Offline Social Media: Is That Even Possible?

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Today I would like to introduce you to a concept on how social media could be facilitated in regions without power and without internet access. I believe that communication is very important for many things in life and in a community – may it be virtual or physical and this concept might be an enabler or at least a help towards true offline social media.

What Is Social Media?

Social media is a great modern phenomenon of our time. It enables people to control what media they consume. It allows them to learn things they want to learn about and share their thoughts with people who think like them or just enjoys reading their thoughts. Basically social media enables for many types of communication, cooperation and helping others – it is what you make out of it.

This is what Wikipedia says about social media:

Social media is the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” Furthermore, social media depend on mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms through which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content. They introduce substantial and pervasive changes to communication between organizations, communities, and individuals.

What Is the Effect of Social Media in Our Lives?

sinkdd-social-media-smartphone-user-japan-tokyo-girl-woman-lady-jr-train-station-eki-japanese-photgrapher_editedWe communicate with family, friends, organisations, governments and even total strangers in the sphere of online social media right now. This can be as simple as a comment below an online article such as this is, or it can be as complex as a video based discussion on YouTube or even in a real-time video conference like Google Hangouts. To be honest you might not realise it but most parts of the internet is following social media principles or at least supports social networks in a way. We learn from others, fetch the daily news that interest us and interact with authors and like-minded users.

Practitioners might agree that by now we are almost permanently engaged in social media in one way or another while being online. Smartphones became the final enabler to that omnipresence (or maybe ‘permanent presence’ is more fitting?) and the only thing preventing people from non-stop usage might be the battery life of their devices. You can tell I am exaggerating a little bit to drive my point but what about many parts of the world without internet?

There are still large parts of the world without a infrastructure that would allow for internet usage in a way how you might be familiar with. Internet-based organisations such as Facebook and Google’s Loon project focused on bringing internet access to remote locations with alternative technologies. But is being online really a prerequisite for using social media?

Can There Be Social Media without Internet?

Kaplan and Haenlein define social media to require a set of internet-based platforms but I don’t even think that is necessary. You should be able to reflect most of the social media benefits and features also into the physical world. Information can be socially shared and curated as well in this world without the aid of wearable devices and without internet access if possible.

How Does That Work?

In order to keep the ‘social’ in social media you need people to curate and add new information to your platform. This is opposing a traditional type of media such as newspapers that cost a lot to run and require people to pay for.

The best known platform to drive this is a chalkboard to write on in a public and easily accessible location. You should try best to place this in a centre of population to ensure it can be used frequently by a lot of people without being challenged by distance. This could be for instance a market or close to a religious place. If possible try to set it up with a type of weather protection so that information does not get lost upon a single shower of rain.

Together Liberia

The board can be used to only consume news and information but it should also be allowed for everybody to add information. Like they do on the internet, every post however should have a ‘signature’ and a timestamp so people can understand it’s relevance and ‘freshness’ and can interact with the author possibly via feedback on the board.

Over time certain individuals usually appear that believe in the platform and will become your power-users or curators. They will be able to tell when something gets too old and can be wiped off to make space for new messages after it was read by many people already. Until a self-engaged audience has been motivated to share their news with others, the project should be driven by local key individuals.

The advantages of such an offline social media board are that it does not rely on power nor internet connectivity. However as low-cost this all might be, there is the board itself to be arranged for or to be built as well as writing material such as chalk. In order to arrange for a sort of income it is wise to offer advertising on the board itself or just next to it. Local stores or other sorts of commercial businesses might have an interest in aiding the project financially in trade with some advertisments.

A difficult question however is to decide the lifetime on a post. Nobody wants to offend anybody by wiping off their information in exchange for someone else’s. So how long should a post be displayed? Like all good questions, this one as well can be only answered with ‘It depends.’. It depends on value of content and value in the information to be shared in timely manner as well as it depends on the actual size of the board. So I can not give you a exact answer. All of this has to be tested out locally and good practices have to be established in each community but should be known to everybody as well.

Layout Concept

Below I have prepared a layout concept drawing on how the board can be split to carry different categories of posts. This is only a concept so everybody might as well amend this to better suit the communal needs they might be facing.

offline-social-media-message-board-chalkboard-concept-layout-drawing-cad-spaces-planning-newsletter-alternative-third-world-countries-poor-regions-conflict-area-community-information-sharing

  • Short News: Many small headlines (1 day duration)
  • Main News: One or two headlines with more details (2 days duration)
  • Job Board: Posts for people looking for work and offering work (flexible)
  • Market Value: Current value of trading items (flexible)
  • Education: Educational content of any kind (2-5 days)
  • Chatter: Spot for interaction and feedback among community members (flexible)

Please note that the recommendations above are merely guidelines to consider and can be changed to suit the community where the board is deployed.

Hardware Construction

I am no carpenter hence I am not in the position to give others good advice about constructing a social media board. If anyone has blueprints for a hanging or standalone construction please share. Meanwhile here are my pointers for consideration:

  • Build safe so nobody is ever injured during construction nor while using the board
  • You should consider some sort of weather protection so the information can withstand rain
  • If you can’t arrange for a large chalkboard or several small ones please have a look at ‘chalkboard paint‘ that let’s you turn even surfaces into chalkboards

Applicability

This concept for a offline social media board does not have any regional restrictions, however the focus were to provide regions and communities without power grid and without internet connectivity with the means to run news on their own. This might even be a third world country or a conflict zone. I am aware that a means to share information is not priority one but when trying to improve communication and information sharing within a community such a board can help a great deal without the cost of traditional media publishing.

I thank you for reading and hope the concept can help or inspire for even more valuable projects. In my opinion the internet is not a requirement for social media to work.

Photo credit: Cameron Zohoori / Shinichi Higashi

Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Managing Editor at TechAcute
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. I love readers who leave a comment. 😉
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@ChristopherIsak

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Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. I love readers who leave a comment. ;)

8 thoughts on “Offline Social Media: Is That Even Possible?

  • August 21, 2014 at 9:30 pm
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    This is great! I agree as well that the definition of social media must not be limited to Internet based applications. User curation and user created content can be done in many ways! I hope the article is gonna help third world regions or some communities at least.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2014 at 12:21 am
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    Of course there can be offline social media! Any physical message board could potentially be in scope if participation by everyone is encouraged.

    Reply
  • August 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm
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    I think this is my favorite post so far on TA. 🙂 I love this idea, and I think it could really work. There are some things that wouldn’t work, like real-time Twitter search of specific hashtags (or maybe somehow that could work), but overall, I think this is a great idea!

    It’s creative and inspiring. Most of all, it allows people to share information with others and learn new things without the Internet.

    Ironically, this reminds me of something I saw in the NYC Google office. Obviously Google has done more for the transfer of information than most companies, yet in their NYC office they have an offline creativity chalkboard. It’s a humongous chalkboard that was custom made to cover almost the entire width of the wall.

    Employees are encouraged to grab a piece of chalk and write any idea they might have when those ideas pop into their heads. I took a picture of it when I was there. It’s here: http://instagram.com/p/hBPot8qsa-

    As you can see, it has turned out to be more of just a doodle board. And even though it may not be being used primarily for creative ideas, it’s still a fun offline representation of sharing information, ideas and spur-of-the-moment thoughts, which is why it reminds me of your offline social media idea.

    I think anytime a system can be put in place to give people more knowledge and inspiration, it’s a good thing. Although it may seem like it sometimes, the Internet isn’t the only solution to make that happen. I give this idea an A+. 🙂

    Reply
  • August 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm
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    Lovely piece – I might get out and about tonight & start painting up chalkboard nearby! Interestingly though, there is something very similar to this in Bristol (UK) – it isn’t as neatly together or clean as the image you show (bang in the centre of Stokes Croft, you aren’t going to see anything too tidy), but is a “poll board” where a question is displayed at the top & the board is divided into Yes & No, and encourages Graffiti on the side you agree with. A kind of “social media” for voicing opinions, no internet required. Photo here >> http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1437863

    In addition to this, your point about when & who decides on the removal of information is also something that can be related to my experience of Graffiti in Bristol (and worldwide) – as a huge town for street art, I see large murals pop up for months and months later new pieces over where the originals had shown. Some pieces stay much longer – usually those with a story, a meaning or have a strong message, whereas the smaller or less important pieces are often no longer to be seen perhaps within a week or two. This is, I assume, a kind of the “lifetime of the post” which is decided upon by the next artists who arrive, or choose their spot.

    You do, however, in both of these situations, have to keep on top of the game – i.e. many good pieces of street art are vandalised by tagging, the voting board isn’t “cleaned” enough and so can become quite an eyesore if you didn’t understand what you were looking at… How would you propose a suitable way to encourage participation in a positive way? Perhaps your suggestion of this being at a place of worship, perhaps in a semi private area (a pub garden, a village hall, near a memorial?) or perhaps made to look so pretty & inviting that this would help? It would be very interesting to have a number of these all around a city & see how much they differ – the conversations, the types of people…)

    Thanks for this piece Chris, got me thinking 🙂

    Reply
  • July 8, 2015 at 2:09 am
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    It’s called the 1st Amendment, you can use CB Radios, HAM Radios or plain shouting in the street.

    Reply
  • August 5, 2015 at 1:57 pm
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    Very interesting article. Having grown up in a small island with numerous conflicts and lack of available technology I can see the value in a well mediated bulletin board. I must say this concept is used in classrooms and schools all over the world as well as various companies. The novelty is in the community run aspect go to the structural organisation project, the safety regulations and the use of mediation and curators. The issues I have with this concept is the assumption that literacy is a worldwide phenomenon and that free speech is ubiquitous. Unfortunately this is not the case and these are great stumbling blocks to historical concept which has been rethought in our digital world. Not sure whether to be offended by it or to think its brilliant to be honest. However, it has its merit and i think the take away is in the value of openly organising community information in an accessible manner and that others may contribute to this information freely. This is a great help in moving all of us forward no matter where we are.

    Reply
    • August 5, 2015 at 6:25 pm
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      Thank you very much for your insight, Beatrice. I find that very, very interesting and thanks again for adding it to my article here. I appreciate that you took the time to contribute. 🙂

      Reply
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