Social Networking - New or Old School?As a dedicated watcher of the digital and online industries, I’m always fascinated by how the circle turns.

Things that seem new and fresh are often just re-creations of the old ways of working. It’s really interesting to see how many of the ideas that were fresh and exciting in 1995, when we were starting to do ‘new media’ consulting are still valid.

But one new idea is very old indeed. I love the prospect of social and what it means for communities and developing online products, but it isn’t new. In fact nearly everything I’ve heard about in social media is merely a new way of doing a very old thing indeed.

Social discourse – people coming together in small and large groups, looking for advice guidance and support, and creating and inter-dependency that helps all the members of the group – is as old as the very first tribes.

Humans have always operated in this way. One might argue that the rise of digital through the 1990’s actually subverted these core activities and instincts. The revolution of digital was that, for a brief period, people worked in different ways. But we’re reverting.

Social media platforms allow us all to interact with the world in a way that’s embedded in the very nature of our existence as human beings. We profoundly need the support of our tribes, we are by nature co-operative and collaborative beings. What those platforms deliver is amplification and ease, but they don’t actually change any of the basic instincts of human interaction.

Which is why, when people talk about the ‘new’ and debate if it can be made to work, I ask if they’re a little too caught up in the wonder and excitement and are not looking to the past.

But there’s also a lesson to be learnt here. One of the defining features of good new stuff is that it allows us to do what we have always done, but in a better way. Whether ‘better’ is more effectively, on a grander scale or just more often – any of these are really good indicators that something will work.

But it also suggests that, however caught up in the 21st century we are, it’s always worth looking over our shoulder to the lessons to be drawn from 15,000 years of human tribal behaviour.