IN LATE 2001, when I first started blogging, I remember how adamant I felt about keeping my blog posts local (on my laptop) because that was the only way I could hold claim to the content. I bounced between several hosts, not knowing who would be around in a year or two and I really wanted to keep my content in a place where I could touch it. Back then, I kept Radio Userland running on my laptop and I could watch my hard drive fill up with XML content from Radio as I clicked through 1000 blog posts. I remember talking with Karlin Lillington and Gavin Sheridan, both Radio Userland bloggers in the early days, as we tried to figure out how to uncork Radio when it just didn't want to publish to the online site. Karlin, the journalist, pointed out that writing a blog post was meaningless unless it could be accessed from anywhere. You had to publish online if you wanted to connect to others in a meaningful way. Some of the motivation that pushed me to try Blogger and then Movable Type lay in the idea that both of those systems shoveled your work directly to the global cloud of bloggers. By their very nature, their blogging architecture made blogging more accessible.
You can reduce blogging to writing. In the beginning, blogs were human endeavors--I started blogging by outlining thoughts in journals such as the one in the photo (above left). Then they evolved to incorporate more than writing and blogs became more like aggregators. Today, I think much of the new activity lies in social networking, not blogging. Those new activities often incorporate video streams, shared music, lifestreams and microcontent such as the small strings of text familiar to communities such as Twitter, Jaiku and Pownce. What I once knew as blogging is morphing into a distributed system of microcontent generation.
I point to Google and the rise of cloud computing when explaining how all this has happened. Simple yet effective digital connectivity has penetrated many nooks and crannies of our society, changing how we view "friends" and "degrees of separation" along the way.
There is some concern about the sanctity of space surrounding these social networks, including some strident calls telling brand managers, communications consultants or social media experts to back away from the play space. Some irritable twentysomethings resent established communicators slapping new labels on parts of their cyberspace neighbourhoods. I don't think there's any need for protectionism, especially considering that the current recession brings with it a trough of disillusionment because you won't get results quickly from single blog posts nor will you cement meaningful relationships just by tweeting 40,000 times.
What you will discover is that the cloud powering social networking is going to grow. Its expansion follows naturally from a combination of ever cheaper and more powerful personal communications devices that can transceive in the background. For example, I have a Nokia E90 that knows where I am in the world and it automatically tells Flickr, the photo-sharing site, my latitude and longitude whenever I click an image upstream to the Flickr cloud. When I walk into a room, my E90 knows the number of people it trusts and it tells me that on screen while advising those trusted about parts of my calendar it would like to share. I can talk into my phone and with just three clicks of a menu, I can share the high-quality audio clip with a worldwide audience. Just a single click is needed to share a low-quality video clip with a live audience.
From feedback on the job, I know some companies who have moved into this cloud of social networking because several recent Tipperary Institute graduates are cautiously positioning their employers in this space. I suspect the current economic malaise will increase the pressure on companies to become more efficient by getting in front of people with a lower expenditure and that could mean jumping onto the social networking cloud.
Social networking can be a complex undertaking. We break the space into three layers in my social media classroom: infrastructure (like Twitter or Facebook), applications (like with the iPhone, Nokia's Series 60 client, or Android), and the periphery (tweet-ups, call-ins, or unconferences). All three of these layers will impact on the way people grade their IT experiences and all three need to grow together in order to help the social networking cloud get thicker. Based on what I see in my pocket and on the Christmas wish lists of many third level students, social networking has become commoditised, even before we've agreed in how we use it effectively.