Do people understand difference between a platform and the tools or services built on that platform? A recent article on the Atlantic Cities website suggests some don’t.
The article is about a study that suggests Twitter actually reinforces the power of place rather than making distance irrelevant in building community.The study is actually pretty interesting, but the Atlantic Cities article about the study implies the findings about Twitter networks apply to the entirety of the Internet. Here’s a quote from the article, ” Many predicted the rise of the Internet and of social media would annihilate distance and overcome the constraints of place by allowing people to communicate and build virtual communities. But the fact of the matter is Twitter actually works with and reinforces the power of place.”
The author assigns the findings of a study of Twitter networks to the Internet and social media as a whole. Twitter is simply a service built on the platform of the Internet. It is not the Internet. While Twitter may fall under the difficult to define term “social media,” it is not representative of all social media.
If we assume what is true about Facebook is true about the Internet as a whole, we fail to recognize the difference between a platform and the tools built on that platform. If we assign the traits of Pinterest to all social tools, we fail to distinguish between a category and the items that fall within that category.
If you are anything like me, you just thought, “Yeah, duh.” That’s the same reaction I had about 8 years ago, when I started teaching Basic English Skills at a small, 4-year college. I was talking with a much more experienced faculty member about what she thought I needed to cover in the course. She recommended spending quite a bit of time on helping the students distinguish the general from the specific. At the time I thought, “How could college freshman not know this?” When I got into the classroom, I found out they didn’t know it, and their writing was suffering as a result.
Because people have trouble distinguishing between the general and the specific, we get implications like the one in the aforementioned article, and I get requests from people to “teach me social media.” As the number of social tools and services continues to grow, sentences that start with “Social media is…” or “Social media does…” are becoming less true. The differences between social tools go beyond character limits and privacy policies.
Different tools create different kinds of social connections and different kinds of social networks. You can understand a specific tool like Twitter by studying social media only to the extent that you can understand American culture by studying Western civilization. To flourish in a specific social network, you need to understand that specific network.