cc licensed flickr photo shared by Horia Varlan

When a discussion veers into debates of definitions of terms, my yawn reflex usually kicks into gear, so its with some trepidation (and concerns of comments lambasting my hypocrisy so I am claiming it now). Like many I get muddy whether I cam referring to something as “social media” versus “social networking”, and usually lean on the former using the latter around media (flickr, youtube, slideshare, etc).

I got a bit of clarity (but a third leg of the definition stool to deal with) from Ben Parr’s recent Mashable column Facebook, Twitter and The Two Branches of Social Media (which sits under the banner of Mashable Social Media… sigh).

He opens with the observation that most people easily see Facebook as a social network (it has to be, now that a movie has been made, eh?), where it gets more iffy with twitter, which is in many ways social networkish, but then again not:

People have used the terms “social media” and “social network” almost interchangeably over the years. It’s inaccurate to say that they’re the same thing, though. In fact, I argue that social networking is a branch of social media, and can itself be further broken down into two distinct branches “” the social network and the information network.

It’s with this distinction that I attempt to explain the relationship between Facebook and Twitter, and why I believe they are not destined for a clash of the titans. Instead, they represent two different sides of the same coin.

Parr observes that the basic practice in each are the same, “statusing” -stating what you are doing at the moment, but cites the significant different in that social connections in Facebook are totally reciprocal (if I am Jane’s friend, then she is mine), where it can be hugely asymmetrical in twitter.

He then references a really fascinating Korean research paper (slideshare below) that has some really interesting visualizations of the research they did, where they conclude that the information sharing on twitter has more affinity to news media than social networking.

Yet, I am not ready to latch on to adding Yet One More Definition to the mix, as Parr proposes an “Information Network” (don’t all networks transmit information?)

The concept of an information network is a more recent phenomenon. Information networks are about leveraging different networks to distribute and consume information. While they may utilize an array social media tools in order to find, curate or deliver content, they focus less on what’s happening in your social graph and more on information you want. Twitter may be the best example of an information network, but YouTube (video), Flickr (photos) and Digg (news) are information networks as well.

And now my definition barf reflex kicks in. ” Information networks are about leveraging different networks to distribute and consume information” Isn’t that just the more general definition of a network?

I also got my fur raised a little during today’s run, listening to an ITConversations podcast on Geostreams by Twitter’s “Director of Geo” Othman Laraki. He was citing several of the well known events where the action of communication in Twitter has generated action on a quick or large scale- the word of the student jailed in Egypt, the coming together in Haiti for hurricane relief, reporting on California wild fires.

Yet Laraki kept referring to a lot of this phenomena as “self-organizing” behavior, which did not seem exactly right. Or maybe it is. I consult WikiPedia:

Self-organization is the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that makes up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a coordinator).

So people all tweeting news of an event, a disaster, is of course not coordinated, and unplanned. And maybe a pattern is observed, but is it really organization– does the pattern appear on its own? The article suggests a subtle difference with Emergence:

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.

And now I am completely over mushed with definitions, and heave a collective yawn. I am sure some philosophical expert will weight in with something profound (please do).

I find the definitions less interesting than the results or the ideas such actions spawn.

So there is is, I pawed around a bit with definitions, and now am going for a nap.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by betta design

The post "In Which I Paw Around with Definitions" was originally cracked open and scrambled from a rotten egg at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2010/11/in-which-i-paw-around-with-definitions/) on November 17, 2010.

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