Allan B Beaton 'Social Media Scientist'
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FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Media

social media word cloud

Aggregation is the process of gathering and remixing content from blogs and other websites that provide RSS feeds. The results may be displayed in an aggregator website like Bloglines or Google Reader, or directly on your desktop using software often also called a newsreader.

Alerts: search engines allow you to specify words, phrases or tags that you want checked periodically, with results of those searches returned to you by email. You may also be able to read the searches by RSS feed. This form of search allows you to check whether you, your organisation, your blog or blog item has been mentioned elsewhere, and so to respond if you wish.

Asynchronous communications are independent of time or place, and messages go to and fro rather than appearing in one place at almost the same time (synchronous communication). Examples of asynchronous communication are email lists, bulletin boards and forums.

An archive may refer to topics from an online discussion that has been closed but saved for later reference. On blogs, archives are collections of earlier items usually organised by week or month. You may still be able to comment on archived items.

Authenticity is the sense that something or someone is “real”. Blogs enable people to publish content, and engage in conversations, that show their interests and values, and so help them develop an authentic voice online.

Avatars are graphical images representing people. They are what you are in virtual worlds. You can build a visual character with the body, clothes, behaviours, gender and name of your choice. This may or may not be an authentic representation of you.

Back channel communications are private emails or other messages sent by the facilitator or between individuals during public conferencing. They can have a significant effect on the way that public conversations go.

Blogs are websites with dated items of content in reverse chronological order, self-published by bloggers. Items – sometimes called posts – may have keyword tags associated with them, are usually available as feeds, and often allow commenting.

Here’s a longer explanation: Traditional websites have pages as their main building blocks, with an address link (URL) for each page, and menus to provide navigation between them. Blogs are websites where the items of content – for example text, photos, video, and audio – have URLs plus other ways of identifying them by keywords – known as tags. This means you can search for individuals items on the Net, and also pull items out of their sites and remix them through feeds and aggregation. Blogs are generally designed in journal format, with most recent items at the top of a page, and written in a conversational, personal style, giving the author an authentic voice online. Blogs can offer readers the opportunity to comment on, and link to items. Because blog items can be made available from the site in a stream of content – known as an RSS feed – you can subscribe to them and read them through a newsreader or aggregator. That means you don’t have to visit a blog site to read it – you can pull the content to your desktop or a single website aggregator. Blogs are easy to set up, and update. Their disadvantage is that items can get buried under the growing heap of new content unless the author provides some signposting.

Blogosphere is the term used to describe the totality of blogs on the Internet, and the conversations taking place within that sphere.

blogroll is a list of sites displayed in the sidebar of blog, showing who the blogger reads regularly.

Bookmarking is saving the address of a website or item of content, either in your browser, or on a social bookmarking site like del.icio.us. If you add tags, others can easily use your research too, and the social bookmarking site becomes an enormous public library. If groups agree the tags they’ll use, it makes collaborative research much easier.

browser is the tool used to view websites, and access all the content available there onscreen or by downloading. Browsers may also have features including the ability to read feeds, write blog items, view and upload photos to photo sharing sites. Browsers have become the central tool for using social media as more and more tools previously used on our desktops are becoming free online.

Bulletin boards were the early vehicles for online collaboration, where users connected with a central computer to post and read email-like messages. They were the electronic equivalent of public notice boards. The term is still used for forums.

Categories are pre-specified ways to organise content – for example, a set of keywords that you can use but not add to when posting on a site. They form part of taxonomy.

Champions: in order to get conversations started in an online community, you need a group of enthusiasts willing and confident to get things moving by posting messages, responding, and helping others.

Chat is interaction on a web site, with a number of people adding text items one after the other into the same space at (almost) the same time. A place for chat – chat room – differs from a forum because conversations happen in “real time”, rather as they do face to face.

Collaboration: social media tools from email lists to virtual worlds offer enormous scope for collaboration. Low-risk activities like commenting, social bookmarking, chatting and blogging help develop the trust necessary for collaboration.

At greater length: Collaboration is one of the higher goals of social networking – being able to discuss and work with people across boundaries of organisation, time and space. The tools to achieve this extend from email with attachments through web-based workspaces with messaging, file storage, calendars and other tools. With the right equipment and connections you can talk to and see each other, text, sketch and transfer files almost instantly. You can set up a workspace in a virtual world, and collaborate with other avatars. However, the conditions for successful collaboration are more human and cultural than technical, with the bottom line being trust. Bloggers maintain that the conversational and authentic tone of the medium helps create conditions for collaboration. Sharing, commenting, chatting, co-authoring allow low-risk explorations of who you would feel comfortable working with.

Collective intelligence has been defined by George Pór as the capacity of a human community to evolve toward higher order complexity thought, problem-solving and integration through collaboration and innovation. For a network to develop this “mind of its own” there needs to be willingness among members to share and collaborate. Collective intelligence is not the same as the Wisdom of Crowds, where individual preferences and decisions may aggregate to produce better results without people consciously collaborating. The latter is more market oriented the former more cooperative.

Comments: blogs may allow readers to add comments under items, and may also provide a feed for comments as well as for main items. That means you can keep up with conversations without having to revisit the site to check whether anything has been added.

Commitment: the “social” aspect of social media means that tools are most useful when other people commit to using them too. Commitment will depend on people’s degree of interest in a subject, capability online, preparedness to share with others, degree of comfort in a new place, as well as the usability of the site or tool. If people are passionate about a subject and desperate to share and research, they will usually clamber over technical problems. But making things technically easier – while desirable – won’t usually gain people’s commitment on its own.
Online communities are groups of people communicating mainly through the Internet. They may simply have a shared interest to talk about … or more formally learn from each other and find solutions as a Community of Practice. Online communities may use email lists or forums, where content is centralised. Communities may also emerge from conversations around or between bloggers. List or forum-based communities can be difficult to join up with blog-based communities because of the different ways they operate technically. While communities do emerge organically, some community-building is necessary if there are specific goals to achieve.

Community building is the process of recruiting potential community or network participants, helping them to find shared interests and goals, use the technology, and develop useful conversations. A number of different roles may be involved.

An online conference is what happens in a forum: it is the conversations of those involved, organised around topics, threads, and a theme or subject.

Connections: as high-speed, always-on, broadband connections become more widely available, it is easy to forget that the speed and nature of Internet connection available to people on a network will determine what tools they can use. If people are still using slow telephone dialup they may have problems with video and voice over IP. If they don’t have an always-on connection, Web-based tools will be less appealing because work on them can only be done when connected.

Content is used here to describe text, pictures, video and any other meaningful material that is on the Internet.

Content management systems (CMS) are sometime described as the Swiss Army knives of social media. They are software suites offering the ability to create static web pages, document stores, blog, wikis, and other tools. CMSs have the advantage of offering comprehensive solutions – but can be challenging to configure, and each of the different tools may not be quite as good as a stand-along version. Unless you have some technical skills, they are best suited for situations where you can employ a web developer to work with you, and provide some continuing support.

Control: social networking is difficult to control because if people can’t say something in one place they can blog or comment elsewhere. That can be challenging for hierarchical organisations used to centrally-managed websites.

Conversation through blogging, commenting or contributing to forums is the currency of social networking.
At more length: A popular perception of bloggers is of people ranting on a virtual soapbox without knowing who is listening. While that may be true for some, the real rewards of blogging come from exchanges with others. Every blogger needs an audience – and preferably one adding comments. Even better if another blogger picks up your item, adds a link and a little interpretation, publishes on their site, and puts a trackback to yours. That way you pick up readers coming in from the other site, and know from the trackback you have someone with whom to start a conversation. Even if there isn’t a trackback, you can set up searches to alert you when someone mentions your name, site or conversation thread on the Net.

Copyright*: sharing through social media is enhanced by attaching a Creative Commons license specifying, for example, that content may be re-used with attribution, provided that a similar license is then attached by the new author. This work is under that type of license – Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 License
At more length: In the spirit of openness and sharing generally prevalent among social networkers, you will often find content labelled with a copyright license that allows you to re-use the material provided you provide an attribution. The Creative Commons site offers different licenses. One frequently used is Attribution-Share Alike, whereby you can alter and re-use the content provided you then add the same license. This may not appeal to people or organisations who like substantial control. Again, it is partly a cultural and personal issue, rather than a technical one.

Crowd sourcing refers to harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of those outside an organisation who are prepared to volunteer their time contributing content and solving problems.

Culture: social media only works well in a culture of openness, where people are prepared to share. For that reason, commitment and attitude are as important as tools. Creative two-way communication and collaboration is unlikely to flourish in an organisation where the norm is top-down control. When people in that sort of culture talk about networking they may have a hub and spokes model in mind, with them having some central control.

Cyberspace has been widely used as a general term for the Internet or World Wide Web. More recently blogosphere has emerged as a term for interconnected blogs.

Default, in computing, refers to the settings on any device that come “out of the box”. It may be used loosely to suggest “lowest common” … so when trying to set up ways of collaborating online you may hear reference to email-with-attachments as the default. The challenge in social networking is that you may need to move from default mode to something customised to your requirements.

Democracy: Social networking and media are potentially attractive to those who want to revive representative democracy, and those who promote participative approaches … or both. Social media offers politicians and their constituents another communication channel. It also offers a wide range of methods for people to discuss, deliberate and take action.

To download is to retrieve a file or other content from an Internet site to your computer or other device. See Upload.

Ego searches. See alerts

Email: Electronic mail is messages transmitted over the Internet. These may be simply text, or accompanied by attachments like documents, images or other content.

Email lists, or groups, are important networking tools offering the facility to “starburst” a message from a central post box to any number of subscribers, and for them to respond. Lists usually offer a facility for reading and replying through a web page – so they can also operate like forums. This web page may offer an RSS feed – so joining up old and new tools. However, there is something of a divide between blog-based conversations and those on lists and forums because the former are dispersed across a network and the latter don’t usually allow tagging or such easy linking.

Face-to-face (f2) is used to describe people meeting offline. While social media may reduce the need to meet, direct contact gives far more clues, quickly, about a person than you can get online. Online interaction is likely to be richer after f2f meetings.

facilitator is someone who helps people in an online group or forum manage their conversations. They may help agree a set of rules, draw out topics for discussion, gently keep people on topic, and summarise. See also roles.

Feeds are the means by which you can read, view or listen to items from blogs and other RSS-enabled sites without visiting the site, by subscribing and using an aggregator or newsreader. Feeds contain the content of an item and any associated tags without the design or structure of a web page.

Folksonomy: Taxonomies are centralised ways of classifying information – as in libraries. Folksonomies are the way folk create less structured ways of classifying by adding tags.

Forums are discussion areas on websites, where people can post messages or comment on existing messages asynchronously – that is, independently of time or place. Chat is the synchronous equivalent. Before blogs developed, email lists and forums were the main means of conversing online. Forum discussions happen in one place, and so can be managed and facilitated in ways that blog conversations can’t because these are happening in many different places controlled by their authors.

Friends, on social networking sites, are contacts whose profile you link to in your profile. On some sites people have to accept the link, in others, not.

Groups are collections of individuals with some sense of unity through their activities, interests or values. They are bounded: you are in a group, or not. They differ in this from networks, which are dispersed, and defined by nodes and connections. Email lists and forums sit easily with bounded groups, blogs with networks – although the match with tools is not entirely clear-cut. A group may use a blog, and an email list may serve a network.

Host (as in web host)

Instant messaging: (IM) is chat with one other person. Using an IM tool like AOL Instant MessengerMicrosoft Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. The tools allow you to indicate whether or not you are available for a chat, and if so can be a good alternative to emails for a rapid exchange. Problems arise when people in a group are using different IM tools that don’t connect. One way around this is to use a common Voice over IP tool like Skype that also provides IM

Joining up is a big opportunity – and challenge – in the world of social media and networking. On the one hand links, tags and feeds – together with the spirit of openness – means content in different places can be brought together (aggregated). On the other hand, the move from groups to networks, and forums to blogs, means that content is spread around and there is seldom a one-stop-shop.

Links are the highlighted text or images that, when clicked; jump you from one web page or item of content to another. Bloggers use links a lot when writing, to reference their own or other content. Linking is another aspect of sharing, by which you offer content that may be linked, and acknowledge the value of other’s people’s contributions by linking to them. It is part of being open and generous.

Listening in the blogosphere is the art of skimming feeds to see what topics are bubbling up, and also setting up searches that monitor when you or your organisation is mentioned.

Location: the nature of location and presence is changed by the Internet and social media, because you can be active on line in many different places, including in virtual worlds.

Logging in is the process to gaining access to a website that restricts access to content, and requires registration. This usually involves typing in a username and password. The username may be your “real” name, or a combination of letters and/or numbers chosen for the purpose.

Lurkers are people who read but don’t contribute or add comments to forums. The one per cent rule-of-thumb suggests about one per cent of people contribute new content to an online community, another nine percent comment, and the rest lurk. However, this may not be a passive role because content read on forums may spark interaction elsewhere.

Malware short for malicious software, consists of programming (code, scripts, active content, and other software) designed to disrupt or deny operation, gather information that leads to loss of privacy or exploitation, gain unauthorized access to system resources, and other abusive behaviour. The expression is a general term used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code

Mapping networks enables you see who are the main connecting people. To do that you may need to ask people who they communicate with most frequently. If you want to grow an online community or network from an existing “real world” network, it will be important that the key people in the network overlap with the champions for online networking.

Mashups* are the smart mixes that techies do to combine several tools to create a new web services.

Meetings are important in social networking in at least two ways. First, they accelerate the process of people getting to know each other. See Face-to-face. Second, the open and fluid style of social media is making those using it impatient with committee-style meetings and conferences dominated by platform speakers. With a little commitment it is possible to agree some meeting topics beforehand, circulate material, capture discussion at the time, carry on discussions afterwards … or maybe not have the meeting at all. Use Voice over IP, chat, instant messaging … or even a get-together in a virtual world.
Membership involves belonging to a group. Networking can offer some of the benefits of group membership, without the need for as much central co-ordination. A rise in networking may present challenges for organisations that depend on membership for funds or to demonstrate their credibility.

Networks are structures defined by nodes and the connections between them. In social networks the nodes are people, and the connections are the relationships that they have. Networking is the process by which you develop and strengthen those relationships.

newsreader is a website or desktop tool that act as an aggregator, gathering content from blogs and similar sites using RSS feeds so you can read the content in one place, instead of having to visit different sites.

Online means being connected to the Internet, and also being there in the sense of reading or producing content.

Offline means not online, that is, not connected to the Internet. It may refer to an unconnected computer, or activities taking place without the benefit (or perhaps distraction) of a connection.

Openness is being prepared to share and collaborate – something aided by social media. Open source software – developed collaboratively with few constraints on its use – is a technical example. In order to be open online you may offer share-alike copyright licenses, and you may tag content and link generously to other people’s content. This demonstrates open source thinking.

Open-source software. Wikipedia offers this definition: Open-source software “refers to any computer software whose source code is available under a license that permits users to study, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form. It is often developed in a public, collaborative manner”. See also openness

Participation – or participatory – culture is used to described a way of doing things in which people use social media to share and collaborate. Using social media certainly opens up more and more ways to do that. It may encourage openness and transparency. However, the tools do not on their own create a participatory culture, because people are unlikely to commit to using them unless they are that way inclined in the first place.

Peer-to-peer refers to direct interaction between two people in a network. In that network, each peer will be connected to other peers, opening the opportunity for further sharing and learning.

Permalink is the address (URL) of an item of content, for example a blog post, rather than the address of a web page with lots of different items. You will often find it at the end of a blog post.

Photo sharing is uploading your images to a website like Flickr. You can add tags and offer people the opportunity to comment or even re-use your photos if you add an appropriate copyright license.

platform is the framework or system within which tools work. That platform may be as broad as mobile telephony, or as narrow as a piece of software that has different modules like blogs, forums, and wikis in a suite of tools. As more and more tools operate “out there” on the web, rather than on your desktop, people refer to “the Internet as the platform”. That has advantages, but presents challenges in learning lots of different tools, and getting them to join up.

podcast is audio or video content that can be downloaded automatically through a subscription to a website so you can view or listen offline.
post is an item on a blog or forum.

Presence online has (at least) two aspects. One is whether you show up when someone does a search on your name. If not, no good pretending to be an online guru. The second is whether you use tools that show you are available for contact by instant messaging, voice over IP, or other synchronous methods of communication.

Profiles are the information that you provide about yourself when signing up for a social networking site. As well as a picture and basic information, this may include your personal and business interests, a “blurb” about yourself, and tags to help people search for like-minded people.

Proprietary* software, unlike Open-source software, is owned by someone – whether Microsoft or an individual developer. Some proprietary software may be free, and some open-source software may be sold. The issue is the terms under which the underlying code is available.

Readiness is a check on whether you – or your organisation – are prepared to engage with social media. An obvious issue is whether you feel technically confident – but a further issue then is whether as an individual you are ready to “find your voice” online, or whether as an organisation you will becomfortable with an open and non-hierarchical environment. Everyone will have different preferences on how to engage online, so it may be best to lurk, explore, and try small steps.

Registration is the process of providing a username, password and other details when seeking to access a website that has restricted access. See logging in.

Remixing: social media offers the possibility of taking different items of content, identified by tags and published through feeds, and combining them in different ways. You can do this with other people’s content if they add an appropriate copyright license.

Roles: parties need hosting, committees need chairing, and working groups may need facilitation. Online networks and communities need support from people who may be called, for example, technology stewards or network weavers. Champions are the core group of enthusiasts you need to start a community.

RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication. This allows you to subscribe to content on blogs and other social media and have it delivered to you through a feed.

Searching for information on the Net is done using a search engine, of which Google is the best known. Specialist search engines like Technorati concentrate on blogs. As well as searching by word or phrase you can search on tags, and so find content others have key worded.

Sharing is offering other people the use of your text, images, video, bookmarks or other content by adding tags, and applying copyright licenses that encourage use of content.

Social media is a term for the tools and platforms people use to publish, converse and share content online. The tools include blogs, wikis, podcasts, and sites to share photos and bookmarks.

Social networking sites are online places where users can create a profile for themselves, and then socialise with others using a range of social media tools including blogs, video, images, tagging, lists of friends, forums and messaging.

start page* – like PageflakesNetvibes or Google Personalised Home page – is web page that you can configure to pull in content from a range of web-based services including email, feeds from blogs and news services. It is a multi-purpose aggregator. Home pages used to be static affairs providing a sort of shop window for a site. They can now be your ever-changing window into the Net, and a way of organising a lot of different activities.

Stories, as well as conversations, are a strong theme in blogging. Anecdotes, bits of gossip and longer narratives work particularly well on blogs if they have a personal angle. It helps others get to know the blogger – and helps the blogger find and extend their voice.
Subscribing is the process of adding an RSS feed to your aggregator or newsreader. It’s the online equivalent of signing up for a magazine, but usually free.

Subscribing is the process of adding an RSS feed to your aggregator or newsreader. It’s the online equivalent of signing up for a magazine, but usually free.

Synchronous communications are those occurring in real time, like chat, audio or video. Face-to-face communication is synchronous in the same place. Telephony is synchronous, in different places; The Internet extends the scope for both types of communication.

Tags are keywords attached to a blog post, bookmark, photo or other item of content so you and others can find them easily through searches and aggregation. Tags can usually be freely chosen – and so form part of a folksonomy – while categories are predetermined and are part of taxonomy.

Taxonomy is an organised way of classifying content, as in a library. Providing contributors to a site with a set of categories under which they can add content is offering taxonomy. Allowing people to add their own keywords is to endorse folksonomy.

technology steward is someone who can facilitate community and network development. Nancy White offers the definition: “Technology stewards are people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community”.

Teleconferencing is holding a meeting without being in the same place, using a network connection and tools like Voice over IP, Instant Messaging, Video, and Whiteboards.

Terms of services are the basis on which you agree to use a forum or other web-based place for creating or sharing content. Check before agreeing what rights the site owners may claim over your content.

Threads are strands of conversation. On an email list or web forum they will be defined by messages that use the use the same subject. On blogs they are less clearly defined, but emerge through comments and trackbacks.

Tool is used here as shorthand for a software applications on your computer, and also for applications that are Web-based.

topic in an online discussion is an idea, issue – talking point – in a conversation that is made up of threads.

Trackback: some blogs provide a facility for other bloggers to leave a calling card automatically, instead of commenting. Blogger A may write on blog A about an item on blogger B’s site, and through the trackback facility leave a link on B’s site back to A. The collection of comments and trackbacks on a site facilitates conversations.

Transparency: Enhancing searching, sharing, self-publish and commenting across networks makes it easier to find out what’s going on in any situation where there is online activity.
Troll: A hurtful but possibly valuable loser who, for whatever reason, is both obsessed by and constantly annoyed with, and deeply offended by everything you write on your blog. You may be able to stop them commenting on your blog, but you can’t ban them from commenting on other sites and pointing back to your blog, and you can’t ban them from posting things on their own blog that point back to your site.

To upload is to transfer a file or other content from your computer to an Internet site.

URL: Unique Resource Locator is the technical term for a web address like http://www.bbc.co.uk

User generated content is text, photos and other material produced by people who previously just consumed. See content.

Video Many digital cameras and mobile phones take videos good enough to view on the Net. Sites like YouTube and blip.tv now make it easy to open an account, upload and share your videos. These sites will also provide some unique code for each video so you can, if you wish, embed the video in a blog post. Short interviews that “capture the moment” work well, particularly if you provide a text summary so people can easily decide whether or not to view. However, check whether the audience you are aiming at is likely to have a fast enough connection, and up to date browser, to view your video easily.

Virtual worlds are online places like Second Life, where you can create a representation of yourself (an avatar) and socialise with other residents. Basic activity is free, but you can buy currency (using real money) in order to purchase land and trade with other residents. Second Life is being used by some voluntary organisations to run discussions, virtual events and fundraising.

Your voice online Social media enables you to extend your voice by increasing your reach across the Net, and doing that in the way that suits you best. You can write – or if you are a visual person you can upload photos or other images and invite comments. If you prefer talking, use Voice over IP, or perhaps record and upload a podcast, capture interviews and events on video. Your voice can be focussed on your blog … or be available on other sites through your commenting, linking and use of social media websites.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) enables you to use a computer or other Internet device for phone calls without additional charge, including conference calls. By using headphones and a microphone you can also free your hands to use instant messaging to keep a shared note of conversations, or use other virtual presence tools. You can use Voice over IP to do interviews for Podcasts. The best-known VOIP tool is Skype.

Web 2.0 is a term coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004 to describe blogs, wikis, social networking sites and other Internet-based services that emphasize collaboration and sharing, rather than less interactive publishing (Web 1.0). It is associated with the idea of the Internet as platform.

Web-based toolsGoogleYahoo and a host of other commercial organisations provide an increasing range of free or low-cost tools including email, calendars, word processing, and spreadsheets that can be used on the web rather than your desktop. Provided you are happy to entrust your data to these organisations – and are always online when working – you can reduce your software costs significantly and forget about upgrades.

Widgets* are a stand-alone applications you can embed in other applications, like a website or a desktop, or view on its own on a PDA. These may help you to do things like subscribe to a feed, do a specialist search, or even make a donation.

Whiteboards online are the equivalent of glossy surfaces where you can write with an appropriate marker pen and wipe off later. They are tools that enable you to write or sketch on a web page, and as such are useful in collaboration online.
wiki is a web page – or set of pages – that can be edited collaboratively. The best known example is Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia created by thousands of contributors across the world. Once people have appropriate permissions – set by the wiki owner – they can create pages and/or add to and alter existing pages. Wikis are a good way for people to write a document together, instead of emailing files to and fro. You don’t have to use wikis for collaborative working – they can just be a quick and easy way of creating a web site. Although wikis are easy to use, that doesn’t mean everyone in a group will commit to their use with similar enthusiasm. See commitment, readiness.