Is Social So Over?

Recently, I was speaking to another web-working type about his company’s name – which I really liked, by the way. The name included “Social” in it. He said he’s been hearing mixed things about the name.

“Someone told me that ‘social’ is so over,” he said, lamenting that his company name may already be dated.

Is “Social” already over? That’s news to me. Those immersed in web work may be sick of the (over)use of the word “social,” particularly if, like me, they’ve been working in the social media space back before anyone called it “social.”

Back in 1995, we called it “community” and “communication.” Heck, we all became social online when we first realized we could communicate with others via our computers on traditional phone lines. Out on the speaking circuit, I talked about how the Internet was all about “connection – not just connecting us to information but also connecting us to people, to one another.”  Sure, we didn’t have the powerful sharing tools that we have today and social networks weren’t even a glimmer on the horizon. Does anyone remember Andrew Weinreich’s “failed” online community SixDegrees.com that paved the way for LinkedIn and the like? That was a social media before it was called social media.

So is “Social” just 2008’s buzzword and on its way out?

For anyone with a company that has “Social” in their name, rest assured, I don’t think that it is over yet. And for anyone out there searching for any available combination of social with another word that might make a good name for a social media business, don’t worry. “Social” is not over yet.

In fact, the general consumer out there is still struggling to understand what a blog is much less a microblog. The term “social media” isn’t even on many people’s radars. The nice thing about “social” is that any non-techie does get what “social” means. But then try to explain to them that “social” now refers to Web 2.0 tools that facilitate collaboration and sharing, and their eyes glaze over. At least many people have now heard the word “social” used in combination with the word “network” often enough in the media, but many of them still think social networks like MySpace are dangerous. Lesson? Let us not forget the learning curve that every new technology and new terminology must go through before mass adoption.

Socialtext, Socialminder, Socialthing? These aren’t household names yet and might not ever be. I’m not knocking any of those companies but for every Socialtext there is a Yammer. For every Socialthing there is aFriendFeed. For ever Socialminder, there’s another contact or CRM management tool.

Think about who these “social” companies are targeting at this time. Not really Mom or Pop. Nor John or Jane Q. Public. Their current customers or members or subscribers tend to be industry types, the iindy Web workers who “get it” or a small pool of IT guys in corporations who also get it.

“Social” as a buzz word simply has not hit the masses.

What do you think of the term “Social?” In your opinion, is it grossly overused or still a useful and viable buzzword that hasn’t even peaked yet?

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