SM Pioneers Prolog: What Caused Social Media?

February 22, 2011 · 10 comments in Pioneers

There has to be a starting point for social media in my new book, Pioneers of Social Media.

I have chosen to make that moment the publication of Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999.

But Cluetrain did not just erupt from nowhere like some volcano that shoots lava from under the ocean to form a land mass. It was a steady evolution, a confluence of significant technologies and users who met on the Internet to do things that hadn’t been done before. But they were using technology that was not yet ready to accommodate huge masses that Facebook and Twitter handle.

A few that I plan to talk about:

There could be a full book written on what caused social media. I hope someone does write that book–but that is not this book. I just want to briefly touch on what happened before a mass movement that wouldbecome social media was formed. I’m looking for the major events and of course a few really good stories.

Can you help?

Please leave a comment here or email me at You can also tweet your idea, but please use the tag #PoSM so I can find you post when I need it.


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kdpaine February 22, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I think it predates the Cluetrain Manifesto. I was at the Networked Economy Conference in 1997 and while we weren’t talking about “social media” specificaly, we were talking about the same concepts:
“When dealing with an entirely new market force be careful what you predict.
Today the Internet has wrought a revolution in marketing far beyond the scope that even the most foreword thinking magazine editors might have imagined. I don’t use the term “revolution” lightly. It is a remarkably precise term. Because in truth, the consumers are in the process of revolting against, and seizing power from the marketers. As a result, the more we try to control this new society, the more chaos we will find.”
and this:
“Again let’s come back to the idea of the Internet as a marketplace rather than a medium. The various stalls in a bazaar put their wares up as advertisements. The people selling those wares don’t need to know the “reach” of the market, because the market will come to them. (Maybe driven by advertising, maybe by word of mouth maybe through a search engine). They’ll know far more than the “reach” they’ll know the individual buying habits—and probably the sleeping habits of their customers. Pundits would have you believe that the Internet is this great “unmeasurable” but in fact it is the most measurable of all markets.”
the full speech is here:

jdlasica February 22, 2011 at 4:57 am

Great book topic, Shel!

While much credit should go to the Cluetrain folks for providing the movement’s intellectual underpinnings, you’ll probably want to doff a cap to Dave Winer and Justin Hall (both mentioned here … … though as Scott Rosenberg rightly says, the “first blogger” is somewhat irrelevant). I’ll have to go back and read Cluetrain, but a lot of it was marketing focused. But, ironically, I do remember Doc, Scoble and others resisting the term “social media” (while Solis and I took the opposite view).

Wonder if you’ll be getting into the citizen media/citizen journalism aspect of it.

Or, some of the early communities, like Slashdot, Metafilter, etc.

shelisrael February 22, 2011 at 5:11 am

@jdlasica Both Dave Winer and Justin Hall will be covered in the book. As far as the term “social media,” I think ChrisShipley was the first to coin it at a DEMO conference, and [ahem] I was among those [along with you and Brian] who evangelized it very early on.

jdlasica February 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

@shelisrael @jdlasica Indeed so! I remember attending a BlogOn conference in Berkeley that Chris helped put on in 2004 where the term was tossed around a lot. I met Mark Pincus there.

shelisrael February 22, 2011 at 10:22 am

@jdlasica I helped produce that conference at UC Berkeley. You and I had already met by then. I had helped edit a small part of your book by then as I recall. But where did we meet? PopTech? A Dyson conference?

jdlasica February 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

@shelisrael Susan Mernit, Jerry Michalski and I were participants/instructors there too.

Shel, we met (at Buzz’s instigation) at Pop!Tech 2002. Don’t have a photo of you there though:

whatsnext February 22, 2011 at 1:37 am

you absolutely must talk to Howard Rheingold, who predicted so much of what would happen with the Internet and social media in his many books, most notably, Smart Mobs.

shelisrael February 22, 2011 at 2:25 am

@whatsnext Howard, The Well, The Virtual Community will be in the Prolog Chapter. Right now, the Well is the first story I’ll tell. Even if it isn’t 1st chronologically, it’s the best I know.

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