The term 'Social Media' is the 'Web 2.0' of 2009. The power of social media. Let's leverage it. But what is it? Just like Web 2.0, a marginally useful buzzword with no real definition, social media allows us to refer to a class of things without referring to anything at all. I'm not even sure that the popular notion of social media is any different than Web 2.0 (in its usage, anyway). Google Trends reveals that Web 2.0 is so last year, and social media is on the rise:

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Looking for clarity, I typed 'define: social media' into Google:

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Wolfram Alpha is supposed to be great at these sorts of direct questions, but:

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I can see how ideas like this are useful. To say that Company X needs a 'social media strategy' means a few things: interactive, user-generated, viral. These days, it means Facebook and Twitter. But next year it'll be another set of web darlings. When it comes down to brass tacks, talking about social media doesn't get us very far in thinking about what we'd actually like to be doing, or in the case of academics, studying.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much closer this gets to answering the question that I started with. But having grappled with the notion of Web 2.0 for a long time, I'm comfortable with the idea of social media, as long as it keeps its place. Here's an analogy I've used in the classroom: Web 2.0 is like talking about culture at a national level. Do the Japanese or Americans have a culture? Well, I would say yes – culture exists as long as there are two people, all the way up to billions. There are a few things we can say about Americans or Japanese in general, but they're not very accurate or detailed, and they don't allow us to say anything good at all about anyone in particular. Talking about American culture is a shorthand for large and complex phenomena. It's just a convenience, and in that role it's useful. Go further, and you're talking gibberish, fool. So, keep your place, social media, and we'll be just fine.