Web 2.0 or Social Media? It Depends on the Year

A client asked me the other day what the difference was between social media, new media, digital media and Web 2.0. I told him: time.

To see what I mean look at the following timeline from Google Trends:


The blue line is searches of “social media” since 2004, orange is ”new media”, red “web 2.0” and green is “digital media”.

Of course digital media can also include things like games, Flash and things where media is defined not so much as a means of delivering information but of a platform of expression. I guess the same could be said of new media.

But what’s telling for me is how social media has overtaken web 2.0 as the favored way to capture all the various elements of the revolution that began back in 1999. I noticed I started using it more than Web 2.0 in late 2008, which seems to be about the time that other people did—to the point that in late 2009 it overtook Web 2.0, at least according to the Google chart above.

Indeed, at that point it also overtook new media and digital media in popularity (or at least in what people were searching for.)

This is natural, and reflects the fact that Web 2.0 really describes the engine, the machinery, the working parts of the revolution we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years. This is not just the code, but the principles that underpin the code.

Now we all use it, we don’t need to call it anything. Instead we describe the world that it’s created: social media  where everything is by default set to sharing the process of creating, commenting, editing and working.

Social media for most of us now are things like Twitter (2 billion tweets) and Facebook (500 million users). They may not look much like social media as we recall it back in the day, but they are: Facebook provides all the tools one needs to create, comment on and share content online, while Twitter is the natural conclusion of all that thinking back in the early 2000s: Simple tools, evolved as much by the users as the creators, built on the implicit principle that it’s better to share stuff than hoard it.

We might have called it Web 2.0 back in the day, but now it’s mainstream, and it’s social media.