SOCIAL MEDIA Ammar Yasir
How many of us out there think
that social media is over-rated –
that ‘Facebooking’ and tweeting is
nothing but a waste of time? The truth of
the matter is we spend half our day “liking”
pictures we don’t actually like, and re-
tweeting articles we hardly read. Social
media has bred a culture where it’s normal
to not bond with real-life relations, yet take
pride in having hundreds of virtual friends
one hasn’t met in years. Why then, are the
supposed “smart people” at Silicon Valley
still investing in startup after startup, and
product after product to facilitate people in
the way they interact on social media?
To understand the dimensions of social
media, we need to venture back in
time and see how societies
functioned before the advent of
internet, computers or even
electricity. Back then, people had to
rely on word-of-mouth. Information
travelled from person to person, and
anyone who was interested in the
facts had to find the right person to
respond to their query. This method of
information retrieval and knowledge
acquisition is often referred to as the
village paradigm, where information-
seekers’ trust (the information) which
comes from someone whom they
In contrast, the modern digital
technique of information retrieval
comes from impersonal resources
like libraries – online and offline. This
is called the library paradigm. If we
dig deep and compare the two
methods of information retrieval, we
will find a lot of interesting points.
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When it comes to social media, there’s a fine line
between social good and information overload
the library paradigm,
queries are made based on
keywords (“new iPad specs”, “Android
firmware download” etcetera). In this
instance, the knowledge base exists prior
to making the query, whereas trust is built
based on the authority and credibility of
the content publisher (Tech Crunch,
So is the village paradigm still relevant?
The answer is a resounding “Yes”. It is
useful for retrieving information in real-
time, real-life situations, like for a traffic
update or the law and order situation. In
this case, queries are answered by
members of the community in real-time,
and the authority’s reliability is based
on one’s personal affiliation with it.
Keeping these facts in mind,
one must understand that
though the human race is
evolving technologically, it is
sticking to the innate instinct
of information retrieval.
The difference is, with
the additional layer of
can be done in real-
time, and be verified
from multiple sources.
This scenario may have
been perfect 10 years ago, but
considering the current state of the ever-
growing pile of data, one has the right to
complain about information overload.
Another issue is differentiating between
the useful data and all the existing white
noise – a task that is anything but easy.
Of course, with technology, one has to be
patient; it always eventually catches up
with people’s demands.
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S O C I A L M E D I A
Fans of location-based social networks (LBSNs) agree that these tools have great
potential to succeed on both commercial and humanitarian grounds. This is exactly why
the initial success of Foursquare forced social media giant Facebook to jump on the LBSN
bandwagon, with its product Facebook Places. Initially, all that Foursquare offered was a
game, based on the number of times a user publicly checked into his favourite places.
Fast-forward a couple of months and truckloads of success across the globe, Foursquare
evolved into a network that could recommend users to check out bookshops, restaurants,
coffee shops etcetera, based on their interests and needs. Similarly, online deal broker
Groupon offers shopping deals via social media, earning significant profits for Groupon
and its clients. Rumour has it that a similar product is in the pipeline in Pakistan.
We must also open our eyes to the humanitarian benefits of social networking, with
projects like Ushahidi, an open-source platform used to collect information. It has also
been used for interactive mapping and visualisation during many recent global crises.
Even in Pakistan, Ushahidi came in handy during rehabilitation and rescue efforts for the
flood survivors. Following Japan’s recent incidents of a devastating earthquake, tsunami
and nuclear power plant meltdown, technology giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and
Twitter assisted in rescue efforts, by providing their platforms for the greater good.
Google’s Person Finder is one example.
Taking into consideration, the growing acceptance of social media in our society, and
the progress of telecommunications, it is time we plan a future where we can build or
customise existing platforms to take advantage of our understanding of the library and