@annoyingTweeter: ‘My cat just ate my computer mouse’
@annoyingTweeter: ‘Yay, Weetbix for breakfast again’
If you’ve ever received tweets like this, then you’re probably already familiar with social media and one of their downsides – banal messaging. You’re also probably aware of the valuable function social media serves when used in the hands of the more experienced social commentator. You may also be asking, ‘What the heck is a tweet?’ In this article, we’ll answer that question plus we’ll take a look at the specific role social media play today and where the technology is taking us.
Our first stop is Twitter, which is essentially an information-distribution tool. It allows you to publish bite-sized chunks of information up to 140 characters long, called tweets. These tweets are read by your followers, who are people that subscribe to your information feed. Picture a miniature radio station with listeners tuned into your incredibly short broadcasts. Due to this short-burst style of communication, Twitter has become an effective way to deliver news and updates to people all over the world. Lady Gaga, Barack Obama and Britney Spears are among the world’s most followed Twitter users.
Facebook is the other major social media player. In just seven years, Facebook has grown from a university dorm room idea into a massive worldwide phenomenon, boasting more than 800 million active users. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most popular behind China and India. As a social media tool, Facebook replicates people’s real-world social interactions in a virtual environment. You can share information on your personal profile: your likes and dislikes, recent news, upcoming events, photos, videos, and links to your friends, who also share similar information.
Taking on the challenge of competing with Facebook is the latest social media tool to hit the scene – Google+ (Google Plus). It’s not dissimilar to Facebook and focuses on sharing information with specific social circles such as your friends, coworkers and family. Google+ may be the new kid on the block, but in the first 16 days of its roll-out, 10 million users signed up. By comparison, it took Twitter 780 days to reach this milestone and Facebook 850.
There are countless more social media tools on the internet and they all fulfil a basic role: to create a community in which users can interact with each other and share information. LinkedIn is a professional networking tool which shares your employment history. You can see where and with whom other users have worked, and use the tool to find available positions and potential staff.
Foursquare takes a different approach to social media and focuses on a user’s geographical location. Game-like in nature, this tool allows you to ‘check-in’ to specific destinations and comment on your experience or observations and share this information with other users who may visit the same location.
As we journey into the social media future, three themes will dictate our experience: the way we seek and share information, how we can interact with the technology, and how money can be made.
Information giants Google and Facebook will continue to collect information about your likes, dislikes, geographical location, personal particulars, and the sort of information you search for on line. Your personal preferences will filter the information you receive. Just as online advertising has become more specific and targeted to you, information that matches your interests will actually seek you out.
Mobile devices, which are inherently social in nature, will become the dominant platform for interacting with and connecting to social media. Computers will play second fiddle as users reach for their iPhone, iPad or Android device to keep up to date on Facebook, send tweets on Twitter, and share, connect and interact with friends.
Social media tools will uncover new and interesting ways for users to generate content of greater value than today’s comments, ratings, and reviews. The technology will become more immersive, borrowing ideas similar to virtual-world games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. You will be able to live an alternative reality as an avatar in a virtual world, interacting with other users and buying virtual items with virtual currency.
Facebook has already introduced its own virtual currency, Facebook credits, which can be spent at online stores and within applications and games. With a reach of more than 800 million users, Facebook will become the world’s largest online mall with its shops able to reach massive, targeted audiences around the globe.
Whether you’re a social media fan or not, these tools are here to stay and gaining popularity at a staggering rate. Many people and businesses have gone from not knowing they need social media to wondering how they ever did without it. Ultimately, what will prevent users from embracing social media is the complexity of the technology, a fear of the technology or an intolerance of the technology. Sadly, the more these tools are used, the less real-world socialising takes place. But at least it’s good for business.
@annoyingTweeter: ‘Going for coffee with real-life friends and real-life conversation’.
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• Obi McDonald-Saint is one of the owners of Mullum Mac.