by Tom Coates
Back before the last boom, the internet was fundamentally a communicative medium - a many-to-many conversational space of e-mail, mailing lists, Usenet and bulletin boards. This kind of activity was pretty much an early-adopter thing because it was a new form of communication. It's worth remembering that while for many of you the idea of the social internet is a new thing, this isn't a weird new growth on top of the internet, but something fundamental to its DNA - a connected many-to-many environment profoundly different from broadcast or publishing.
It was the popular arrival of the web that started the shift towards thinking of the internet as a publishing medium, and it was propelled in part by large companies using their enormous resources to put huge swathes of content online. Interestingly, this move was the thing that pushed the internet over the tipping point - publishing is something that people understand and can engage with. So the popularisation of the internet is probably directly related to this one particular and relatively constrained subsection of what it's most useful for.
The age of social media then is probably about a fusing of these two ways of thinking - the communicative and the publishing/creative parts of the internet - into something new and powerful. It's an environment in which every user is potentially a creator, a publisher and a collaborator with (and to) all of the other creative people on the internet.
27th March 2006