Have social media gone too far—or not far enough?

Posted on February 17, 2010

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Google may have gone one—or two or three—steps too far with its new Buzz social media network, automatically exposing the e-mail contacts of unwitting Google users to others and failing to ask users if they wanted to opt in for the service. Facebook seems to change its design and layout every month or so now, consistently raising the ire of its members. Hulu is challenging YouTube for eyes-on-screens, and live mobile video is challenging all sites that are anchored to the desktop.

In short, social media—much like Congress—have erupted into an awful lot of infighting and are producing an awful lot of disgruntled constituents. We should have expected nothing less, given the history of media over the past 50 years or so. Once “adult westerns” became popular, it was hard to find anything else on TV, until viewers became oversaturated with ten-gallon gunfights. The same thing happened with quiz shows and medical show and (we can only hope) is likely to happen with reality shows.

None of these fads has disappeared, but only the best have survived. In the social media arena, we should anticipate a similar arc. The best of these networks and sharing sites will endure and the ones that rush onto the screen to try to gain some quick high ratings are likely to fall as abruptly as an unbalanced snowcross competitor. Where should we be investing our time, our tweets, our “friend”ships and our leisure time if we want to create a loyal and long-lasting relationship with our media?

While we can’t predict the winners, chances are that the social media that will be around years from now will have these five characteristics:

1. They will respect the members of their community. They won’t be arbitrarily enrolling them in programs that members don’t want to join or constantly changing their face and their interface.

2. They will be easy to use. The networks that last will require members simply to log in, without needing to worry about the capacity of their computer, the speed of their network or the right tab to click to share a photo.

3. They will be adaptable to ANY communications device—especially mobile ones—through any mode of communication. If we can choose a CD cut simply by talking to our car, we should be able to post a message on a social site by talking to our smartphone. If we can enlarge a photo with gestures, we should be able to comment on a post with the flick of a hand.

4. Their content and uses will appeal to everyone, juniors and seniors, students and professionals, Yankees and Rebels, Wolverines and Buckeyes. There is no target audience for the telephone, the radio, or the computer as a medium—each simply exists as part of our lives and everyone uses them without a second thought. We won’t be dithering over what content belongs on which site in the future—they will be utilities, rather than novelties.

5. They will eventually be supplanted by the next technological development. Yes, I know, TV did not kill radio; but CDs and DVDs killed audiotape and videotape, digital music is killing CDs, online services are killing print publications, and mobile phones are killing landlines. There’s no reason to believe that some new, even more all-encompassing technology won’t evolve to obliterate social media at some point and bring us all together a little more harmoniously and easily.

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