Common Social Media Tools and Applications

Like any evolving technology, new social media tools and applications are constantly being developed and marketed. As new tools are launched they extend the reach of social media to new audiences, while increasing the functionalities and abilities that are available to social media users.

Social media tools and applications typically fall into one of several categories:

Blogs
Podcasts/Vidcasts
Social Networks
Wikis
Social Bookmarking
Blogs

The word “blog” was coined from the words “web” and “log” to refer to a web-based blog.

Blogs began as online diaries, enabling users to post their thoughts, ideas, writing and opinions for other people to view. Blogs quickly became a source of user-generated information and proliferated quickly across the digital landscape. There are currently tens of millions of blogs on all manner of topics, maintained by everyday people, journalists, writers, famous people and corporate or bureaucratic entities. Many blogs are sites that aggregate news sources, or enable like-minded people to engage with one another around a shared topic of interest.

Corporate blogs are blogs launched, operated and maintained by corporate entities that share information with their audiences, often employing genuine voice or a less structured and less formal approach to communications. Common elements of blogs and blogging include openness to sharing information, and the ability for users to respond to, comment on, and converse about the content found on the blog.

Podcasts

Podcasting is essentially audio or video broadcasting over the Internet. Viewers and listeners can watch or listen to podcasts directly or via the Internet as well as download them to watch on their computer or portable media player. Note: podcasts can be accessed using any portable media player device.

Similar to blogs, podcasts provide an important platform for individual expression. Podcasts are inexpensive to produce and disseminate versus traditional forms of broadcast media, such as radio and television. While users should attempt to make a podcast of reasonable quality, anyone can produce and star in a podcast with basic recording equipment such as a microphone, webcam, inexpensive handheld video camera, a computer, and inexpensive or free software.

Many podcasts are organized in episodes—much like traditional television—and some require that viewers have subscriptions. Many traditional and established broadcasting companies now offer their most popular broadcasts in podcast format after the original air date on traditional television channels.

Social Networks

Online social networks bring people with common interests, ideas, goals and experiences together. Some of the most popular social networks are Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and even commercial social networking sites where users meet, network and form relationships with one another. Social networking sites also allow collaboration and enable information to be passed through the network efficiently and effectively.

Wikis

A wiki is an online tool that enables users to add, amend, correct and post information for other users to see.

The most famous and successful wiki today is Wikipedia, an online encyclopaedia that is written, edited and revised by users. Once published, articles on Wikipedia can be amended by other users with additions, clarification, corrections or different points of view. When information is deemed to be obsolete or incorrect it can be changed at any time. It is important to remember that wiki content is “living content” that is subject to change and amendment by users.

Wikis are powerful social media tools that are used for collecting the “wisdom of the masses.” Wikis can be used in public or private situations and can exist behind firewalls or on an intranet. Wikis have been used to create user manuals—where actual users contribute to the content—or to organize conferences and as project management tools.

Because wikis are a collaborative product they are good tools for encouraging participation and involvement.

Social Bookmarking

Social Bookmarking websites (e.g. Delicious, Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon) enable users to store, organize, search and manage links to Web pages that they want to remember or share with other people. Usually organized by topic, bookmarks can be available to the public, saved privately or shared only with certain people or groups.

RSS

RSS (most commonly expanded as “Really Simple Syndication”) is a common element of social media websites, tools and applications as well as most online news sites.

An RSS document (which is called a “feed” or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. Web feeds benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favoured website or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place (i.e. a “reader” or “aggregator”) such as Google Reader, FeedDemon or FeedReader.

Other Types of Social Media

Some other popular examples of social media tools and applications include:

Social network update sites such as Twitter (sometimes called a micro-blogging site)
Video sharing sites such as YouTube
Photo sharing sites such as Flickr
Music sharing sites such as Last.fm
Location-based applications such as Foursquare, Yelp and Urbanspoon

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