I have just read that there are now over 350 million members on Facebook, which is more people than there are in the entire United States. Social media has transformed the nature of communication and in some ways of life itself. But what exactly is social media?
In short, social media is any Web content that is created by users and exchanged with others. As noted by Sumners (1), it is associated with Web 2.0 (second generation of the Internet), and emphasizes collaboration. Included in the concept of social media are various ways of social networking, such as blogging, microblogging, social networks and social bookmarking.
Blogging comes from the root term Web log, and refers to online journals, logs of events or whatever a writer wishes to share with others. This site, Teaching and Learning in Chiropractic, is a blog. Blogs have the advantage of being easily updated, and they can be written by a single person or a group of people; they can also be based on a single concept or a variety of topics. A host of sites allow a writer to develop a blog. This blog is hosted by Blogger, but others exist: Word Press, for example is another well-known blog hosting site, but not the only one.
Microblogging is similar to blogging, but is done on a far smaller scale. The most well-known microblogging service is Twitter, which limits the user to no more than 140 total characters per message- which is the maximum length of a cellular-telephone text message. Twitter has become so well-known because it allows people to follow the lives of celebrities and others, making the end-user a “friend” of the celebrity.
Social networking is a growing phenomenon. Facebook is perhaps the best known social networking site, but others of equal repute include MySpace and LinkedIn. Facebook really began as a college phenomenon, seen sort of as similar to a yearbook in which students could locate their classmates, see what they were up to, and find out what classes they had registered for. You created a series of “friends” by invitation, which then linked you to other “friends of friends” in a growing series of contacts. Today, facebook is used to locate old friends from high school and even earlier, to stay in contacts with children and family, to market music, and so on. LinkedIn does much the same but for professional contacts. I have membership in both, but limit my Facebook contacts to friends only. You can also be a member of a “group” on Facebook, which then gives you regular updates regarding that group, making it similar in some ways to what a blog does. All forms of social media overlap to some degree; Facebook users can post messages similar to what you might post for a Twitter update.
Social bookmarking is way to share interesting information with others, while allowing others to provide you interesting information you might not otherwise be aware of. The site Delicious will let you post URLs of interesting Web sites, and tag them with a short note that describes what the site is about. You could then search the site for Web sites with that tag, such as, for example, chiropractic. You can also locate similar sites using algorithms on Delicious that will find those sites for you. Social bookmarking sites exist even for journal articles, and include Springer’s CiteULike (www.citeulike.org), Mendeley (www.mendelay.com) and Nature Publishing Group’s Connotea (www.connotea.org).
Social media is not simply about sharing information; it is about the flow of information as a two-way communication. We are in the infancy of using social media in education; my son, a high-school teacher, uses Facebook to communicate with not just his students, but their parents as well. I write a blog for our faculty to use, and many of you are doing creative things I am not aware of. But however it is, we will surely see this used more frequently as time goes on, and so we need to be aware of possibilities in this new technology.
1. Sumners C. Social media and scientific journals: a snapshot. Science Editor 2010;33:75-79