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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image of Leigh Duncan-Durst
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).