The buzz word of the last few years has certainly been "social media." While the debate about what qualifies as social media and what does not continue to change and evolve as new devices and platforms are created and released, here's a look at some of the current formats of social media and how they can be used in your life.
This category of social media encompasses what most people think of when they imagine social media, including blogging through tools such as WordPress and Blogger, Micro-Blogging through the popular Twitter, and social networking through platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. Blogging has been around for many years now, and it can be used in a variety of ways. From sharing your opinions with anyone that will listen, to using it as a forum to discuss politics, technology, food, or any other niche that sparks your interest, it makes it very attractive for anyone wanting to speak their mind.
Micro-Blogging has sprung up in recent years, with Twitter being the most well-known way to do this. With a character limit, 140 characters, this way of sharing thoughts, opinions, and information quickly became the most popular way to interact with friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and anyone that shared your thoughts, ideas, or general location.
Social Networking was first driven by Facebook and MySpace, and while others have sprung up and fallen by the wayside (Squidoo amongst others), Facebook, and to a lesser degree MySpace, remain. As a forum for sharing photos, events, music, and games, Facebook in particular is becoming more and more an integral part of the social media landscape, with many teenagers saying that they can not do without it.
This category of social media includes Wikis, which allow people to collaborate and share information about specific topic, Social Bookmarking, which allows users to share their opinions on sites that they visit through such tools as StumbleUpon and Delicious, and Social News, which is similar to social bookmarking, through tools such as Digg, Mixx, and Reddit.
When most people think of Wikis they think of Wikipedia, and it is the best example since, as a collaborative encyclopedia, it is constantly evolving, being edited, and being accessed by countless users. Wikis can be created for nearly any niche, and many business use them for sharing company information.
Social Bookmarking and Social News are very similar. Tools like StumbleUpon and Delicious allow users to bookmark sites and pages that enjoy and write quick reviews of them that users follow their accounts can then easily find or avoid, depending on the review. Digg, Mixx, Reddit and similar tools allow users to share sites with reviews as well, but tend more towards sharing of pertinent information and do a better job of organizing sites by categories.
Often combined with others forms of social media, this category encompasses photography on sites such as Flickr and Photobucket, Video through sites such as the popular YouTube and Vimeo, Livelihooding through the ever more popular Skype application, and Music, using sites such as Last. fm.
Photography sites such as Flickr and Photobucket are being integrated into more and more sites as they allow users to upload their photo libraries and have them accessed by family and friends for viewing, as well as having them in a central location for storage should anything happen to a computer. This is a very popular way to share photos from events such as birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings.
YouTube has been around for years and is easily the most popular site for posting home made videos. Entire television shows have sprung up to take advantage of this trend, often making fun of videos featuring "stupid human tricks".
Livecasting and Music through applications such as Skype and Last.fm allow users to access voice, instant messaging, music, and video conferencing. This helps prevent users from having to carry around large amounts of music or purchase expensive mp3 players, and saves businesses the cost of having to use video conferencing services which can become prohibitively expensive.
Reviews, Opinion, and Geo-Locating
This category is one that is, in many ways, still evolving. This includes tools for Business Reviews through sites such as Yelp, Community Q & A through sites such as Yahoo! Answers, and Geo-locating through sites such as the incredible popular FourSquare.
Business Reviews through sites such as Yelp are becoming increasingly popular as users are more willing to search around for quality work before spending their hard earned money. While user-generated reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, a string of bad reviews is a good way to help future users avoid a bad business relationship with a company.
Community Q & A sites such as Yahoo! Answers are a good way to find answers to simple questions, though again, all answers should be taken with a grain of salt. Asking users to post questions or answer questions that others have posted, these sites are in many ways what the forums of old used to be.
The most recent addition to social media is the Geo-locating site. FourSquare is the most popular of these, with users "checking in" to a location they visit. More and more businesses are giving rewards to the Mayor, or person who has visited the location the most, of their location, including discounts and freebies.
While this has certainly not been a comprehensive list of all the social media tools available to users, and to re-do this list in as little as six months time it would certainly add and subtract some of the ones mentioned here, it should put into perspective the wide range that social media has in the current online world.