Trying out a new definition of Social Media…
In general, the following definition of social media is used:
A group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.
Source: A. M. Kaplan & M. Haenlein (2010) Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media, Business Horizons, 53(1)
This is a very broad and rather vague definition of social media. I’m not satisfied with this definition for a number reasons:
- The definition uses the frequently contested concept ‘Web 2.0' and refers to its ideological foundations without clarifying what these are exactly. Lets look into this for a moment. What does Web 2.0 stand for?
Web 2.0 is term that was introduced in 2004 and refers to the second generation of the World Wide Web. The term “2.0” comes from the software industry, where new versions of software programs are labeled with an incremental version number. Like software, the new generation of the Web includes new features and functionality that was not available in the past. However, Web 2.0 does not refer to a specific version of the Web, but rather a series of technological improvements.Web 2.0 technologies provide a level of user interaction that was not available before. Websites have become much more dynamic and interconnected, producing “online communities” and making it even easier to share information on the Web. Because most Web 2.0 features are offered as free services, sites like Wikipedia and Facebook have grown at amazingly fast rates. As the sites continue to grow, more features are added, building off the technologies in place. So, while Web 2.0 may be a static label given to the new era of the Web, the actual technology continues to evolve and change.
It appears that the definition of Kaplan and Haenlein is actually repeating itself. In fact, it could it could easily be reduced to:
”A group of Internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.”
- The definition (reduced or not) uses another concept can be considered problematic, namely: User Generated Content (UGC). Again, the question is: What does this term mean?
User generated content refers to material on media sources that is produced by the users of [these media sources].
The question remains: what exactly are users? If users are all persons who use a medium to send or receive a message, than any website on the Internet can be seen as a form of User Generated Content.
This is different [from], for example, a website designed by a company which puts forth material produced by professionals. In user generated content, it is the amateur, in most cases, who contributes the content.
Perhaps the term ‘users’ is not really appropriate. I believe a less ambiguous term is needed that can be used as a label for: “Content produced by groups or individuals as part of a non-corporate endeavour”. As of now, I do not have any reasonable suggestions…
- Finally, the definition focusses on ‘creation' and 'exchange’. These are indeed two important types of activity that are being preformed online by means of social media. However, these are certainly not the only activities taking place online. For example liking, bumping, rating and commenting are very popular activities that are often seen as directly related to social media participation. Yet these activities fit neither ‘creation’ nor ‘exchange’.
Based on action theory, I suggest that there are at least two more types of activity that should be listed in the definition. The first type would be ‘aggregation' (related to the role of the recipient), and the second type would be 'criticism' (related to the role of the postprocessor).
Based on these consideration (and theoretically issues related to studies of social media addressed in my earlier blogposts) I suggest a new definition of social media:
”A range of Internet applications that operate as platforms for mediated (semi)public interaction between individuals and groups that allows them to partake in a non-corporate endeavour. The interaction typically envolves varying combinations of the following activities: creating, exchanging, aggregating and criticising.”
 This definition seems to concur with the idea and understanding of the concept of ‘creative commons'… the term 'commons' seems to refer to the the non-professional users or amateurs.
The idea of universal access to research, education, and culture is made possible by the Internet, but our legal and social systems don’t always allow that idea to be realized. Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source, and post to the Web. The default setting of copyright law requires all of these actions to have explicit permission, granted in advance, whether you’re an artist, teacher, scientist, librarian, policymaker, or just a regular user. To achieve the vision of universal access, someone needed to provide a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws. That someone is Creative Commons.
For those creators wishing to opt out of copyright altogether, and to maximize the interoperability of data, Creative Commons provides tools that allow work to be placed as squarely as possible in the public domain.
 Based on the ideas of action research, the terms ‘creation’ and ‘exchange’ could also be replaced by less ambiguous terms. In terms of social media practices, creation, on the one hand, involves the ‘production (and first distribution) of a meaningful message’. Exchange, on the other hand, involves the ‘(further) distribution of a message’. As such, the term ‘creation’ could be replaced by ‘casting’, while the term ‘exchange’ could be replaced by ‘curation’.