Dot-dot-dash-dot-dash-dot … “What are you wearing?”
The hot chat of the 1800s “heard” over telegraph wires continues in Internet chat rooms and via cell phones “sexting.”
When the telegraph was born, people could communicate quickly and easily about the news, the weather and even a little titillating conversation (if you get what I mean), making this technological innovation the first example of online pornography. (It’s true! Books have been written about it!)
With smart media technology, two-way online engagement is even faster than its predecessor, but the conversations haven’t changed much in the past 100 years. Nor should they!
And the social media phenomenon isn’t really new either; it’s the smart media tech we think of as social media today that has changed and enhanced the opportunities for conversations.
One of the slides I use when demonstrating this shows a timeline of social media that goes back 2,500 years to the first post office, continues to the telegraph and includes Compuserve and AOL in the pre-Internet days more than 100 years later.
Sharing news in town squares, online bulletin boards or talking with neighbors at potluck suppers also are examples of social media—in some cases going back centuries—making the telegraph an example of social media!
Social media is not about “broadcasting”—it’s about conversations. That’s a mistake too many businesses make: pushing out promotional materials without engaging with or listening to their audience of customers and prospects. One advantage of social media over push advertising such as radio, TV, direct mail, the Yellow Pages or newspaper advertising is the opportunity for these conversations.
Instead of “Buy my stuff!” messages, it’s about listening to your market and learning from dialogues you have with your targets that lead to successful completion of company goals.
The First Picture Ever Seen in a Web Browser
Words aren’t the only elements used to tell stories and engage in conversations; images are used to convey important content as well—a phenomenon that dates back even further than my social media timeline.
Take the very first picture posted on the World Wide Web, posted in July 1992. This was no doubt titillating in its time but now tells the story of The Cernettes, an all-female parody doo–wop group best-known for their musical classics, “My Sweetheart Is a Nobel Prize,” “Big Bang” and “Every Proton of You.”
When the father of the Internet Tim Berners-Lee was developing the code that would allow pictures to be posted on the web, he posted the promotional image of the comedic group of administrative assistants and significant others of scientists working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN.
The rise of social media sites such as Pinterest and Polyvore, and the preference for sharing images on Facebook, demonstrate the power photos have to communicate stories. As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
History Repeats Itself
Starting with comparisons of tech titans telegraph inventor Samuel Morse and Tim Berners-Lee, the similarities between today’s Internet and the latest technology of the mid-1800s are interesting:
- The telegraph and the WWW were designed as instant communication systems that would allow people and governments to transmit news to others quickly.
- Misinformation also has been transmitted via both at an alarming rate.
- Governments tried and failed to control both.
- Fortunes were made and lost on both platforms.
- And yes, cybersex was a part of telegraphy as it is on the Internet today!
Kurt Scholle is a website strategist and social media consultant. His blog, www.website-roi-guy.com, features news and tactics that are working for small- and medium-size businesses today. Find him on Twitter @KurtScholle.