Working on a recent project I had a miscommunication with my client’s PR person regarding the word “media.”  I’ve been in this web design/development industry for a long time now and it hadn’t occurred to me that term might mean something else to people outside of my industry.

You see, to me, when I see the word “Media” all by itself it means, specifically, we’re talking about media files. Files you can download or stream, whether they are audio, video, a podcast, JPEG images, or whatever.  But to a PR person, apparently, the word “Media” means radio, television, newspapers, magazines – all the things that in my industry are collected under any of a multitude of terms that attach a judgmental, if not derogatory, adjective in front of the word “media” such as “old” or “dead.”  Or if we’re being diplomatic maybe “traditional” or “legacy.”

That got me to thinking about how, over the course of my web career, I’ve seen the word “media” with a number of different qualifiers in front of it, always with a different meaning.  Here are the ones that spring to mind and roughly when I first recall hearing the term:

Electronic Media – (late 80’s) typically referred to the storage medium used by computers such as CD-ROMs or cartridges, but also applied to any electronic communications device that could send, receive, and/or store the information.

Traditional Media / Old Media / Legacy Media – (early 90’s) radio, television, newspapers, magazines, books. Pretty much everything that comprises “Mass Media.”

Web Media – (mid-90’s) originally just websites (back when it was actually two words “web sites”), since web browsers at the time couldn’t really show you anything aside from text and pictures.

New Media / Interactive Media – (late 90’s) primarily meant on-demand streaming audio/video and multimedia (i.e, “Flash”) content, latter use included social websites and blogs. From what I can see “New Media” is falling out of favor (since it’s no longer “new”) and is often used interchangeably with “Interactive Media” (which is itself often abbreviated to just “Interactive” – and note that it has a completely different meaning from “Interactive PR”).  I suppose someday soon I’ll have to explain to people what my former job title of “Assistant Director of New Media” meant.

Future Media (late 90’s) – This term often meant the same thing as New Media or Interactive Media and seemed to be more of a marketing term than anything else.  A number of companies and design studios in the mid-late 90’s even took it on as or included it in their name.  When not being used as a cooler stand-in for New Media, it was attached to concepts like “Virtual Worlds” (3D environments in which everyone would have an Avatar.  “Second Life” is probably the only successful realization of this concept, though many MMO’s would probably also qualify), and the idea of the Internet as a ubiquitous utility (what is now called the “Internet of Things”).

Web 2.0 – (early-mid 2000’s) the web as a platform for social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing, and web applications. Seems to have fallen out of favor when the USPTO (stupidly) granted a trademark on the term.  I often heard this term with the word “media” clumsily tacked on the end, so I’m including it.

Social Media (late 2000’s-present) specifically refers to social networks and peer-to-peer file sharing and collaborative “mashups.”

Dead Media (late 2000’s) – the idea that when a form of media (particularly a media format) becomes obsolete it disappears.  Not to be confused with “Dead Tree” which is the derogatory term for the contracting Print Media industry.  However, most of the so-called “dead” media still have their adherents, which led to:

Residual Media (late 2000’s) – the idea that obsolete media persist, or remain popular in other parts of the world, or even have nostalgic revivals after obsolescence. Vinyl records, film cameras (particularly “Polaroids”), video game cartridges, etc.  Residual Media can thank hipsters and third-world economies for keeping it alive.

Mobile Media – (late 2000’s-present) primarily native mobile apps on phones and tablets, though can include webapps geared toward mobile devices.  Lately, when I’ve heard this term used, it seems to be shifting toward specific reference to the consumption of traditional media (TV shows, movies, music, books) when displayed on mobile devices.

Web 3.0 / Semantic Web (present) – a not-yet-fully-realized vision of the next evolution of web technologies utilizing metadata, content-relevant markup, and automated user-agents to find and manipulate data.  I haven’t heard the word “media” used with either of these terms, but included them for completeness since I included the precursor “Web 2.0” above.