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The business of social media: Internet evolution

Before we get into social networking sites and their business practice/s let us understand the Internet. Internet is an enormous and complex network of computers and numerous other smart devices, all connected and sharing information between themselves across a variety of telecommunication (digital and social) media. It is an important business and information tool accessible from local and remote locations that uses the TCP/IP protocol suite to serve up Web pages via HTTP, files via FTP, electronic resource management systems via SNMP, electronic mail via POP3, SMTP and IMAP4 and data for wireless devices via WAP, etc. What it is not, however, is smart.

In the initial phase the Internet environment was fundamentally a publishing medium. It was a mechanism through which data, in the form of images and text, were made available for public or personal consumption. Just like one magazine cannot interact with the content of another magazine, neither can the typical content of one web site interact with the content of another web site until unless specific mechanisms are built into each to allow such interaction. The world-wide-web in phase one was a tangle of information that, through the implementation of hyperlinks, allows a browser to navigate – usually quite randomly – from one web site to another. The meaning, context and applicability of the content of each web page needed to be interpreted by the human reader. Enter web2.0 wherein the browsing computer understands and reacts to the mark-up tags used to format the page, but it is clueless as to the actual content of the web page. To interpret the content, some form of human interaction is required.

But this is all about to change and to transform the current web from a series of interconnected, but ultimately semantically isolated data islands into one gigantic, personal information storage, manipulation and retrieval database. According to Sir Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of world-wide-web (www), “Most of the Web’s content… is designed for humans to read, not for computer programs to manipulate meaningfully.” With more progression the current world-wide-web will bring a common structure to the content of web pages, thereby providing such content with meaning which will allow external software agents to carry out sophisticated tasks on behalf of the reader or user and, as such, promote a greater degree of cooperation between humans and computers. In doing so, a new age of computing will be ushered in where machines are better able to ‘process and understand’ the data that they merely display at present.

Just when as Web2.0 is a shorthand for the current developments taking place on the world wide web, Web3.0 looks ahead to its next great leap, which the semantic web is seen by many as central to. What is semantic web and what related changes can we expect in digital and social media culture due if we formalise semantic web? According to Sir Tim Berners Lee, semantic web is not a separate web but an extension of the current one in which information is given well-defined meaning. Given that a working semantic web has entailed machines and applications to understand data in a way far closure to human understanding than ever before and marketers and data scientists across the globe find this as part of the convergence between the physical and digital worlds, something being referred as ‘Metaverse’ – meaning an enhanced melding of virtual and real experiences beyond our current conception of the physical as all there is. The other ongoing trend is the integration of personalised services into larger networks and the potential for customised access to the Internet based applications understanding an individual’s personality and preferences to a far greater degree than anything possible in the present digital ecosystem.

Digitally, technology is increasingly able to conjure complex, immersive virtual environments within which millions and even billions of people can interact. But this is not the only way in which technology is shifting the human experience of what real actions and interactions mean.

Another burgeoning field is the use of technology not to replace real experiences with virtual ones but to enhance our everyday experience of the world by overlaying it with context-sensitive information, images, videos and possibilities of action and more that inspires us to open up and interact more online. This is the social web or the present days social media. And today social media is layering the digital reality over the physical world and facilitating convergence. Convergence occurs when the functions of several different technologies begin to overlap which describes a process of increasingly dense interlinking between technologies and networks as an increasingly large number of social, commercial, cultural and administrative actions begin to take place in the digital space.

Social networking is the defining trend of the current phase of the Internet’s development, as the web moves steadily from being a tool for finding and sharing information into being a tool for finding and relating to other people. There has always been a social element to digital culture. But it is with the idea of tools dedicated to social relationships and above all with the rise of innovative platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram etc. that this idea has taken its place at the heart of an increasing number of contemporary lives.

Innovation never differentiates between technologies and it has no attachment to a particular way of doing things. Innovation is to create value through ideas, which are not obvious, and the created value is expected to deliver some impact. Impact needs to be delivered on the value front, where value may include social, business, economic and even psychological value. The competitive world, changing environment, ever changing dynamic market scenarios pose new challenges in front of the marketers, business owners and organisations. We often hear about technical innovations, process innovations, management innovations and strategic innovations. What could be the innovation in digital communication ecosystem? Today WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter are addressing the problems of social networking through their unique way of easy connectivity. These platforms are allowing billions of individuals to express themselves within their groups and subsequently creating numerous knowledge and revenue building opportunities.

The knowledge about systematic social context and human psychology has played a key role in these innovations. A BNS site like LinkedIn on the other hand took the same concept to connect with working professionals of this planet. These innovations are inherently based on associative value creation. In the near future many such applications would be crowding the space…

Social media platforms need to create sustainable value in the long run, which is more inward looking and keeps track of interdependence and intra-dependencies. Building an uncontested knowledge space (not only user base) remains the core theme for the social network platforms that will build the ability to deliver value for years in the market. Before we discuss further lets understand the difference between market place and knowledge base. The market space is typically a realm of commercial world, while the knowledge space is a realm of cognitive world. While market space is volatile and largely deals with competitive and market forces, knowledge space is more sustainable and deals with knowledge forces.

According to social media expert Brian Solis, “Social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology”. The transition towards experiencing the Internet as a real-time stream of updates and links is perhaps the greatest transformation of all wrought by social networking. And it marks the emergence of a new default digital state for many people where the online world is primarily encountered not as a limitless resource waiting to be searched but as a real-time network of friends and contacts, sending and receiving messages and updates about each other and the peer group. This is the social web, which is ever growing thanks to smartphones and mobile devices, more, and more people are now able to spend more of their time plugged into, represents one of the most profound shifts in the history of digital technology.

The social web consists of many billions of websites, services and pieces of data. This visible and accessible data by some digital experts at Google Corporation is estimated to make up less than one percent of all the activities and information that actually exists online in some form. Much of the social web’s information lies beneath the surface layer that is searchable by social media users. One of the most central features of social media culture is manipulation and recombination of existing media like videos, images, sounds and words etc. to create new compelling effect on the users to act or use or do certain activities; and these users generate data everyday through their interactions and actions, social conversations, content consumptions and so on. As per the latest research by DomoSphere:

• People create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data everyday
• 216,000 new photos Instagram users use every minute
• 72 hours of video YouTube users upload every minute
• 4800 – Apps are downloaded by Apple users every minute

The data depicts that the audience is trying to convey what they want and we, as the new age marketers need to analyse and deliver the data-driven and insight backed customer/audience demand. In the next part of this series we will discuss the data generated from social conversations and how marketers and brand owners are using the same to maximise their ROI.

Aroon Kumar

GM-Global Marketing, CRICHQ