Blogs and social networking have altered our daily usage of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Of that, we can be certain. But how exactly has this change evolved, and what specific effects is it having on Internet and Web usage patterns around the world? This paper addresses the history of blogs and social media, and shows their state of development now. This brief introduction will segue into a discussion of the various personal and professional applications for both blogging and social media. Additionally, sections on political applications and implications will round out the discussion on how social media and blogging have changed the ways people communicate and receive information. Finally, it would be remiss to ignore the confluence of hardware, software, coding, applications, and protocols that have led to revolutions in the ways people use their digital devices. Tablets and smartphones are the physical manifestations of the changes that have taken place in Internet usage patterns.
Blogs and social media represent a shift toward human-centered computing, collaborative computing, and social computing (DiMicco, Millen, Geyer, Dugan, Brownholtz & Muller, 2008). At the same time there are a plethora of potential problems with the shift towards a people-centered social computing environment. Those problems include the "subtle connections between online opportunity and risk," (Livingstone, 2008, p. 393). Opportunities include bonding, intimacy, connections, and collaboration. Information access and political awareness are other potential positive opportunities of blogs and social media. On the other hand, there are risks the user takes on when reading or writing blogs, or when using social media. Those risks include exposure, professional demise, and legal conundrum. The mitigation of these risks can be difficult, as privacy rules change rapidly, and differ not only according to domain and geographic legal jurisdiction but also with each individual Website.
Barnes (2006) talks about the privacy paradox, with regards to the use of social media and blogging. On the one hand, people (and especially young people) share intimate details of their lives in verbal and multimedia formats liberally online. The expansion of social networks is a great source of pride. This is as true for adults as it is for young people. On the other hand, the same people liberally sharing their personal lives with the public are upset when the details of their lives are being gossiped about or used as cause for being fired from a job.
Therefore, the new uses of the Internet as an intensely social space raises important sociological, psychological, political, ethical, and legal questions. These questions go to the root of human society and psyche, as we ponder the intersections between personal and public, between private and collective. Blogs and social media show what people are willing to sacrifice in order to feel part of the global community; and what people are willing to sacrifice in order to engage in dialogue about current events and ideologies. Blogs and social media have changed not just the way people use the Web and the Internet, but also the way people engage in conversation with their fellow human beings. Social media alters the process of information gathering and dissemination. Blogs and social media have also dramatically altered the power hierarchy with regards to information. Whereas information was previously allocated only to a select elite (including mainstream news media), blogs permit the democratization of knowledge.
Nowhere is the democratization of media information more apparent than with the Huffington Post. Founder and editor in chief Ariana Huffington started the Huffington Post as an answer to the mega-media conglomerates dominating discourse for the past several decades. Huffington's model of media development was simple: create a public forum upon which bloggers can share their ideas without being restricted by unnecessary editorial decisions. Of course, The Huffington Post is editorialized. Yet it is also a collection of blogs in which the writer owns his or her copy and can publish opinion pieces that are linked to a personal blog space. This reveals the close connection between the public and private domains that characterizes new media. Moreover, The Huffington Post is well integrated with sharing devices that allow readers to instantly share content via clicking a little icon. Nearly every news source now has a little "share" section that corresponds to any article or blog entry. The "share" section enables third-party applications such as Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. Users of the third party media sharing applications can also browse contents that their "friends" have done the same with -- thereby creating a personalized editorial list of reading material that bypasses an elitist operating center. Whereas before, the Internet user had to go from Website to Website, newspaper to newspaper, to read and gather information, all that information can now be centralized into a Twitter or Facebook feed. This also allows for "friends" to learn from other friends what they might have otherwise not seen due to reading different publications.
News and verbal discourse are certainly not the only items shared across social media networks and through blogs. Images and multimedia are also shared. The popularity of Pintarest shows that many users are not bound by the written word. Sharing through images has created an entire visual landscape of communication that never existed before the advent of social media. The phenomenon is super for artists, musicians, and photographers, who have their own specific methods of social networking. In fact, one of the original social media networks called MySpace was originally created specifically for bands to use as a personal portfolio where interested listeners or fans could browse tunes and find out information about upcoming gigs. MySpace soon morphed into a general, all-purpose social media Website, but it has retained a core musical component and market.
For photographers, Flickr has a social media component. Users upload their photographs in the highest resolution they would like, and the data about the photograph including what camera and settings were used, are shared with the world. This has fueled and fed the amateur photography hobby. Similarly, Instagram is a photo-sharing application that was purchased by Facebook because of its ready integration with social media. Instagram is entirely designed for social media use. It is integrated with camera phones, and permits users to take pictures, add filtering effects, and share those photographs instantly. This has fundamentally altered the way people use the Internet and the Web. Sharing pictures is one of the most common Internet behaviors, especially with social media. Moreover, Instagram and other photo sharing applications have revolutionized hardware too. Not only have tablet computers and smart phones had to keep up with consumer demands for better cameras, but also the camera market has changed. New digital cameras have WiFi built into them, so that users can immediately upload their photos to Facebook.
Social media and blogging has changed the social lives of users. Facebook addiction is commonplace. People have "many friends but little sense of privacy and a narcissistic fascination with self-display," (Livingstone, 2008). There is also a considerable "overlap between participants' online and offline networks" in terms of there being similar interactions (Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter & Espinoza, 2008, p. 420). For example, many people speak to their friends online the same way they would on the phone, in person, in instant messaging, or in texting. The question "what ru doing tonight?" is not appreciably different if its received in an online environment vs. another media. Yet there are differences too in the way some people speak when they are online. This may be related to the promise -- however false -- of anonymity and psychological distance when using social media (Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter & Espinoza, 2008, p. 420). As Barnes (2006) points out, teenagers and other Internet users will "freely give up personal information to join social networks on the Internet" (Barnes, 2006). The irony is that "afterwards, they are surprised when their parents read their journals," (Barnes, 2006). Users have not yet come to terms with the difference between what to share and what not to share. "Communities are outraged by the personal information posted by young people online and colleges keep track of student activities on and off campus. The posting of personal information by teens and students has consequences," (Barnes, 2006).
How we get information from centralized news feeds more than individual newspapers has changed. Moreover, social media and blogs have changed how people communicate and use email. Email has become something used more formal interactions. Email used to be an informal means of communication, but now more people use Facebook messaging for communicating with friends, reserving emails for work and parents.
Social media has changed the gaming sector. Although multi-player games existed prior the to bloom of blogs and social media, those technologies have enhanced the potential for online gaming. Similarly, the use of social media has rendered many dating sites irrelevant given the potential for meeting potential partners using the same social networks as existing friends use. Virtually any social sector with a real-world component now has an online presence.