Categorizing Emerging Media, Sites and Tools

A while ago,  I wrote a well-received piece called "The Bucket List" - cataloging my efforts at reducing the myriad of social media sites, tools and applications into a set of slightly overlapping categories.

Since then, I have reviewed Brian Solis' Version 2 Conversation Prism, comparing it to my own categories, my own list of 3-4,000 social media sites and tools, and various other presentations out there.  All of this - including my own approach left me somewhat dissatisfied.  I feel like we're still mucking things up a bit... mixing a whole lot of stuff together to define this landscape in a manner that unfortunately, clouds the picture of what's really out there.  I'm not sure that's avoidable, either! 

So -- with great respect to my peers and readers, I have slightly shifted my approach and I hope that sharing it doesn't make people more confused. (Gulp)

In the past, our categorizations of emerging media, sites and tools were probably somewhat useful to people. However, proliferation, adoption and convergence have created so much overlap in the features, focus and content of these tools it is now hard to differentiate between them - or properly fit them into categories that really mean something.

To be honest, it's difficult to make this landscape seem more simple - because it's growing exponentially. However, it might be helpful to start a new dialog that helps people process and understand the tools a bit better and explain how I've shifted my thinking over time.

When I am introduced to a new tool, site or service, here's how I tend to process them.  First, I look at three key things:

1. Core Functions of the Tools -- If you really think about it, Web 2.0 and social media leverage core functionality in a maner that is similar to selecting from a "Chinese menu".  While in the past, unique combinations of this functionality helped us categorize various types of sites and tools ... the overlap today blurs the lines in those categories.  Sites that overlap many of teh categories below typically fall into what I I call "communities" (see more below).  Sites or tools that emphasize on a specific area of functionality fall into other categories.  For example, Delicious is narrowly focused on content sharing and organization.  Etsy is heavily focused on eCommerce.   At a high level, shared core functionality may look like this:

2.  Audience -- The demographic, ethnographic, technographic and psychographics of audiences can also help define the scope, focus and nature of new media.  This gets tricky, however, as people converge upon the tools.  Consider the changing "face" of the average Facebook user, moving from college student to female in the 40's in just under a year.  So, when looking at these tools in terms of audience, think of attributes that may remain relatively fixed.  For example:  Bloggers, Moms, Early Adopters, Christians, Music Lovers. At a base level, this will tell you whether a tool is targeted in a broad or niche market, which is useful for business and personal considerations.

3.  Content -- Most sites today accommodate a diverse array of content (news, blog posts, links, pictures, audio, video).  However, in some instances, the primary content the supported or featured by the site or tool can help categorize it.  For example You Tube is narrowly focused on rich media -- specifically video hosting.  Other tools, like Delicious help us organize links and content for retrieval and sharing, in a manner that frees us from desktop-driven bookmarking.  Posterous has dual focus:  It's a blogging/microblogging tool, and also as a content publishing tool to multiple channels.

Next, taking all three areas into consideration, and examining the primary focus of the tool, I then tend to align most sites and tools into one of the following categories. 

I have aligned definitions and subcategories to each category represented above. For example:

Communities are defined as "Destination sites that offer comprehensive core functionality, which is primarily offered within a password protected environment." There are about five types of communities:

I do this for each category - and some get quite granular. For example, in the Rich Media Category, we find audio, images, video, animation/AR and "mashups" (which do a little of all the above). If you were to drill down further -- into "Video" as a subcategory, you'll find several additional subcategories, including: live video, how-to's, editing tools, converters, sharing, hosting, organization & management, vidcasts and vlogging, mobile video, video search, downloading tools and online TV.

So you see, this tends to get highly specific. I will therefore spare you of further detail.

In summary, categorizing new media sites, tools and channels may not be the focus of your day -- and at best, it's a hobby for me related to my work with clients as well as speaking and teaching. However, I do think finding ways to better categorize and understand emerging media can be helpful as we attempt to make sense out of the landscape in front of us. This is helpful not just in terms of preserving mental sanity -- but as we attempt to evaluate the usefulness of these tools as applied to our lives, our businesses and/or our clients.

As a parting shot -- I'm still figuring this all out, too. If you have any thoughts on this approach, please weigh in. I considered taking this to Power Point/Slideshare - so if you think there's merit in this, let me know!


TobyBloomberg said...

Leigh - thanks for putting social media 'tools' into a marketing perspective. I'd say nope .. you most certain did not confuse but shed more light on a complex situation.

LivePath said...

@toby Thanks! I think it's a work in progress ... :-)

Akin Arikan said...

Beautifully done that chart with the digital marketing core functions. I bet (and hope) that many marketing teams may print that out and benchmark their own coverage against that.

Doing that would be worth at least $100k of [big name] consultants' time, if I may say so. I sure saved a copy to my desktop.

LivePath said...


Thanks for the vote of confidence. if you'd like to start the $100k with your donation, please let me know (LOL). In the mean time, I'm glad this was useful to you and you felt it holds some water!


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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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