Social media is a term that is used to describe web services that receive most of the content from their users or that aggregate the content from other sites as feeds. The sites build on social networks and on the creativity of the participants of one or more communities. In social media, anyone can become a producer, but many of the people see themselves as participants who engage in the community rather than producers.


Social software is important related term which is used to call the technology social media is based on. It has not only changed the status of the audience, but has cracked the traditional, more closed structure of mass media. The social software brought us content management systems that earlier only big companies could afford.

In social media, monetary incentives are not obligatory, since for many participants, the opportunity for self-expression and having something worthwhile to do is enough. Yet some of the sites also share revenues in order to lure more creative authors and better qualified content than their competitors have.

The most typical examples of social media are Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook,,, LinkedIn and Flickr. They all represent a different kind of social media service which we have categorized into the following types or genres: content creation and publishing (blogs, v-blogs, podcasts), content sharing (Flickr, YouTube,,, social network sites (LinkedIn, Facebook,, Friendster, MySpace, IRC-Galleria), collaborative productions (OhmyNews, Wikipedia, Star-Wreck etc.), virtual worlds (Second Life, Habbo Hotel, WOW) and add-ons (RockYou, Slide, Friends For Sale).

Since the sites may rely solely on social media or just adapt some of the features of social media, like personal profiles, feeds, tags, wikis and blogs, some sites may overlap into several genres. IRC and the discussion forums were surely the first forms of social media, but no one actually utilised the term during those times. We have left out these older solutions from the genre list and concentrated on the new genres.

For companies, social media solutions help to gain not just content, but to try the Open Innovation approach more easily – at least if we think about the technological aspect instead of organisation culture and management issues which still remain challenging. Nowadays, companies can outsource and crowdsource with the help of social software. At its best, social media builds the foundations for a participatory economy where participants gain use-value as the result of community action. People collaborate on social media, and as a return, the action of the individuals produces something new, even unexpected results. The emergence may be a profitable business and provide income for firms, but it also has an impact on the social relations and the well-being of individuals.

Yet, the participatory economy is not whatever economy Internet-based businesses make possible. It is the economy participants create by just fulfilling various motives. They might not even think of being volunteers. They just participate for reasons, which most often have more to do with their personal interests than additional incentives, like a paycheck the website owner might offer.

In Finland, the participatory economy practices make their way also into the traditional media industry, but at a relatively slow pace. This means that the core of journalism and media production has remained quite closed and in the hands of media professionals. But at the same time, the business strategies are changing in the media industry from “walled gardens” to more open distribution.

In the future, a great amount of professionally produced content will be available in open channels, without dedicated distributors. In fact, people already use websites that contain content and different widgets not just from the actual site and its owner, but from other sites supporting that site with their own effort.

If users want, they can even aggregate the content themselves and enjoy only the newest microchunks on their feed readers immediately when the data is published without separate visits to publishers’ sites. In addition, mash-ups show how to combine different layers of content from several sources into a new media package. That is quite a change. In the old model, sites were like countries that had strict rules about who could cross the country border, which of the people will have the work permit, which commons are allowed to import or export whereas social media has opened at least some of these borders to unchain the import and export of commons.


Lietsala and Sirkkunen base this report on their experiences and findings during the Parteco project in 2006 – 2008 at the University of Tampere.

The research team has carried out the research in two main fields: the media publishing and the work organisations. For this reason, the view concentrates more on what happens to the content and to the traditional media, and not so much on the way people link to each other. The three public case studies presented in this report are the collaborative movie production project called Star Wreck, the blog on the website of Image magazine and the citizen reporters’ portal Apureportterit on the website of Apu magazine. All cases are Finnish.

Our cases have shown that different approaches in the collaboration with the audience lead to different end-results. The cautious approach of A-lehdet created different kind of results than the open, more free and loose co-operation of Star Wreck which worked without a ready-made institution behind the project to set the structures beforehand. In addition, the researchers bring out some social media examples based on the observations in the field. These notes are included to raise discussion and thoughts


Social Media: Introduction to the tools and processes of participatory economy

By Katri Lietsala & Esa Sirkkunen (PDF)

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