Social Media is the 3rd Era of the Web

by Justin Kistner on Jun 15, 2010
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I’ve done this search dozens of times since December and have shared it in slides many times since. It’s a search that compares the world wide search volume on Google for new media, web 2.0, and social media. What the above graph shows is that we’re at an inflection point in the language we use to describe the macro trends of innovation on the web. I believe it’s the indicator that we’re in the 3rd Era of the Web and it’s The Era of Social Media.

Observations about the chart

Media adoption is interesting (see the bottom part of the chart called “News references”). The media never really adopted the term New Media. Likely because New Media was insulting to the existing media as it painted them as old media. Media did start to adopt Web 2.0, but it was late in the game likely because the term was too obtuse to catch on more quickly and broadly. Social media, however, has been very popular for news outlets to cover. In fact, it has a nearly linear rise with the use of the term generally. Interestingly, nothing has been more disruptive to established media outlets than social media, but those that are embracing and even reinventing themselves are doing well (such as the

What’s also interesting is that the decline of Web 2.0 and the rise of social media are connected. Since Facebook has hit the scene, the original social media tools have peaked in usage: blogs, wikis, forums and RSS.

Facebook is King

In the face of the explosion of social media, no place has more interest than Facebook. Facebook is so popular that no other search term in Google beats the number of searches for Facebook. Go ahead, try to find something bigger than Facebook. I’ve put in Google, YouTube, Twitter, augmented reality, porn, oil spill, Tiger Woods, soccer/football, iPhone, and more. Nothing comes close. The closest I found is the word “the“.

It’s not just searches

Social is showing dominance in traffic and usage in addition to attracting the lion’s share of search attention. is also showing Facebook’s dominance over Google and Yahoo! as the mosted visited website.

Comscore shows that the rise of social pulled traffic from portals.

That is also consistent with Hitwise’s findings that Facebook is now sending more traffic to news sites than Google is.

More amazing stats about the meteoric rise of social

In case none of that convinced you that social is more than a trend, here are some more quick stats:

So what?

First, this is just the beginning. I’ve used the crappiest analysis to forecast how far out this trend should go. Assuming that social media has a similar hype cycle to Web 2.0, it should peak around the beginning of 2012 with the next phase of the web taking over around 2015 (see chart below). That said, there’s reason to believe the social media era will last longer and have a higher peak.

What all of this means to business is that social is the innovation to invest in. I’ll be writing more posts about how to invest in social. Next up: News Feed Optimization (NFO). Since Facebook gets more visits and sends more traffic to news sites already, then developing a news feed strategy is critical for traffic dependent sites. NFO is the new SEO.

Post Author

Justin Kistner is author of the 2013 Social Rich Media Benchmark Report and VP of Strategy at ShopIgniter, recently acquired by Mixpo. Justin has been a well-renowned leader in social marketing strategy for over ten years with leadership roles at...

  • Hey, Justin; First, kudos for looking ahead – seems like most don't. Second, interesting comparison to other trends on the net. I'm thinking about so much right now to formulate a specific post, but enough to say hmmmmmmm. Great conversation starter – kp

  • Hey, Justin; First, kudos for looking ahead – seems like most don't. Second, interesting comparison to other trends on the net. I'm thinking about so much right now to formulate a specific post, but enough to say hmmmmmmm. Great conversation starter – kp

  • kp, i know that feeling. So much to get one's head around. it would be cool to explore some of the less obvious, and more forward-looking ways social can be incorporated into ecommerce…

  • Mariana

    Justin, congratulations for the looking ahead. You make very interesting points. It's thought provoking… My guess (total intuition) is that the next big thing would be social mobile. I wrote an article back in february about Apple and Marlboro needing to learn from each other, in which I pointed that for me, successs will come to those who understand they need to become the channel for people to get together in the real world through the social media. This could be the social mobile…

  • skquinn

    Peaking in 2012? You can't be serious. I honestly think the social media era will not peak until at least 2018, more likely 2022 or beyond.

  • Sam Beal

    The terminology “social media” will wear out, but not the socially connected experience. It is part of the world's culture until someone pulls the plug on the Internet.

  • Debbie Meltzer, Yoyah Group

    Here here for taking a bold stance and looking beyond annual cycles. Maybe social media will not decline by 2012 but enter a metamorphosis stage. Facebook will not stay at the top forever. There are already signs of initial cracks in the FB empire. Chances are there will be a growth in niche social media. It could also take on a sinister VIP / exclusivity twist. As augmented reality and location based apps become more main stream, social media will be upgraded to include more layers of feeds and inputs. SEO is already passe. The next trend will last for a shorter period.

  • Thanks for the forecast. I love living in such an interesting era.

  • Danyl Bosomworth

    Couldn't agree more, Sam – the jargon passes but the basic need for people to share and connect predates the Internet, and what are forums if not social networks on simplistic technology. I'm sure technology will evolve to drive those possibilities to connect with each other a lot further.

  • Lee

    Interesting…There is a fact that has not been measured and that is the customer support. Call centers are trying to adapt since their models are built on Baby Boomers and fixed line customer service. They train their customers to go away and are penalized if they cannot. Their way of support is changing and today's community wants to be communicated in the ways they demand and that is through Social Media – The – Community. Social Media support is built on the customer never goes away! The call center industry will drive and give energy to different forms of Social Media platforms and will be the driving force for new SM platforms. People communicate in communities and demand to be heard or they will just take their business elsewhere!

  •… in regards to becoming the channel

  •… in regards to becoming the channel

  • life streaming ? social streaming ?

  • The Android is a small step in that direction. Using the Backflip I found it incredibly useful to stream in those blank spaces when I'm forced to frequent those anti-septic commercial spaces.

  • A lot of fireworks hidden from view, seemingly ignored. Change is everywhere and nowhere. Strange times.

  • I think will rot, if not only on account of its own culture. I mean Microsoft is stumbling along thanks to big bank accounts, and what does have? Subsidies?

  • Maybe the point to take away is the speciation of the different inflections of social media. IOW, we are about to ride a new wave of evolution here. iPad, Android, processors, availability of wifi, just need some batteries. Oh, where are those batteries?

  • Interesting to label it as a Baby Boomer technology, I agree. Pairing customer support with social media is a highly provocative idea. Explosive actually. We now see affordable customer support for individuals, where I can set the parameters of my cloud, or customers support, channeling customers to email, voice support, avatar, etc.

  • Hard to pull the plug on what you have learned, and then there is the ubiquity of the technology.. we saw that in the beginning, the users getting around any roadblock that was put up.

  • Dbarnhart

    Help me understand. If I understand your first graph correctly, it is simply a graph of search frequency of the ***terms*** “new media”, “web 20” and “social media”. If I understand correctly, it doesn't mean that web 2.0 usage/apps/etc peaked, it means that searches for the ***term*** peaked.

    It's a better indication of when these technologies became ubiquitous than when they peaked.

  • Interesting how you have taken some basic metrics and generalized the conclusions, which matches what a lot of analysts have been saying. At MutualMind, we have seen this shift first-hand as we help a number of brands and agencies with their social media measurement and analytics.

  • rdsieber

    The search for the terms you cited may indeed peak in the years you suggested, but I believe that social media has long legs that are just being discovered, and thus the terms may not pinpoint when social media as a search and use tool for the Web will diminish.

    However, if your thesis is that that social media will flourish, peak, and then diminish, you are right on the mark when looking at other media off the grid. Historical data on subscriptions, viewerships, and ticket and copy sales to newspapers, radio, movies, and then television all show a skewed-left bell curve with discovery, adoption, peak use, and then decline (with a long, tapered “tail” in the decline part of the curve). However, look at how long the movie industry has been losing audiences: by the data, at least 40 years. Decline can be a long, slow process. Methinks social media, as it diminishes, will still have a long and fat life. I believe that we are still at the discovery end of the curve, and great opportunity awaits those who take advantage.

    Provocative article!

  • The fact less people are using Google to search for “web 2.0” and similar terms is not indicative the concepts the terms describe are fading, but that 1) the terms are becoming ubiquitous like “internet” and don't need to be looked up, and 2) more people are using web services.

    But let's not forget best practices and case studies and blog posts like this. Should I assume you are suggesting blogs will die in 2012? Of course not. Companies may be using Facebook and Twitter en masse — but they still need helpful lessons on using it and guidance how to make them integrated in business operations.

  • Ari, the Google Trends graphs are a measure of interest, not just people looking things up in the dictionary. I also cited several other sources based on traffic that backs up the shift in interest from web users toward social media. All that being said, I do believe that social media functionality will become a ubiquitous part of the overall Internet. In fact, I think the next era is replacing social media features with open standards.

  • Yes, the Google Trends graphs are measures of searches. But, the 7 other stats (3 of which are graphed) are measures of traffic and usage that confirm what the search data indicates. What peaks is interest, not that the technology goes away. Simply that social media is the driving innovation paradigm of the web right now and will be until around 2015 before the next era dominates our attention.

  • Investmentwanker

    Technical chart analysis for search keywords — that's the new era. Position disclosure: short 'social media', long 'telephone'.

  • From reading the comments, it appears as though the consensus is that “Social Media” may evolve into something else, but it most certainly will not go away. And like most things it will likely peak at some point, but I think it will be an integral part of how we communicate.

  • awesome research – makes sense, unlike lots of research

  • Batman

    Hmmm… I guess I should post this comment to Fakebook then….

  • Agam

    thanks bro, his articles helped me to work on-campus job.

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