Social Media 101

Jeremy Schubert of and is a technology consultant who can be reached at for your questions and comments.

Have you heard the terms Social Media and Web 2.0 splashed bantered about by your children (grandchildren) and media outlets? Ever wonder what this really is? Well then, read on...

Way back when (in the ‘good old days’ as my grandparents used to refer to them) the internet was primarily used by the military and university academics. The American military planned to use the built in communication redundancy of the internet in case of great disaster. For examples, if the Russians were to strike central US with some nuclear missiles, knocking out telephone lines, communications could still be maintained via the Internet with its built in redundancy (but that’s a topic for another column!) And universities saw the ability to easily share and collaborate on scientific projects using this new technology.

So this technology was still for the ‘geeky computer science’ types. People depicted in popular media (by the way, don’t believe everything you see in the media) as shy introverts with thick horned rim glasses, whose social life consisted of playing with circuit boards and punch cards all day. But the world has also always had two other types of people. The entrepreneurs who started thinking about to make money from this new technology. And the (using my terminology) social engineers of the world, those who want to develop , improve and examine methods that people use to improve communication throughout the world in order to connect and share ideas and ideologies.

Interestingly enough, the pornography industry has been one driving force in this regards. These companies have been instrumental in developing internet commerce and security to further their business. Fortunately however, there are many other industries and special interest groups who have a hand in this movement forward of the web.

In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee ‘invented’ the World Wide Web. He was a British born, computer science professor at MIT. Berners-Lee developed a system that allowed for users to see web pages on their computers. Data was stored on a central computer called a ‘web server’. Users could use their computers to simultaneously connect to a web server. The data on the web server would then be transferred back to the user’s computer who could then see the web page on their screen. The ‘information age’ started as institutions, companies and organizations could start to easily share their information with others. And not only could they share the information, they could easily update information. For example, changes to contact information, prices, or policies could easily be disseminated. Instead of having to rely strictly on mail outs or phone calls, one change could simply be made on the data stored on the web server, allowing people to note the changes when they viewed web pages. I suppose that this could be considered Web 1.0, a marvellous concept, well at least it was for a little bit!

A variety of people began to consider how this new technology could be used to their benefit as well as the benefit of others. Some companies for examples wanted to determine how they could use the tool to conduct market research. Others wanted to learn how to use the web to ‘spread their word’. And yet others just wanted to learn how to use this technology to develop new friendships and share ideas. This is what led to the development of what today we call Social Media or Web 2.0. That is making the web more of a two way street, allowing everyone to share information with greater ease.

There are obvious benefits to using modern day social media. Of course it’s very fun to share personal and family information on sites like FaceBook and Twitter. People love to share pictures on sites like Flickr and Snapfish. Armchair academics can share information on sites like WikiPedia. And sites like Yelp allow others to rate and review restaurants and trendy spots. Sites such as Travelpedia, and can allow people to make informed travel plans. And many educational institutions make use of social media to present, generate and share information and knowledge.

Keep in mind that there can also be significant drawbacks too. Many people view some social media tools an invasion of privacy. For example, many companies use social media to collect information of spending habits. This allows them to tailor web ads you might see on your computer directly to you. So you see what the advertising company wants you to see, no what everyone else sees.

Another issue is personal security. Even though it’s splashed across the media many times, many people don’t really believe that there nefarious people who maybe tracking personal information. ‘Loose Lips Sinks Ships’ was a common WWII saying. A similar saying could be developed for today. For example, let’s say you’re planning on taking that special two week vacation to your favourite destination and you let everyone know via some form of social media. Unwittingly you could also be notifying people with not so good intentions that your residence will be empty for two weeks!

Also, just because teenagers and young people own and know how to use all sorts of fancy electronic toys, that doesn’t mean they know how to use them well! Once something is posted on the net, it’s out there forever! There’s no taking it back. And it’s out there for everyone to see. A good rule of thumb before making a post is asking, “Is this something I’d like my mom or grandma to see?” And we haven’t even started to discuss inappropriate texting (also known as sexting). We’ll leave that for another column.

I’m keen on hearing about your experiences with social media. What do you like about it and what do you hate about it?