R.I.P. Social Media, it was a nice dream while it lasted

Let’s set the record straight right from the beginning.

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Buzz or any of the other hundreds of wannabes out there fishing for VC dollars as their only viable business model are not social media. At best they are just another play on the whole social network idea and at the worst they are nothing more than marketing coal mines.

All those so-called social media gurus or experts out there who do nothing more than get companies all jacked about the idea that followers and friends are the new marketing crack are no better than snake-oil salesmen. The only problem is that in the process of lining their pockets they have polluted and torn apart something that could have been a turning point in our society.

For the longest time now I have been a firm believer that Social Media at its heart was the platform by which we as individuals could come together and through conversation, effect change like never before. Instead what we get are companies pandering to the lowest common denominator in order to create pipelines of personal information for which they can charge top dollar to companies that just want to sell us some more garbage – social change be damned.

It has only been in the last little while that I have even begun to question the idea about Social Media being about the larger conversation. I still hold out hope for that admittedly idyllic dream but the reality is that Social Media has lost to Facebook and the marketers when it comes to the small conversation. In fact I would suggest that while people like Joel Postman and Tom Foremski suggest that social media is more about publication rather than conversation, I am seeing it as nothing more than a marketing platform.

In his post Joel writes

Problems arise when we behave in so-called online conversations as if we are in real conversations. We say things without considering whether we want them permanently recorded in an online archive available to nearly 2 billion people. We tweet an offhand remark to a friend, in a simulation of a one-to-one conversation, which happens to be visible to 500 million people. Our most casual remarks are recorded for future employers, business competitors, customers, clients, potential litigants, political adversaries and others.

Well I would go one step further than and suggest that this has become the intention of all current social networks and ones that are in development. Everything is being structured in such a way to make us believe that these online conversation are indeed just like having a coffee with friends. This way we keep feeding the data pipeline being maintained by companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Tom writes

That’s what social media is about. It’s about publishing, allowing anyone to publish back. It’s feedback, it’s a response, it’s not a conversation.

He’s right but I also would suggest that the publication we are doing isn’t our own anymore, or at least a very small portion of it is. Rather we have become re-publishers for marketing spam. It is all about retweeting, sharing, rebuzzing other peoples content. It is about passing along the latest contest, the latest meme (increasingly started by some marketing firm) or a link to the latest viral video.

Take a look at the hottest topics when it comes to Social Media and it is all about telling companies better ways they can con us into thinking they care about having a conversation. It’s all about getting more eyeballs on your Facebook Fan page or how to best use 140 characters to get your non-sales sales pitch across to as many people as possible, and then get them to retweet it.

For once we had the possibility of a global platform from which we had the power to make those in power listen to us. What we have ended up with is nothing more that a digital Madison Avenue and a whole lot of digital garbage that won’t shut up.

I would like to hold out some hope that the original intention of Social Media could make a resurgence. A hope that we can take back our platform for change. I just don’t see it happening which is really sad.