Since this is a blog, you are at least familiar in passing with social media by virtue of the fact that you are reading this. Social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other applications are becoming increasingly large parts of not only individual lives, but nonprofits, businesses, and even governments as well. As with any other widely adopted technology, social media and Web 2.0 applications change how people do things. Furthermore, they are seen as causing long-established institutions and systems to be, if not transformed or even destroyed, then at least challenged. To use this blog as an example, fifteen years ago I would have had to post this on a Web page using either a clunky template or HTML rather than a simple interface like Blogger, and twenty years ago I would have had to publish my thoughts in a newsletter or 'zine rather than online, since the Web as we know it did not exist yet.
But are they actually causing these radical changes? Clay Shirky, a consultant, adjunct professor of New Media at New York University, and the author of Here Comes Everybody disagrees. Shirky argues in the aforementioned book that the applications and software themselves are not causing the disruption – they are simply tools that people use to conduct activities (networking, organizing, sharing and creating) that they have been doing forever. The practical effects of these activities has been limited until now. With social media tools, however, they may be limitless. Starting in Part Two, I will examine what the book says about these ideas and their implications.