The real value of Social media = Interaction

Fred Wilson writes about his vision of social media. He has a very simple definition for it:

every single human being posting their thoughts and experiences in any number of ways to the Internet.

I like it’s simplicity. Fred says he doesn’t have a “grand vision” or a well thought of strategy to invest in social media. I don’t really agree with that. It’s very hard to write a vision down in just one sentence, and Fred did a good job on it. It set me to think what my idea’s are when it comes to social media. For those of you reading this weblog frequently you already know that I spend a lot of time writing about social media. It’s even part of the title of my blog.

Even though I think Fred did a great job, I don’t think I can fully agree with him. In my opinion, for what it is worth, Fred is describing some of the effects that social media will have on people. Already millions of people are posting their thoughts and experiences on the web, and I agree with Fred that most people that join the Internet will likely engage in these activities as well. But the question it doesn’t answer yet is why? Why do we post our thoughts and experiences to a larger audience? Why is it so attractive to express yourself to people you have never seen or heard about? Are we all such creative, well expressing, extrovert people and web technology just helps us doing just that? I don’t think so. But the phenomenon is out there, it seems everyone is affected by it and joining in.

I believe there is another simple answer to this. I can think of only one reason that might fit every person joining the social media era. I believe that underlying this urge for self expression there is a more basic drive. It is interaction! If anything, web technology has brought us the ability to interact at zero cost. Just think about it for a second. Let’s take Fred’s vision to the extreme. Let’s assume the entire world is expressing his thoughts and experiences on the web. Let’s also assume that that is all that happens, we express ourselves but no one is listening. I bet that the phenomenon would die out very quickly. It isn’t the expressing your thoughts what makes social media tick. That is only half of the equation. It is the “social” aspect of it that matters most. The ability to react, to agree or disagree, to build further (as I do now what Fred’s post), the sharing of experiences in order to learn from each other, to have fun, to argue or fight, in other words, it is interaction that matters.

I started writing this weblog a while back with the idea that I learned so much from reading other people’s weblog that I felt I should attempt to return the favor. I thought I might be able to add to the conversation and hopefully get people to think about the things I would write. But the first start wasn’t easy. Just because I express myself in a weblog doesn’t mean people will find me or take the time to read the things I write. It takes time, effort, and most important you need to be passionate about the stuff you write. And as time went on I went from a few readers to more readers, from no comments to a comment on every post. And that is when the fun of writing on a weblog kicks in. It isn’t the writing (although I can get excited if a piece works out well), it’s the interaction!

I’m guessing it’s like that for anyone that is actively involved in social media. The media provide us ways to express ourselves. But the social aspect of it allows us to interact. And that is where the real value of social media lies. Social media = Interaction!

I’ll tell you another thought I have on that. If it is true that social media is about interaction. And it is also true that every individual on the Internet will join this conversation. Then we should also accept the possibility that in a next evolution on the web public interaction will be less important. It is a simple thought really. If you can talk to the whole world it sort of makes you anonymous again (because you can’t grasp the notion of 6 BLN people talking to you). Public interaction will remain a constant factor, but I’m betting that the trend will be to size down and have this conversation in smaller networks. It is one of the reasons why large social networks have such problems opening up. It’s because their business model isn’t made for smaller networks. Their business model is for conquering the world. But that business model will be less important when we evolve the web and open it up. We will need business models that support the User Centric Web. It’s inevitable, so you might as well join in. Not everyone agrees on this thought, but I did get a real good conversation started on it, and that in itself has helped us to think about new possibilities. It also lead to a followup post 😉

I’ll end this with a quote from Factoryjoe. Chris Messina is one hell of a technical dude. But he keeps surprising me with a human behavioral view above all that technology. A must read imo. If you want to understand why Chris compares Facebook to Russian Railroads, then go no further and read his post here, it’s worth it!

That Facebook is attempting to open source it platform, to me, sounds like offering the world a different rail gauge specification for building train tracks. It may be better, it may be slicker, but the flip side is that the Russians used the same tactic to try to keep people from having any kind of competitive advantage over their people or influence over how they did business. You can do the math, but look where it got’em.


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20 Responses to The real value of Social media = Interaction

  1. Thanks, nice post.

    I like your idea of the need to narrow our scope to feel like we are in a conversation. The Internet pundits tell us that the number of social networks will grow by 250 times in the next couple of years. Maybe our need to feel like we are heard will be the driving force for that growth in SNS.


  2. fred wilson says:

    so true

    the other day I posited that comments are how bloggers get paid.

    this is a great line:

    “Let’s also assume that that is all that happens, we express ourselves but no one is listening. I bet that the phenomenon would die out very quickly.”

    that’s why @replies are so important in twitter and why we made the investment in disqus

    thanks for the post. great interaction!


  3. Fred, thanks for your @reply. You started it 😉

    Rodger, I really think there will be a desire to make the web look a bit smaller/personal/immersed with your physical space, hence the thought that public interaction will be less important. It’ll be there as a driving force, but people will interact more with few.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I am in full agreement that the evolution will go towards Interaction (intentionally with a capital I) and tighter conversations among smaller communities. I have just finished Clay Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody” and he does a very good job providing some explanation and frameworks for social media. One thing he discusses is the continuum of social media, starting with Sharing and moving to Cooperation where people coordinate to get something done (with some folks contibuting more and others less) to Collective Action where a group acts as a whole (with everyone contributing equally – such as social action or mob shopping). Each is more complex and requires a greater contribution of time or energy from the participants, but delivers greater value. And if the value is still greater than the cost of participating, then it is a net win.

    I think this is spot on – we are looking for ways to interact with people on one of a myriad of ways, and how we interact, the level of intensity, is in large part determined by the topic. For example it might be enough to Share back and forth information about cancer, until I want to take a stand in raising funds to support research which requires a greater level of engagement and a more valuable outcome. Then I might Coordinate people against the cause, or use a website like to create collective action.

    So to me it is about much more than sharing – I consider social media the next extreme sport – “Extreme Interactivity” is what i am calling it.


    p.s. I will cross post this on Fred’s latest blog too as I am interested in feedback.

  5. gregory says:

    the real value of social media is it heightens our relationship with ourself, makes it possible to get our dreams done more fluidly …. that is why we love it, increases our extent, our existence.

  6. gregory says:

    roger, our idea of who we are is expanding so that all that is happening is deemed the conversation …. intimacy is breaking boundaries… and it is a good feeling

  7. gregory says:

    sorry, misstype, rodger

  8. Robin Cannon says:

    I don’t entirely agree. I think the kind of interaction you talk about quite often reduces social media to existing friends groups – e.g. why I criticise Facebook as a long term sustainable success.

    I think networking, and interaction *for a purpose* is where the genuine use of social media comes from. The use of terms like “friends” and “chat” often give a misleading idea of what the medium is used for.

  9. Mark Dykeman says:

    Don’t forget the sharing aspect, which can be very one-sided interaction.

  10. Pingback: Social Media is Web 2.0 - Relationships - New Linchpin for User Value « - Business & Technology Blog

  11. Lindsay says:

    I think that people are still trying to figure out what they want to get out of social media. I think that there’s a divide between people who want to monetize it and people who simply want to participate and interact. For me, it’s the conversation ( that makes it all worth doing in the first place. I don’t have aspirations for making money so the motivation is meeting people and learning how they tick. It’s fascinating.

  12. @Mark, in essence when I write on my weblog I share one way. But the satisfaction comes from the interaction I get out of it. So one way sharing might work for a while, but it isn’t nearly as powerful as interaction.
    @Robin not true I think. I can interact with people on Twitter, even if they aren’t part of my friend group. I interact with commenters on my weblog, even though I don’t know a lot of you etc. etc.
    @Lindsay you are talking about the service providers vs the users here 😉 Users want to interact, the service provider wants to withdraw, different measures really 🙂

  13. Dave C says:

    Insightful post. This is exactly what drove me and some colleagues to create; We wanted a place that make it easy for people to have these interactions.

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  15. Another simple def would be “Social Activities around and using Media”. We created a simple visual report to explain Social Media to our clients. It is available here

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