The distinction between old media communications and new media communications emerged with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. Old media generally refers to pre-Internet information outlets such as television, radio, books, magazines, and newspapers. New media not only includes communication mediums unique to the Internet, but also includes mobile communication devices such as cell phones and smart phones. Examples of new media communications include websites, chat rooms, bulletin boards, list servers and social networking platforms.
Generally, old media is considered one-directional. Although a single source of information broadcast by television or radio has the potential to reach a worldwide audience, the audience typically cannot interact with the source. At best, any interaction is limited and the exchange of information might take a significant amount of time.
New media communications includes websites, chat rooms, bulletin board services (BBS), and e-mail list servers. This new format also includes social networking or video-sharing platforms. Mobile phone technology has created the ability to send text messages via a short message service (SMS), or via a more sophisticated multimedia messaging service (MMS) where users can share pictures or video clips as easily as text.
Where old media required vast sums of money invested in printing presses or transmission towers, new media communications are available at relatively low cost to anyone who can afford an Internet connection. The ability for everyone to have equal access to distribution can allow for almost anyone to capture international attention overnight. Video clips made by a $50 US Dollars (USD) cell phone can record something so funny or historic that millions of people need to see it. This type of infectious content has led to the term "viral" to describe the way video clips posted on video-sharing websites are passed along via e-mail and other social networks.
Authors who would never have been recognized by old media publishing companies can quickly gain thousands of readers by posting a blog. The term blog is a combination of "web" and "log" that originally described the concept of publishing one’s own thoughts on the Internet. Bloggers who gain a large enough readership can quickly find themselves borrowing from old media profit-making strategies by charging sponsors a fee for advertisements on blog pages.
Because the Internet is continually growing and adapting to new innovations, new media communications are constantly changing. Original social networking sites that were once the rage are being replaced by newer websites with richer feature sets — for example, MySpace gave way to Facebook. One common dynamic exists between all forms of new media: the gathering of diverse individuals around a shared interest or relationship and then using the power of those relationships to share information with others.