Social Media: Interdependencies and definitions

(CC) Jason A. Howie

Welcome to my first post on Understanding Social Media!

My name is Giulia and I am one of the authors of this blog. Playing around with internet and computers has always been a consistent component of my life, but for some reason it never poured into my academic path. So, after having gained some working experience in IT and pursued a master degree in History, I decided that it was time to mix together university and Information Technologies. The outcome of such a decision was me joining the Social Media course at Uppsala University and consequently this collective space for discussing and analyzing Social Media.

Probably, one of the most effective way to start such a collective project is to define the object of our discussion, i.e. what we are talking about. However, defining a term like Social Media is everything but an easy task, especially because in everyday language such a word is often used as a synonym for what Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison define as social network site (SNSs):

social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. (Boyd & Ellison 2007)

Although is undeniable that SNSs are form of Social Media, Boyd and Ellison’s definition presents a problem when approaching other types of Social Media, such as blogs, content communities, MMOs, etc. For this purpose, the definition suggested by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein’s proves instead to be a much more suitable one:

Social Media is 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. (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010)

However, even though Kaplan and Haenlein’s formulation certainly solves the problem about how to cluster the broad range of Social Media typologies under an all-encompassing definition, I still find it reductive in regards to the relationship between Web 2.0 and Social Media. In fact, in the same article Kaplan and Haenlein assert that what characterizes Web 2.0 is the fact that its content and application are constantly modified and shaped by its own user in a “participatory and collaborative fashion” (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010, my own emphasis). In other words, while Web 2.0 does provide the technological and ideological foundation for Social Media, it also is intrinsically affected by Social Media themselves and the User Generated Content (UCG) created through them.

Chart explaining interdependencies between Web 2.0, Social Media, and User Generated Content

Thus, in order to address the issue of interdependency between Web 2.0, Social Media and UGC, I would like to suggest the following tweak to Kaplan and Haenlein’s definition:

Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (UGC), and that at the same time represent one of the necessary conditions for the existence of the Web 2.0 itself.

What do you think? Any feedback or suggestion for improving this definition?


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