What is social media?

What is social media?

Applications such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and this blog site where I am writing now are all said to be social media. Many people use applications as Facebook on a daily basis and they spend a fair amount of time doing this.

What it’s all about may be obvious at a first glance at least for the initiated user. But if you take a closer look at the phenomenon; what is it that we really mean by ‘social media’?

Newspapers, radio and television for instance are traditionally considered as media. The publisher and consumer are well defined in this scenario contrary to media such as blogs and wikis etc. allowing the user to have both roles. For these types of media, this is a key feature and one definition made by Kaplan et al. (2010) is that it allows the user to create and exchange their own content, so-called user generated content. But the definition also states that collaborations between users are made possible through applications that are built on the ideological and technical foundation on Web 2.0. This is an important aspect as it separates out newer media from older ones relying on technology used in Web 1.0. As sites like “StajlPlejs” (Swedish; later Lunarstorm), “Six degrees” or “Open diary” appeared as early as 1996-98 offering the possibility for people to communicate with each other over the Internet. However, the form of interaction was normally much more restricted, as more or less static contained information was exposed through websites.

In that sense we can say that a richer interaction made possible using web 2.0 gives a social aspect that gives meaning to the expression “social media”. But in order to make it a deeper social interaction one important idea is also that people are able to create some kind of bond or tie to one another (Gilbert et al. 2009). The way to do this is by using a profile and then connect to, and maintain a list of other users that are known to the user beforehand. Gilbert makes on interesting point when distinguishing between networking as meeting new people and a network primarily for connecting to persons already known. As Boyd et al. (2007) says: “What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks.” So what we have is not only the media and the social interactive part but also the possibility to establish and maintain different connections as social networks.

So for a short summary; media once being merely a uni directed communication, is now a highly interactive game where users no longer are merely bystanders but have a much more active part in forming the content and reach out and communicate with different groups of people.

A short introduction of myself is that I have a background in the IT-business working as a developer. I hold a bachelor degree in computer science and have a strong interest in UX. I am currently a second year student at Uppsala University in Sweden, studying a master’s in human computer interaction, and also a third year bachelor student in cognitive science at Skövde University.


Boyd, Danah M. And Ellison, N.B., 2007. Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication, (13.1), pp.210–230. Available at: http://medcontent.metapress.com/index/A65RM03P4874243N.pdf [Accessed September 3, 2013].

Gilbert, E. & Karahalios, K., 2009. Predicting tie strength with social media. Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems – CHI 09, p.211. Available at: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1518701.1518736.

Kaplan, A.M. & Haenlein, M., 2010. Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons, 53(1), pp.59–68. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0007681309001232 [Accessed August 6, 2013].


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