at areas such as key relationships between multinational media and diversified internet corporations, regulatory policies and creative audiences.

The majority of the book delves into how the relationship between communications and politics within this networked society; how it is programmed and how it needs re-programming. It can be roughly summarised as: the commons of the Internet (but note, little mention of mobile phones is made) is holding in check and modifying those who have traditionally been seen as in power. The extensive appendices and charts through the book back up his examination, and also offer and alternative starting point for understanding some of the key points of the book, such as the role of political scandal.

I am going to presume that this element of the book is that which most attendees to the reading circle will be familiar with and where most discussion will surround, so I will not spend time here examining this part too closely, other than to note that Castells comes to similar conclusions as the author of Flat Earth News, Nick Davies, regarding Rupert Murdoch:

Murdoch is an ideologically conservative media tycoon who keeps personal control over the third largest and most profitable mutlimedia business conglomerate in the world. But he is, above all, a successful businessman who understood that his power would be maximised by keeping his options open.

I will however raise, for the purposes of this reading circle introduction (the instructions of which include the examination of the “depth and quality of references”) chapter 3 and Castells’ explanation of consciousness, which forms a basis for his theories of networks of mind and power.

These explanations, and how Castells builds up his argument, are fascinating, and I was particularly taken by the theories of metaphor, narrative formation and frames, their evolutionary role and hence how they influence our understandings of, for instance, the family and organisational structures.

But as Castells admits himself, this section is “largely based on research in neuroscience as theorised by Antonio Damasio” (pg 137) and the work of George Lakoff. Whilst I have no doubt that these are a correct re-telling and explanation of Damasio’s work, they rely strongly on it and, don’t look at arguments that may have critiqued such work or look beyond neuroscience to possible other understandings of how human behaviour operates, or even if other disciplines support such theories. For example the relationship between community, narrative and ethics has been written of within philosophy, philology and theology (and in all probability sociology and political science).

This is in all probability a minor issue, but it does lead me to wonder how the academic world have received the book (I’ve not had time to look), and whether the balance between wanting many people to read what he has to say and also the need to satisfy academic requirements is one that can be easily balanced.

Castells concludes his book with a task: to ensure the preservation of the internet – “a free creation of freedom lovers” – against the power-holders within the network.

… if you think differently, communication networks will operate differently, on the condition that not only you, but I and a multitude choose to build the networks of our lives.

This is wonderfully idealistic. But is this not the same recipe for others who seek power without good intent?

Going geeky: real-time RSS

RSS logo
RSS logo
The original headline for this post was going to be something like “RSS in the clouds”, but my internal monitor said that it was a bit extreme and techie.

And that’s what’s interesting, RSS has been around since 2001 thanks to Dave Winer who came up with the standard. Yet even with a beautiful Common Craft how-to video (below) to show us the way, it’s not something that has ever really come into common usage or common terminology outside Tech Land (if you really want the usage figures I can dig them out to show you).

But, if I say “Google Reader” or “keeping track of your favourite blogs, websites n’ stuff in one place”, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. RSS (Really Simply Syndication) is the thing that often powers those types of services. You’ve probably even seen the orange icons around the place, like the one above.

Cue that Common Craft video, which points out how useful this all might be:

Since 2001 RSS aggregators have been equated with new ways of consuming news on the web, described in terms such as ‘River of News’.

NOTE: At this point readers should be aware that updates to this form of RSS are every 15 -30 minutes or so and not in real time.

And what does that river look like?

For the purposes of this post I visited my Bloglines account – something I’ve not done for months. It’s laid out a bit like an email reader. I have 132 feeds within 10 folders and 16,933 unread posts. And that’s with Blogline’s limit of 200 posts per feed. That’s a lot of reading, and not necessarily very focussed reading at that.

Which is possibly why the likes of Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook and other social networks, where members recommend links to each other and information is in smaller digestible chunks, have subsumed RSS aggregators. The real-time nature of these services also enables conversation and discussion around a posted item.

So, why am I writing about all of this now?

This week real-time RSS has been the talk and excitement of Tech Land as WordPress launched this capability for it’s .com and .org options by implementing RSSCloud. This down-to-earth blog post by WordPress explains more.

To read the RSS feeds of WordPress blogs in real-time at the moment you will need to download either Dave Winer’s River 2 or LazyFeed. I’m sure in time others will follow.

The question is: will you?

And for those running websites with RSS, the question is: should I enable this?

Whilst I can’t answer the first question, other than guess probably not given previous evidence of RSS readers and usage, I can possibly answer the second question.

Ian Betteridge (via Twitter, note) pointed me to this post by Rogers Cadenhead, who questions issues of scaling and firewalls. He gives the following example:

I publish the Drudge Retort, which has around 16,000 subscribers, including 1,000 who get the feeds using desktop software on their home computers. If I add cloud support and all of my subscribers have cloud-enabled readers, each time I update the Retort, my cloud update server will be sending around 1,050 notifications to computers running RSS readers — 1,000 to individuals and 50 to web-based readers.

That’s just for one update. The Retort updates around 20 times a day, so that requires 21,000 notifications sent using XML-RPC, SOAP or REST.

Imagine that for my 132 feeds in Bloglines.

WordPress’s backing shows that this is something to take seriously. But without further development, the decision will be down to server load and money versus the opportunities that real-time updates might bring for your offering, taking into account those who use your website.

Is social media a fad?

If you are looking for a summary of why social media is currently considered de rigeur look no further than this video by Socialnomics. The video aims to answer the question: “Is social media a fad?”. It neatly summarises recent statistical data (with a bias to the US) and the extent to which social media is being used across the web and web connected devices. It’s definitely worth watching and I shall be using it in my next training class to kick things off.

As Kara Swisher points out, it’s slick, but social media is “more like a financial dud so far”.

This is a viral video to promote a site (and book of the same title) regarding how social media “transforms the way we live and do business”, yet there are few references to the trickier questions of finance and business. Whilst social media services themselves are gathering huge audiences very few people have managed to make the sums add up. Watching the video new to the subject you might also presume that social media is a new phenomenon that’s sprung up in the last few years, not something older than the web itself*.

To answer the question “is social media a fad?”, it’s worth taking time to understand Gartner’s hype cycle. This is used by the company to estimate how long technologies and trends will take to reach maturity, and help organisations decide when to adopt. Their cycle has five phases:

  1. Technology trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

Below is the graph by Gartner for emerging technologies, taken from their latest report, courtesy of We Are Social. It shows how different elements of the social media phenomenons mentioned in the Socialnomics video are in different stages of the hype cycle.

Particularly worth noting is that e-book readers (like the Kindle) are currently at the peak of inflated expectations, whilst wikis are on the slope of enlightenment.

Source: We Are Social
Source: We Are Social

So whilst social media may be statistically more than a fad, and that certain elements are possibly coming towards the end of the hype cycle, the video glosses over that what makes media social. Media is made social not by technologies or websites but by people. As Mark Earls points out:

People not things shape fashions.

* For example, the discussion forum, Usenet, used internet technologies that pre-date the web.

UPDATE 24/08/2009: This review about the video over at ZDNet is worth a read too.