Posted by: Joseph S. Lima | June 10, 2009

What is the Social Web?

To help you understand why I decided to write about the Social Web let us step back in time (cue favorite time travel music).  It was late 2007, I was in a sleep deprived state from the recent birth of the twins and I found myself wandering the Internet.  I soon discovered Seth Godin, Matt Dickman and Jeremiah Owyang talking about being different and unique, about using new media (video and blogs) for marketing purposes, and about communities and macro industry trends.  It was very enlightening.

I had been reading blogs for several years, such as Neal of Arabia and Bloody Marvellous! (a friend and former colleague), Mini-Microsoft and Groklaw.  Social networks like Myspace, Facebook, and Youtube were on my radar but I did not really pay much attention to them.  By the end of 2007 I was hooked on social media, finding more bloggers and books, consuming as much as I could.  Then I started to think about how my employer at the time could use some of these concepts to reach new audiences through Facebook or through a viral video campaign.  I learned some hard lessons in trying to promote and shepherd these ideas inside a large company. Did I miss some concept that would have helped sell the ideas? Where we too early in the acceptance curve?

In looking for answers as to why the ideas did not take hold, I did what I do best, which is more research.  I was aware of the concept of the Semantic Web, which is Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web as a universal medium for data, information, and knowledge exchange (watch his TED presentation here; the social networking reference is at 13:30). Every interaction, every bit of content on every social network site is data that is locked up in many different silos. The potential benefits (and pitfalls) will not be realized until the data is linked across the web. The Semantic Web really describes the steps and standards as to how the data will be linked. “Social media” or “social networking” as descriptive phrases do not really capture the potential of a future web. Was there a better phrase? Sure enough I found one.

There is a fabulous book from Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li called Groundswell. It really laid out the basic steps for companies to develop a focus social marketing strategy.  Josh recently had a post called Why Social Media Sucks where he writes that media is “something that media companies control, and media is overwhelmingly one-way. The online social world is about as two-way, multi-way, any-way as it can be” and “if you want to refer to the whole world of people connecting and drawing strength from each other online, you can call it the Social Web”. Easy to understand and explain; social media, social networking, videos, podcasts and so on all falling under the Social Web banner. Yet I was trying to tie the Social Web and Semantic Web concepts together. How could I explain the evolution of what has been occurring online? 

Jeremiah Owyang at Forrester did a pretty good job of tying the Social Web/Semantic Web concepts in a report called, “The Five Eras of the Social Web” and provided a synopsis on his blog. Essentially, our data and our identities, personal and public, exist in silos. Technology will allow us to connect with people who share very similar backgrounds, experiences and preferences across networks. We will rely upon these diverse networks to inform our decisions such as where to eat, send our children to school or where to shop. Technology will also allow companies and organizations to provide us very targeted messages, offers and services. We, as individuals, should and will have control over our identities and the extent to which we share information about ourselves. My goal is to share what I learn about the Social Web so that you can anticipate and participate in what is to come. 

What do you think the future of the social web will look like?


  1. I have tried so many new products based on (unpaid) recommendations from bloggers. Unfortunately many of these women are now trying to “monetize their brand.” Nonetheless, the social web will continue to evolve especially as we all begin to carry smartphones (which need a better name) and can tie in our physical location as well. When I was in the Customer Relationship Management group at Aberdeen, we talked about Web 2.0 and brand management and identity management a lot, and our guru Jeff Zabin is a great resource on this.

  2. Good morning Gretchen,
    Thanks for the comments and Jeff’s info. We should all evaluate any recommendation sent to us, especially if the recommendation has an “automated” feel to it. As for smart phones, there are apps for the iPhone that tie into the built GPS. Now that Apple has dropped the price of the entry level phone to $99, you will see more of them around. Now if Apple would sign a deal with Verizon…

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