Monday, June 9, 2014

Social media sites are essentially "databases"

I once read that Facebook was a database (Arthur, 2009). I have even read that blogs were databases (Miles, 2005). And now I've heard that LinkedIn is a database. My new conclusion is that all social media are databases!

My conclusion came after reflecting on some tips on LinkedIn and other social media use from Sean Campbell, CEO of Cascade Insights. In his presentation at SLA, Sean discussed the subject of how to get a hold of people to talk to using social media (Campbell, 2014). His basic premise is that people talk about their work life story online using social media. If one wants to know about an industry, one can use social media tools to find those who talk about this industry. He argues that social media [specifically LinkedIn] are databases from which we can mine and extract individuals, groups and communities that talk about subjects relevant to providing insight for industries. As Sean puts it, the ordinary LinkedIn User does not see their profile as a database, but to LinkenIn employees, a person's profile is but one record in a large database of people information. 

The same can be said for Facebook. According to Garde-Hansen (2009), Facebook is a "database of users and for users" and each user's page is "a database of their life" (p. 141). Garde-Hansen (2009) therefore argues that while users experience Facebook as a place where they upload "non-textual content (their profile image, the profile images of their friends, shared photographs, functional icons, gift images and application icons)", this hides the "visibility of Facebook as a pre-programmed set of pathways to a database" (p. 140-141).

This truth also applies to Twitter and Google (and basically all social media sites). In a 2013 Wired magazine article, it is mentioned that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google "teamed up to create what they call WebScaleSQL, a custom version of MySQL designed just for large scale web companies" that operate large databases (Finley, 2013). Further, blogs and blog content management systems, according to Miles (2005), also draw upon and store content of text, images, data and media objects from a database, and chronologically arrange or displays the content through templates accessible through a Web browser. So the truth is, that while we experience a clean, customised and personalised screen when uploading our user-generate content and viewing the stories told by our friends and others, we are essentially viewing records of a database that we update and input data for. In this regard, if we join any social media site, we essentially become data entry personnel. 


Campbell, S. (2014). Sourcing with social media – For competitive intelligence and market research teams. Presentation at the Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from

Finley, K. (2013, Mar. 27) Google and Facebook team up to modernize old-school databases
Wired Retrieved from

Garde-Hansen, J. (2009). MyMemories?: Personal digital archive fever and Facebook. In Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A., & Reading, A. (p. 135-50). Save as… digital memories. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Miles, A. (2005, May). Media rich versus rich media (or why video in a blog is not the same as a video blog). Hypertext paper presented at Blogtalk Downunder, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from [Last Accessed 23 August 2012].

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