Last month’s initial meeting of the New York chapter of the Social Media Club went well enough that they had a second meeting last night. As previously noted, Social Media Club is one of the things that BrainJams is doing now. It’s still in the formative stages, and it’s unclear what it’s for and what it’s meant to achieve, and the founders Chris Heuer and Howard Greenstein are looking for input. Yes, that’s right, Social Media Club is itself an experiment in social media.
So, what is social media? That was the first question asked, and there were a whole variety of answers. One person asked “What media is not social?” A good question. Media is all about communication and connecting people. For instance, somebody asked whether if he and his friend both read the New York Times, and then they have a conversation about what they read in the paper, does that make the NYT social media? One of the other attendees, David Berkowitz, apparently disagrees.
I tossed out the idea that social media may have to do with community building. Somebody had pointed out the importance of building relationships – that social media involves identity and reputation, even if it is pseudonymous. I picked up on that and commented about the importance of relationships and reputation in building a community. You can’t have a community with truly anonymous members because there is no accountability and it will degenerate into the tragedy of the commons.
It also relates back to the first example – if there is a community of New York Times readers, then I might argue that while the NYT may not reflect that community, it is a necessary element of the community’s construction. And I think there is a surprising amount that can be done with media even without the direct acknowledgment of the media creators. Henry Jenkins’s book on Convergence Culture (which I’m still only halfway through) is all about re-appropriating media through tropes like fan fiction and fan boards.
My one journey into uber-fan-hood illustrates the power of such communities. When I was a grad student, Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit the airwaves. This was the first TV show I watched religiously. I only knew a couple other people that watched it, but fortunately the Internet was there to save the day. I quickly became an active member of the alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer community, where I co-wrote the original FAQ. We fleshed out theories about the show’s mythology, kept better track of the show’s continuity than the writers, etc. There’s definitely an element of “social media” in there, but I’m at somewhat of a loss as to where it is. Is it contained only on the newsgroup? Well, the newsgroup wouldn’t exist without the show. Which part is the social media? It gets messy.
Moving on, we started talking about disclosure and how that applies to social media. A San Francisco get-together had proposed three T’s of social media: Truth, Transparency and Trust. One of the proposals of the SF chapter was that people could self-select to hold themselves to such standards by affixing a badge created by Social Media Club to their sites. Somebody asked why bloggers should even aspire to such qualities and how that could be policed. Bloggers aren’t journalists, and therefore should not try to hold themselves to the same standards.
I think I picked up on that later by suggesting my idealistic world where people actually have some level of media literacy. In other words, if we can’t fix the source (and I don’t think we can or should), then we should try to fix the receiver. We need to teach people that they can not uncritically accept everything that they see or read. In some ways, the plethora of viewpoints out there being made apparent in the blogosphere may drive us into media literacy whether we like it or not. If the same facts are getting twisted one way on one website, and another elsewhere, choosing which to believe may force people to think about what other issues are involved, whether the writers may have hidden interests, etc. Or they could just retreat into their own personal blogosphere, but I hope not.
One other thought I had during the discussion was that we may start treating media sources like we treat other people. In the real world, there are people I trust, people I’ll listen to skeptically, and people who I will just ignore. Why shouldn’t the same thing be true of my media sources? We’ll find media sources that we like, either because they are trustworthy, or possibly because they have a consistent bias (one of the reasons I like The Economist is that their bias is obvious and consistent). Other media sources we’ll check in on occasionally to see what’s going on, but treat the information we get from there as being gossip-level at best. I’m not quite sure how to relate this idea back to social media yet (a Friendster for media sources perhaps?) but I like the direction.
Those are all the thoughts I can remember off the top of my head. Afterwards, several of us went out to dinner and continued a lovely conversation for a couple more hours. It turned out many of us were Bay Area ex-pats, and the get-together reminded us of similar get-togethers back in the Bay. One of my goals is to find more such communities here in New York; fortunately, Social Media Club may turn out to be one of them.