Democratised Content & Barriers of Entry

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Now before we all stop and stare in wonder at our amazing digital minds and gush about how innovative, new, fresh and all round awesome we are, can we please take a step back? Ever since someone decided to perpetuate the term ‘Web 2.0’ as a repositioning exercise for online communities that have existed for as long as the internet has, there has been a deluge of purple prose dedicated to telling ourselves and the entire world exactly how wonderful everything online with white space and glossy glass effect graphics is.

So, for a minute, can we step away from the latest buzzword-laden statement from the latest guru explaining to us mere mortals how social media “changes everything in the whole world ever for reals” and at least look at this objectively. All of the guff along the lines of democratisation of content and participation was not born with the term ‘Web 2.0’, or even ‘information superhighway’. I am afraid that these concepts are a little older than the internet as we know it today. I am sure that someone has once used these very buzzwords in relation to 1980’s hip hop, street zines, graffiti and a myriad of other forms of expression. I’m sorry to say it, but no, you are not involved in some society changing paradigm shift. Wanker.

The key changes in the way we approach media are all off the back of technology, not in the way people view or interact with the world. Creating a parody ad creative using copyright material is not new; the ability to get an international audience for it easily and for next to no cost is. The intent and drive isn’t new, the technology is what has changed.

It is also worth pointing out to some Social Media ExpertsTM that people were writing journals before Blogspot, that people posted images online before Flickr, people had communities before Facebook and Myspace and you could find videos before Youtube. I know this might seem obvious, but unfortunately I suspect it needs to be mentioned, especially to those for whom the words Geocities, IRC, MUD et al mean nothing. So why have we seen such an explosion of content and memes? Why are we suddenly bombarded with so much user generated content if people had the ability and motivation to create it for ages? The current place that we find ourselves is due to a number of factors: higher connection speeds, ease of search, lowered barriers of entry.

Previously it took a certain level of competence and specific interest to have an internet connection and to use it. Browsing habits were limited by both bandwidth and speed. Sure there was video material to view in the late 1990’s, but it took ages to download. The ability to post your own content was limited by access to tools and required ability and knowledge. The scope of sites indexed in the dominant search engines was not as large as it currently is, making obscure content harder to locate. As the internet was mainstreamed through awareness of utility and ease of connection the available audience grew, and drove the growth of online communities and the advent of social media as we know it today.

So I’m sorry, but no, social media isn’t new, it is just bigger, faster and more accessible. Appropriation and conversion of cultural artefacts is not new, it is just easier to see, and you are not a unique butterfly of wonder and delight, you are just some Kool-Aid drinking wanker without the ability to take a step back and see the world around you for what it is.

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