Brian Solis set out to organize the emerging social media landscape as a way of helping enthusiasts significance of the new media world. He also hoped to provide strategists with a visual tool to consider unforeseen opportunities through a holistic lens. To do so, Brian partnered with Jesse Thomas of JESS3, at the time, a hot new visual design agency known for its unique infographic style. JESS3 brought a unique perspective to the social media ecosystem. Jesse’s creative design and Brian’s thoughtful approach would help make the Conversation Prism the standard illustration for all things social media. Brian Solis and JESS3 debuted the original Conversation Prism (v 1.0) in August 2008. It was initially released in a digital-only format designed specifically for blogs, websites and presentations.

Due to popular demand, The Conversation Prism was also designed as a printed poster. In March 2009, the poster was distributed by the thousands at SXSW Interactive in Austin. Since then, the image and the poster have been updated to cover significant changes in the landscape. As of 2013, there have been four renditions with version 4.0 marketing the most significant change since 2009.
 

The Prism was originally inspired by the Social Media Starfish, an early graphic developed by Darren Barefoot and Robert Scoble in 2007 that depicted some of the hottest Web 2.0 and social media companies at the time.

 

Why is it called a Prism and not a Color Wheel? To see it as simply a color wheel takes away from its design and purpose. The “prism” is defined figuratively and literally…

 

Using the traditional definition, a prism separates white light into a spectrum of colors. The “white light” in this case, is the focused stream of conversations that are often grouped, but not separated by voice, context, source, or outcome. We take this beam of dialog and blast it into a spectrum of discernible light, let’s call it enlightenment, to see, hear, learn and adapt. We quite literally bring conversations to light. Used figuratively, it references the clarification or distortion afforded by a particular viewpoint…for example, “We view conversations across the networks through the prism of our social dashboard.”

Each shade of color represents an entirely unique reflection of light, meaning separating context and intention by network.

Originally, we refracted the light of conversations vertically, like so many traditional prism images you see. But, as the social web grew, we shaped the refracted light into a circle to help everyday people understand that the days of one audience, one voice, one story were over. We now had to envision, organize, and understand that conversations take place in communities that we don’t yet realize…obviously far beyond Facebook and Twitter.