What is social media?

For the last couple of years, the terms “web 2.0” and “social media” have been used for nearly anything new and interactive on the internet. Since Preservation Today and sites like it integrate many basic social media tools, let’s take the time to consider the concept of social media and its potential to advance heritage preservation.

In technical terms, the social media phenomenon is a fusion of cross-platform technology, open-source web code and the interactive presentation of audio, photos, videos and text. But at its heart, it’s about empowering people to achieve goals through connection with others who share similar values, regardless of their location.

Core to this connectedness is the idea of community and how it’s being redefined. For example, the purpose of Preservation Today is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. You don’t have to have lots of money, a Ph.D., or be a credentialed preservationist to view the site or interact with it. It doesn’t matter where you live either. If you care about heritage, you belong here.

The accessible nature of social media tools, coupled with the relative anonymity of the web, levels the playing field for discussion. This takes away some of the fear of saying the wrong thing and allows people of many different backgrounds to interact as peers.

Social media comes in a variety of flavors. Some of these tools—like forums and message boards—you may already be familiar with. Others, like photo sharing (Flickr), video sharing (YouTube), wall posts (FaceBook), blogs (WordPress), music sharing (iTunes), and internet telephony (Skype), may be new.

When you visit the a site like Facebook or MySpace, what you’re seeing is a form of social media called a “social network.” Essentially, it brings social media tools together on the same web page. The efficiency of social networks is leading to an explosion in their popularity. The combined worldwide user base of MySpace and Facebook roughly equals the population of the United States.

So how’s this different from the web we used to know? For one thing, you’re no longer just reading the company line. The web is now instantly interactive with the potential for infinite conversation on any given topic. It’s like the old gossip fence, except your neighbor is potentially anyone in the world.

What’s been the reason preservation and heritage issues have been so hard to communicate? It’s because they, like politics, are traditionally local. And while probably nothing will ever most people care who’s the state representative for Burning Moscow, Nev., you very well may throw in with an online group that is fired up about preserving the Old West mines there.

So, your worldview isn’t just limited to your place of residence anymore. With social media, your interests can help define your social responsibility in the realm of heritage values. Explore and enjoy!

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