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Sharing in the digital age

Sharing in the digital age

By Fabian Horton

Social Media Technology 


The introduction of Web 2.0 has enabled interaction and collaboration between users and transformed our personal and professional lives. 

From the beginning, the inventors of the internet had always envisioned it to be a means of high level communication. While it started with simple messaging services such as email and bulletin boards, the boffins worked to make it a full scale data transfer network. With the introduction of the world wide web in 1993 the internet gained a common protocol to run on. Essentially the web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents that are accessed by the internet through a browser.

In its initial stages the web was more akin to a large brochure. Most web pages were static, the content was passive and interactivity was limited. This changed with the introduction of what came to be known as Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is a general name for websites that use technologies to allow interactivity over the web. The technologies enable transmission of content in a variety of formats such as text, image, video or audio. Uses for the technologies include social networking, blogs, wikis, tagging and video sharing. Web 2.0 technologies are categorised by their ability to enable interaction and collaboration between users.

Web 2.0 introduced new technologies and, more importantly, a new way of understanding how those technologies can be used. This has led to a transformation in our personal and professional lives. Information hosted on the internet is now dynamic. This means that its functionality has increased. In addition, mobile computing has meant information is also highly accessible. People, businesses, government and institutions of all types are now realising the potential this “freed” information offers and are creating customised applications to more appropriately fit their users’ requirements.

For many users of social media the various technologies will appear so finely integrated with each other that it is difficult to differentiate between them. Most major platforms will use a variety of technologies in this way. While there are new technologies coming online all the time, here is a list of technologies that everyone should be familiar with.

Social networking: This is a service (platform) where users create an online profile that allows them to connect with other users as part of an online community. The platform allows for the uploading of information such as messages, images and video.

Image and video sharing: This is extremely popular and many platforms deal primarily with sharing images, video or even sounds.

Blogs: A truncation of web log, these sites allow for discrete entries (posts) usually in reverse chronological order. Popular for discussions on a particular topic, a blog can be updated whenever the author wishes. Twitter is an example of a micro-blogging platform.

Tagging: This is one of the more common, helpful and yet least understood uses of Web 2.0 functionality. It is user-generated metadata created through the use of keywords. The “tags” give semantic meaning to information and it is especially useful for non-text based information such as images and video.

Wiki: A wiki is a web-based content management system that allows users to create, modify or delete content. Wikipedia is the best know wiki.

Cloud: While not a social media technology as such, it is where social media is at. Having a cloud based application or storage means that information is held on a remote computer that is accessed via the internet. This has the advantage of being extremely accessible. It also means that applications running in the cloud, for instance an accounting system, do not require users to update them.

Generally speaking Web 2.0 technologies can be grouped under the heading of social media.

Even though the terms social media and social networking have become somewhat synonymous, there is a difference. At its most basic social media is the way in which information is transmitted. Social networking on the other hand is the act of engaging with others on the web. So it could be reasoned that social media is the tools and social networking is the use of the tools. Most social networking platforms now incorporate a variety of social media technologies.

There are several major platforms in the social media space. Facebook is the world’s most popular social networking platform. It functions as a virtual community where users connect with each other for the sharing of content. LinkedIn is a social networking platform that is based around professional networking. As it has grown it has incorporated other services such as business promotions and job searching.

Twitter is a popular micro-blogging platform where users post short messages known as tweets. Twitter is an example of how a social media platform can be considered a hybrid of social networking and broadcasting. Another hybrid site is YouTube, the world’s largest video sharing site. It allows users to upload and share videos and to organise their collections in what is called a channel.

In addition to the major platforms, other popular sites include Google+ and Renren (social networks), Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest (photo sharing), Foursquare (location check-in), and World of Warcraft and Second Life (virtual worlds).

Fabian Horton is a lecturer at the College of Law Victoria. He is also the director of the online legal practice ConnectLaw Australia.

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