Meerkat vs. Periscope: The Battle for Twitter

Picture 5-14-2015Back in March, I discussed how Twitter was entering the world of live-streaming with a third-party video app called Meerkat. With the popularity of live-streaming video already on the rise, Meerkat immediately exploded in popularity. However, the fact remained that Meerkat was launched by a third party and Twitter already had other plans for live-streaming video. Mere weeks after the launch of Meerkat, it was revealed that Twitter was already planning to launch their own live-streaming app called Periscope.

Twitter actually acquired Periscope in January, so live-streaming is something that has long been on their mind. Periscope launched at the end of March for iOS, giving Meerkat only a brief head-start in the Twitter live-streaming business. Upon the launch of Periscope, most news sources had only positive things to say. The interface was cleaner than Meerkat, there’s more interaction available between users, and most importantly, Periscope allows users to save streams and replay them later.

In response, Meerkat has been doing what it can to differentiate itself from Periscope and ensure that it’s still got a horse in the race. The people behind Meerkat have opened up Meerkat to other developers, transforming it into a platform that can be enhanced in various ways. Developed have already changed the Meerkat experience by adding automatic uploads of streams to YouTube, analytics tools, and better discovery for other users’ streams, among other updates. Periscope is currently in the top ten US social apps, while Meerkat is around #70, but these enhancements may help to give Meerkat a push.

Checking Back in with Google Plus

Picture 5-7-2015It’s been a while since anyone has given much thought to Google Plus. Google’s attempt at a competitor to Facebook effectively crashed and burned, after not really providing users with anything that they didn’t already have from other existing social networks. It simply never offered anything that made people want to switch from one social network to the other. After Vic Gundotra, who focused largely on Google Plus during his tenure at Google, announced he was leaving the company last year, some news sources declared that Google Plus was effectively dead in the water.

However, Google has recently announced an overhaul of the Google Plus interface, which is drifting further away from a Facebook clone and actually seems to be emulating aspects of Pinterest. Google Plus’s newest feature is called the Collections tab, which allows users of Google Plus to group similar posts into sections, so that users can easily organize all of the things that they are interested in. These Collections can be shared publicly, privately, or with a specific group of people.

While Google Plus may have massively decreased in use, there were still plenty of people that were clinging to it. Roughly 6.6 million users made public posts in 2015, although that is only representative of 0.3 percent of all Google Plus accounts. However, Google was paying attention to what their loyal users were doing on the social network. These observations ultimately led to the launch of Collections, which is now available on the web and Android platforms and should be available for iOS in the near future.

What’s Facebook Letting Us Do Now?

Picture 4-16-2015The rate at which Facebook seems to be constantly growing and changing is truly astounding. It seems that rarely a week goes by without a new feature being rolled out by the social network. Over the course of the past couple of months, Facebook has released a number of new and interesting features, as well as separate applications that are intended to perform specific functions. One way that Facebook changed things up recently, for instance, is by allowing people to use Facebook Groups to sell things, in a way similar to Craigslist, but with less anonymity.

Another interesting thing that Facebook can now be used for is serving divorce papers via Facebook messages. In this situation, it’s not exactly a feature that was added by Facebook. It’s actually been a court ruling, which allows people to serve legal paperwork such as divorce papers via Facebook, depending on the circumstances. Whether or not this can be considered legal would have to be decided on a state-by-state basis, but New York has confirmed that it can be done.

Outside of the Facebook platform itself, Facebook has been launching some interesting apps that allow users to perform different functions. Riff is an app that allows friends to create collaborative videos by adding clips together; the videos that are created can be easily shared through Facebook and the contributors will automatically be tagged. Another app that Facebook just launched is called Scrapbook, which is effectively a way for children under the age of thirteen to have a Facebook presence, allowing parents to tag photos of their children. Facebook is currently looking into ways to allow a child’s Scrapbook to be upgraded to an official Facebook page once they turn thirteen.

Facebook Messenger Gets Standalone Web Platform

Picture 4-9-2015As I discussed last week, Facebook Messenger is going through some pretty big changes right now. With the addition of third-party support, Facebook is hoping to transform Facebook Messenger into its own platform. Yesterday, they extended this idea by launching Messenger.com, a dedicated web presence for Facebook Messenger, separating the messaging functions from the News Feed, notifications, and potentially other distracting information that usually might appear on Facebook.

Facebook users will still be able to send messages from Facebook.com as usual, but Messenger.com has been established as a chat website for those who may need to chat but don’t want to wind up endlessly clicking on the distracting social media content that can often present itself on Facebook. Currently, the features on Messenger.com are still somewhat limited. Users cannot yet send audio messages or send photos directly from their webcams, but it is likely that Messenger.com will continue to expand.

It’s also been confirmed that Messenger.com will allow users to interact via the third-party applications that were discussed last week. Though Messenger.com is only available to English-speaking users right now, Facebook plans to launch the platform internationally over the course of the next few weeks. Interestingly, Messenger.com does not presently feature any advertisements, but one can assume that this is likely to change in the future.

Third-Party Apps Now Able to Enhance Facebook Messenger

Picture 4-2-2015During the Facebook F8 conference last month, Facebook made a number of announcements about the future of Facebook and the ways that things will be changing throughout the year. One of the most interesting and buzzed about changes that apparently will occur is the fact that Facebook Messenger will now be able to support third-party apps and services, so that the Messenger service that Facebook has been developed can be customized in all sorts of different ways.

Facebook Messenger is used by more than 500 million people, so it’s no surprise that Facebook has made it their goal to make Messenger more useful. By opening up Messenger to third-party app creators, the possibilities are limitless. Since Facebook recently allowed friend-to-friend payments to be made in Messenger, it’s likely that there are a lot of interesting ways that Messenger can be expanded for commerce, with businesses potentially making it easier to purchase goods and services through their Messenger app.

The first third-party apps that have launched for Messenger have been simple sticker apps, as well as some small ones for audio and video clips. However, there are plenty of potential options for the future. People could send animated GIFs to their friends, have their messages sung out loud to them, play games, or make purchases all through the same Messenger app. Since the transformation is so recent, the sky is still the limit for what could come from Facebook Messenger’s evolution into a full-fledged platform.

Instagram Launches Layout for Photo Collages

Picture 3-26-2015Instagram has recognized that its users are very interested in making collages. There are plenty of third-party apps that allow for this very function such as Pic Stitch, PhotoGrid, InstaCollage, and more. After recognizing that one in five monthly active users on Instagram had used one of these collage apps at least once, Instagram decided that they would launch their own collage-making application, hoping to make the experience easier and more efficient for their user base.

The app that they have launched is called Layout and it’s trying to make an effort to separate itself from the herd of similar collage applications. While most of these third-party collage apps start out by offering empty grids where pictures can be arranged, Layout is different in that it has you choose the pictures that you will be using first, and then automatically arranges the photos for you, once you have selected a collage style. From there, it is easy to replace photos, resize them, or move them into different positions.

Many news sources are already comparing Layout to Hyperlapse, which quickly became the defining app for creating timelapse videos. From the way it looks, Layout could similarly become the definitive collage app, even amidst all of these other competing apps. Considering the success of Hyperlapse, it is likely that Layout will also have success, because of its direct affiliation with Instagram and its overall ease of use. The app launched for iOS on Monday and is expected to be released for Android in the coming months.

Facebook Messenger Adds Friend-To-Friend Payments

Picture 3-19-2015In various ways, Facebook has competed with most of the major online forces around. Their social media functions compete with Twitter and Snapchat; their search functions compete with Google and Bing; their ownership of Instagram even pits them against a number of other image and video sharing services. Now, it appears that Facebook is ready to go up against payment services such as PayPal, as they have just officially announced that Facebook Messenger is adding a friend-to-friend payment service that is free of charge.

Using this feature is fairly simple. A user simply needs to add their debit card information in Facebook Messenger’s setting sections. Then, you select the ‘$’ icon in Facebook Messenger and tap ‘pay’. From there, any user can send any amount of money directly into their friend’s bank account. Facebook has plenty of experience with transactions and mobile payments through their apps and games, so the security of one’s debit card information won’t have to be something to worry about.

Facebook’s goal is to offer this feature as a convenience. They recognize that people are already going to be logging time on Facebook, so why should they have to spend time adding friends to another application like Venmo (an app running similar features, offered by PayPal) when they can already use their existing list of Facebook friends? Though it’s too early to tell if this feature will be the death of other payment apps, Facebook certainly has the upper hand here.

Bringing Live Streaming to Twitter

Picture 3-12-2015Over the past few years, live-streaming has become immensely popular. This is largely thanks to the popularity of Twitch, which is a live streaming video platform that initially focused on streaming video game playthroughs and e-sports, though its brand has continued to expand. Amazon’s purchase of Twitch in September 2014 only helped to expand the brand’s popularity. Thus, it’s unsurprising that live-streaming has been on the brains of many people since Twitch’s surge in viewership, which has turned it into one of the top 200 visited websites on the Internet.

A couple weeks ago, Meerkat was launched as a live-streaming video app that works directly in conjunction with Twitter. Though Meerkat is an independent app with no official connections to Twitter, it uses Twitter to allow people to live-stream video or record video to be scheduled for a later tweet. As Meerkat runs live-streaming video, other users are able to engage the user’s Twitter account with replies, which appear at the bottom of the video feed. When the live-stream is completed, its default setting is to be ephemeral and disappear, although the streamer has the option of saving the video to their phone’s memory.

In the weeks since its launch, Meerkat has become extremely popular, though only time will tell if it will merely be a passing fad or if it will reach the same level of popularity as Twitch. In any case, Twitter has reportedly been in talks to purchase another live-stream app known as Periscope. Periscope has not yet launched, but beta testers have described the app as similar to Meerkat. If Twitter purchases Periscope and launches it, they could potentially be burying Meerkat before it has a chance to truly shine. At any rate, it’s definitely likely that live-streaming is going to be the next big thing for Twitter.

The Broadening Horizons of Snapchat

Picture 3-5-2015Like any social network, Snapchat is always trying to find new ways to expand and evolve. Recently, they added the ability for different brands to get content to interested users through Snapchat Discover. However, there have been other ways that Snapchat has been trying to appeal to their users, albeit with mixed results. Snapchat launched an ephemeral scripted web series through Snapchat Discover called Literally Can’t Even, which is interesting in that episodes can only be watched for 24 hours before disappearing, but has premiered to largely negative reviews.

Better responses have been received from a different feature that was recently added to Snapchat. Last month, Snapchat began allowing users to record video while playing music from their phones, whether they’re using Spotify, Pandora, or the phone’s built-in MP3 player. Previously, Snapchat did not allow users to play music from apps like these at the same time as shooting video, so this may give users some additional versatility regarding the videos they share on Snapchat.

Not everything that Snapchat has been doing has been about adding new features. In fact, there were some negative reactions when Snapchat added the Snapchat Discover feature, because it came alongside the removal of the ‘Best Friends’ feature. This was a fairly minor feature that allowed users to view the top three users that one of their friends exchanged Snapchat messages with.

Many people, likely accustomed to the somewhat voyeuristic aspects of social networking, were displeased that this feature had been removed, considering it allowed users to see who their friends were messaging the most, on an otherwise private social media app. The CEO of Snapchat responded that the Best Friends feature will be returning in a different form, though there have been no updates about the feature since then.

How Do Social Networks Seem Like They’re Psychic?

Picture 2-26-2015Occasionally, when you glance at the sidebar on Facebook, you might wonder how exactly it is that Facebook seems to know exactly how to cater to what you’re interested in. What you might not know is that Facebook has algorithms intended to help find the ads that suit you best. Since mid-2014, Facebook began using app and website data from your browsing habits, effectively going through your search history in order to determine which ads to target to you. While Facebook provides the ability to opt out of this, the default setting allows this sort of ad targeting to occur.

More recently, Facebook revealed that they were rolling out a new advertisement option called Product Ads, which are dynamically optimized to ensure that the products you see in the advertisements are based specifically on your interests and activities, as well as your location and whether or not you have already visited the advertiser’s website or used their application. These will be particularly useful for showing different types of products that come from the same company, such as Target and Shutterfly.

You may not realize how much information social networks can gather just from the things you have ‘liked’, the things you have posted and shared, and your general search history. One long-term study had subjects take personality tests and then used an algorithm based on their Facebook profile to see how closely their personality could be predicted alongside the test. The algorithm was able to produce a more accurate description of their personality than that subject’s friends and family.

Facebook is not the only social network that has been used to predict things. One study took a look at the emotional language used on Twitter, comparing the amount of angry tweets to mortality rates for atherosclerotic heart disease in particular counties. The researchers in this study determined that Twitter was actually a more effective means of predicting heart disease than conventional methods that look at smoking, diet, or obesity. This is evidence that a lot can be learned from social networks and these sorts of studies could wind up serving greater purposes than just targeting advertisements.