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Categorizing Social Media

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Taking a look at "social media" it is difficult to comprehend the dizzying number of sites, tools and applications that are proliferating before our eyes. I recently sampled about 3,000 social media sites, tools and applications. Overwhelmed by the list, I then set out to classify these sites and tools to make them a little easier to digest. I've included the list of categories below for your consideration and feedback.


As anyone might suspect, the social media scene is a bit of a mashup: Many sites and tools are similar and hard to differentiate. Other social media sites and tools are interconnected or cross-functional...plugging in, connecting, feeding or supporting each other on some level. Further, most of these sites and tools share similar features, such as user ratings, messaging, profiling, and "friending." All of this creates some overlap and impacts how sites or tools may be meaningfully categorized.
At a parent level, however, most social media sites and tools can align to one major category based on the company's "core focus." A portion of social media sites and tools may also align with a secondary parent category. While a much smaller portion may land in three categories. Of course, ideally, sites would align only to one or two categories.
With this in mind, this initial effort focuses on establishing the more obvious "main" or "parent" categories for social media. It's possible to dive even deeper and classify social media by audience, interest, features and functionality. However, I'm making a concerted effort to focus now on outlining and gaining input on parent categories, at present. See below:
Aggregators .... Sites that skim or refeed content (posts, articles, feeds, streams) from many other sites, and lump it together at one destination. Content may include news, profiles, blog posts, etc. These sites allow/encourage community rankings of site content, and repost content based on popularity. Alltop would be one example.
Wikis .... Sites that feature user-driven or collaboratively created information, in that anyone that accesses the content may modify content using a simplified markup language. They can serve as intranets or rudimentary knowledge management systems and be encyclopaedic in nature. Wikipedia is perhaps the most popular example.
Networks .... Destination sites that offer a wide array of services, including profiling, messaging, "friending", social utilities, media sharing, ranking, "fan" functionality and supporting tools, apps and games. There are three high level types of networks:


  • General Networks .... Networks focused at a large and diverse audience (e.g. Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, Hi5, Squidoo and others)

  • Niche Networks .... Networks of any size that are focused on a narrow audience, topic or area of interest. For example: pet lovers, artists, politicos, industries, professionals. (e.g. Affinity Circles, Fuzzster and Corkd.

  • White Label Networks .... Do-it-Yourself Networks that can be branded or co-branded and feature robust features and services (e.g. Ning)

Media Sharing - Sites or utilities that primarily focus on sharing media of one or more types, including:

  • Books

  • Music

  • Radio

  • Video

  • Television

  • Film

  • Animation

  • Slide Shows (power point presentations, photo shows)

  • Multimedia (one or more of above)

  • Presentations (e.g. demonstrations, speeches)

Blogging - Sites or utilities focused on full-scale blogging. These can include companies that host blogging platforms, utilities for bloggers, blog aggregators, etc.
Microblogging .... Sites or utilities focused on micro-blogging, or the 140 character or less quick status updates offered by Twitter and many others.
Bookmarking / Link Sharing .... Sites or utilities whose main focus is enable users to manage their favorite links and content for easy access and sharing. Some providers may offer have embedded rating functionality .... enabling users to "rank" other user submitted content (E.g. de.licio.us and Digg. )
Utilities .... Web-driven, downloadable or embeddable tools that can be used for a number of purposes. These include but are not limited to:
  • Search (finding anything!)

  • Desktop (e.g. downloadable desktop tool like Twirhl .... twitter app

  • Contact Management (manage your contacts across outlook/email accounts)

  • Profile Management (e.g. manage your profile across Social Media sites)

  • Calendar/Events Management (create your own, create an integrated calendar with friends
  • Status/Lifestreaming (Manage/view status across social media sites e.g. hellotxt, ping.fm)

  • Listening/Measurement (Enable users to measure social media usage)

  • Blogging (some are just for bloggers)

  • Communication (E.g. Add communications features chat, SMS, threaded messaging, web conferencing, etc.)
Experience Reporting .... Any site with emphasis on having users report their experiences (life experiences, customer experiences) related to any event. This may include a life event, shopping event or transaction, attendance at a conference, etc. (E.g. GetSatisfaction, Yelp)
Location-Based -- Sites or tools whose main focus is to enable users to connect or interact with each other based on location or geography. (E.g. Dodgeball and Brightkite)
Virtual Worlds .... Sites that literally allow users to create avatars and interact within a 3D virtual environment, such as Second Life.
Mobile .... Any site or tool that is focused on mobile use, mobile networking or marrying the web web with mobile. (E.g. Mobango)
Note that I am not including software providers here, by and large. Please feel free to give your input in comments below!


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Leigh Duncan Durst (leigh at livepath dot net) is a 20-year veteran of marketing, e-commerce, and business and the founder of Live Path (www.livepath.net).

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  • by Miroslav Nikolov Thu Sep 25, 2008 via blog

    Good list. Thanks, there are really so much social places

  • by Levon Thu Sep 25, 2008 via blog

    This is one of the most comprehensive lists I have seen in regards to social media.

  • by BJ Cook Thu Sep 25, 2008 via blog

    There seem to be a lot of these lists going around right now as the space grows and more and more people launch apps. Brian Solis has a great diagram that shows a version of this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briansolis/2735401175/ What will begin to happen is consolidation in this space.

  • by leigh Thu Sep 25, 2008 via blog

    Hey BJ, In my original posting, I referenced Brian's diagram. Because a lot of these were broken out by format, I consolidated pretty heavily. I do agree that we'll see consolidation in this market: It's like any other medium of communication. In my observation, the pattern seems to be as follows: proliferation clustering acquisition / fallout leaders emerge Best, Leigh

  • by Nick Stamoulis Thu Sep 25, 2008 via blog

    Great list! This is a perfect "Social Media 101" on those who need to know what is what.

  • by Bryan Jones Fri Sep 26, 2008 via blog

    Interesting list. I think, however, that as this space continues to develop, the ability to characterize sites into a specific group will become more difficult. And, rather than Brian's diagram, I think it will be much closer to a venn diagram with significant overlap into other categories and cross-pollination. In any case, these categories are as good as anything out there - thank you for a job well done!

  • by MarketingTwins-Randy Sun Oct 5, 2008 via blog

    I love this categorization . . . hadn't seen it quite done this way. Very helpful. I'm actually presenting a workshop this week trying to explain social media tools to a group that is just getting their feet wet - it's good to have a way to present to them that ca provide them a visual of where certain things fit.

  • by Carolyn Bahm Fri Jan 30, 2009 via blog

    This is a very helpful article, and how cool it is that you did this much research. Have you expanded your overview since this was written, or are you planning on updating anytime soon? (I'm asking that in a hopeful tone, lol). It helps me get a handle on all the options there are when we can chunk them into the major categories like this. I'm also curious if you keep your profiles active on many sites, whether you grab your favorite username(s) on a site as soon as it opens, and your other social media practices. I have been loving social media since I got started in it just a year or two ago, and I'm curious what other folks do. I find it easy to overcommit or get overwhelmed, so I tend to wax and wane. I'm also helping to organize a social media camp for March 7 in Memphis for both newbs & experienced users, and I'm doing some noodling around online to figure out the social media spectrum -- both for the program and for my own use. Just fyi, if that sounds interesting -- watch for us on Twitter with the hashtag #socialmem. I'd love to hear your feedback on any of our chatter. (I'm "cbahm" on Twitter too.)

  • by Richard Vanderhurst Sat May 9, 2009 via blog

    Thanks for sharing your list is awesome!

  • by Parker Converse Mon Aug 9, 2010 via blog

    Very impressive list. What are you going to do with the information? Surely you had a reason for what was obviously a tremendous outlay of time and effort, seriously, I'm curious.

  • by Leigh Durst Mon Aug 9, 2010 via blog

    Hi guys - I wasn't getting notified of comments on the migrated Mprofs site until just now. Sorry!

    @Bryan - agree -- things are still shaking out and developing... thanks for your comment!
    @Randy - see post below - I have a graphic for the new categorization
    @Carolyn - sorry I didn't get notification of this comment until just now!

    I did a follow up post on this on my blog, where I broke things down a little differently.

    http://livepath.blogspot.com/2010/01/categorizing-social-media-web-20-and.html

    @Parker -- To be completely honest, originally, the research was for an online directory of categorized social media sites, apps and tools... especially because I had a list of 3,000 that I'd created myself. But I have a life, and a business to run, and I never mobilized to complete the task. So, basically - it's free for others to use and collaborate on --- and today, I use this for teaching and consulting purposes. Does that satiate your curiosity!? ;-)

    Best,
    Leigh

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