Social Media is not Web 2.0. Or Web 3.0.

No one talks about Web 2.0 anymore. This may be because we now talk about social media, and at first blush, we may assume the terms are interchangeable. Sure, Web 2.0 was a great term to use to describe the evolution of Websites: from ‘Web 1.0’, when we went online to read, and ‘Web 2.0’ where we had the ability to publish, comment and remix.

But social media isn’t about Web sites. It’s not about places, or sites, at all. My stock phrase: social media is about people using technology to communicate.

Web 2.0 described the relationship between people and online content. They could now publish, comment or edit. The relationship was about a person and … stuff. Social media describes the relationship between people, and technology is simply what makes that relationship easier, or possible at all.

I’ve never considered a Wiki “social media”. Yet it’s a fine example of Web 2.0 technology: anyone can easily create or modify content on the Internet. I actually tweeted this perception, and Chris Abraham of Abraham Harrison LLC asked how I would categorize Flickr or Youtube.

Twitter @afhill

Beyond the fact that those are specific properties (and I much prefer to speak to concepts than specific services), I appreciated the question, as it helped me to refine my thoughts. Flickr and Youtube are great examples of the power of Web 2.0, as there may be value to using the services even without engagement with others. An individual may choose to store and categorize their own content on Flickr without ever engaging with others in a social fashion.

Compare this to Twitter, which really can’t be much fun at all if you’re the only one there (remember Pownce?). Twitter is a service based around connections between people. I can use Wiki software for myself simply because of the ease of publishing (and indeed, I did: all my masters thesis work is in a Wiki).

I admit, the lines may seem blurry, and for many, they don’t matter at all. But instead of assuming we need to incorporate “social” aspects into every online initiative we take on, it may be worth asking ourselves which benefits of the online realm we really wish to exploit. Is it the ease of engagement and manipulation of content, or is it about facilitating relationships between people?

Sometimes, old school Web 2.0 may be just what we need.

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