I love reading what marketing focused online marketers have to save, because coming from a technology background, I like understanding what my colleagues without a background in tech thing are the market moving forces. I’ve been quoting a bunch of articles from Media Post, because the daily emails often prompt a good opportunity to think. Mr. Allen inadvertently suggests that social media of today traces its roots to the early days of the web, and while he is correct that the desire for interactivity shows signs at the early web, the underlying technology has supported this.
Though today’s websites share no common code with the BBS world of the 1970s-1990s, it shares a cultural desire to share information, files, and resources in an online manner. Some of the early Unix BBS systems were designed to support information sharing like a dial-up BBS between local users at a University, albeit over the TCP/IP network and Telnet instead of a modem and a terminal emulation/dialer program.
However, the “Social Media” world of today required a certain technological shift. The “Web 2.0” technology shift, and the AJAX acronym didn’t require new technology, but did require a changing software landscape. In 2001, when I started in this business, trackable links that didn’t break search engines required custom coding and careful management of the HTTP protocol responses. In 2009, you go to bit.ly and it does it for you. In 2001, building a website required building an article repository to manage content, in 2009 many CMS systems are available off the shelf. In 2001, SEO was emerging from the hacker days of Altavista, and riding the PageRank mathematics of Google’s rise and Yahoo’s use of Google PageRank for sorting.
Why does this matter? In 2001, building a website required technology skills. In 2009, WordPress.com has you up and running in 15 minutes, and you can start working on your site. The early promise of the Web was two-way communications. Netscape shipped with an HTML editor, because the whole concept of Hypertext was easily shareable and editable documents. The HTTP spec had concepts of file movement that were never adopted until the DAV group realized that you could do collaborative editing with them. HTML editing turned out to be too complicated, but Web 2.0 featured the concept of mini code. IFrames let websites include content elsewhere, but you were at their mercy for displaying it. Instead, we have interactive forms that pull information from anywhere.
Designing a high end website still requires technology and database skills. But prototype-grade environments like Ruby-on-Rails and CakePHP brought RAD concepts from the desktop application Visual Basic world to web programming for everyone. And while it certainly brought out many applications that don’t scale, it made these rapid fire AJAX/JSON mini web services easy to write, and that made the social media world possible.
So while marketers may see this evolution of mini-markets, they miss the underlying technology shift. Once a media is cheap to create, the advertising on it becomes affordable. The wire service made real reporting cost effective, the web made mail-order effective, and the underlying language libraries let companies without a technology team build interactive websites, creating these markets.