Social media, social networking, online communities, web 2.0 (the list of buzzwords and phrases go on and on) are hailed as the future of the web, moving people to communicate and socialise in new ways and have opened the doors to democratising knowledge and news across the world. But how new is this really?
I remember 10 years ago using a super slow PC on a dial up connection, back when Alta Vista was THE search engine of choice, before the dawn of images and video content. I spent hours reading text based websites – possibly with one image that had just about loaded by the time you’d read the page. Most companies didn’t even have websites back then, or if they did, I certainly wasn’t aware of them! People who knew and had access to the web had their own websites, stuck together with virtual paper and glue, proud of their text based creations that allowed them to vent to the new online world. I spent hours reading people’s opinions, stories, ideas directly from their own sites and taking part in forum discussions with a community of people that was far broader than my circle of real world friends.
What’s happened since then? We got fast – fast computers, fast connections. The internet became about making sites as visually beautiful and creative as possible – pushing the boundaries of what we could achieve. The shift was away from text and accessibility and towards making pretty pictures (and of course, without consideration for how easy these creations were to figure out). The more effort the site took to use, the more of an achievement it was for the creator.
Then came the content renaissance – people were bored with pictures and wanted copy again. I’m back to trawling through the web for interesting text, not pretty pictures. The difference now is that you don’t need to be able to create your own site to express yourself and the tools available make it much easier and more accessible for millions to take part.
Ironically, the easier it is to communicate with the world, the more people want to limit this to small networks – people they already know, people from school, people from work. I can’t remember the last time I chatted to someone from outside this country online.
Maybe we’ll have a Content Renaissance soon – and so a cycle of image vs. copy is realised, much like the unstoppable economic cycle we’re experiencing the downturn of now. Or maybe I’m thinking too hard.