I've been asked at least a dozen times why The Social Web Analytics eBook 2008 refers to the "Social Web" and not "Social Media". In fact, the terms appear to have attracted similar usage according to a quick Google search count today:

  • "social web analytics" - Google estimates 18,600 results
  • "social media analytics" - Google estimates 20,100 results

Interestingly, however, the term "social media" attracts more than twice the search count estimate as "social web":

  • "social web" - Google estimates 8,250,000 results
  • "social media" - Google estimates 19,700,000 results

So what's going on? What is social media?

Social media is a subset of the social web.

Social media is a term that describes all the media that isn't industrial media, and by industrial media I refer to what some call "traditional" and others call "mass" media. Stuff that's designed, procured and waved under your nose by a company aiming to meet a consumer need (and, usually, flog some space to advertisers along the way).

So social media enables consumers to be producers. Or more precisely, it's media where the company that facilitates the media gets out of the way, allowing the public to interact with one another, pivoting around relationships, points of view and / or content (excepting of course where the company flogs some space to advertisers along the way).

So what else goes alongside social media in constituting the social web?

The social web consists:

1. Social media (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Amazon customer reviews, blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube)

2. Applications (such as Twhirl, Tweetdeck, widgets for your desktop and phone, visualisation tools, instant messenger, Skype)

3. Services (such as geolocation feeds, social search from Google for the desktop and Taptu for the mobile, and social aggregators such as FriendFeed, although aspects of the latter fall under the definition of social media)

4. The network of Internet connected devices (PCs, phones and netbooks, and soon just about any electronic device from which a participant on the social web can contribute or draw information).

That's about the broadest definition of the social web, and not one you'll see everywhere. But it's the one that interests me, and the definition I expect the social web analytics space will embrace in the long run.

So there's your answer.

But just as we think we've got a definition, others find an associated but different use for the term. Interestingly, well possibly just for geeks anyway, the term "social web" has also been adopted by those seeking to make the network social at a lower level in the stack. In other words, it represents a new protocol layer (called XDI - Extensible Resource Identifiers Data Interchange if you please) which sits on top of the World Wide Web (HTTP) layer which in turn sits on top of the Internet (TCP/IP) layer. This could be really really interesting indeed, but maybe not quite yet :-)