At a meeting of New York’s chapter of the Social Media Club last night, a debate took place revolving around how to define social media. Before I get into the substance of the discussion
, I wanted to toy with a metaphor I was playing with and wanted to test out here. I call the concept Social Media Architecture.
Here’s the gist of how this works:
If you build a house for yourself, can that be considered ‘social architecture’? No.
What if other people gather outside the house and talk about it? Still, no, there’s nothing social about it, even if others happen to be discussing it. This is essentially the broadcast model. There’s a builder, and then there’s everyone else who just stands outside and discusses it. It doesn’t matter if the house is so amazing that it brings a mass of people together to gawk at it. The architecture itself isn’t social.
What if you get together with a bunch of other people and build the house, and then everyone else stands outside? It’s still not social.
What if you design the house and order masses of people to build it according to your specifications? The image of the Hebrews building the Egyptian pyramids comes to mind. That doesn’t count as social though. Additionally, hiring an architect to build the structure doesn’t matter any.
What if you built a house and someone comes along and sprays it with graffiti? A consumer took ownership of the structure, but it’s illegal. This would be like a case of plagiarism or theft of intellectual property, or hacking.
Now, what if you built a house, and as you were building it, you invited all the people stopping by to vote on what color each wall is painted, or which room becomes the master bedroom, or what furniture to put in each room? This is a sort of 101 version of social media, much like "American Idol." It’s interactive in terms of giving consumers a stake in the content, but it still isn’t really social media.
What if you built a house where everyone could come and construct their own rooms and additions? That’s another step in the right direction in terms of giving consumers control, but it’s not yet social media. That model is more like Geocities or Blogger, where everyone can come and put up their own rooms, but it’s still not social.
What if you built a house where everyone could come and construct their own rooms, and then reach out to other builders to agree to directly link rooms to each other? Everyone, even those who choose not to build rooms themselves, could freely enter everyone else’s room and offer their comments on it. Everyone would be identifiable in some way, even if it’s by a handle that preserves their anonyminity. This is social media. It’s the social media architecture behind MySpace, YouTube, Second Life, and any of the true social media phenomena.