Two arguments are always made by the proponents of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the like. Both, I think, are ill-conceived if they are aimed at persuading the uninitiated to dip a casual toe into the rising sea of social media networks and tools. The first is that no one can afford not to do it. Now, this kind of talk never fails to raise a few hackles – no one likes being told what they can and cannot do. The second is that to really understand social media, you have to just get stuck in, which is another way of saying that it's too difficult to explain. It is unsurprising then that people, and especially scientists, want better reasons for using social media. People, and especially scientists, want evidence that it works.
The problem is that most of us who are regular users – those of us who are already sharing videos of our pets on YouTube and uploading our holiday snaps to Facebook while we are still in the airport – have probably never thought too hard about it. We found ourselves drawn to social media in much the same way as the spider is drawn to the plughole. All we know now is we cannot get out. For the younger generation, particularly, it is hard to remember a time when YouTube did not exist; it is inconceivable to think of a world where friends could not be reached instantaneously by a tweet or Facebook message. And if ‘I'll Facebook you’ was the last decade's ‘I'll email you’, what comes next? Social media are evolving so quickly that every website and application mentioned in this chapter may be extinct within the next five years – and thus what can indeed be difficult, is keeping up with the pace of change.