Social Networking

Instagram Direct: Private Picture Messaging

Picture 12-26-2013Instagram’s most recent update has included the launch of a private picture messaging system that is being referred to as Instagram Direct. The service allows Instagram users to send each other private messages that can include photos or videos; this contrasts Instagram’s previous features, which only allowed the public posting of photos and videos to a user’s profile. Instagram Direct allows for special messages and private photos to be sent to up to 15 people at once.

It was truly no surprise that Instagram launched Instagram Direct this month, as there had been rumors regarding a direct messaging service for quite some time. It seemed like the obvious step that Instagram needed to take to become a more effective social network. Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, tried out a postcard service last year that would allow users to send paper prints of photos to their friends; the service never generated much interest and was quickly shut down. Physical printing and sharing was not what users wanted; they were simply looking for private messaging.

Though it was generally agreed upon that Instagram needed Instagram Direct in order to further evolve, responses to the new service have been lukewarm. One of the primary issues with Instagram Direct is that it does not do very much to separate itself from competing social networks and messaging apps such as the features available through Snapchat and Twitter.

Considering Facebook tried and failed to purchase Snapchat earlier this year, their foray into private picture messaging is going to inevitably be compared to Snapchat and Instagram Direct needs to do a little bit more to separate itself from the herd. It has been stressed, however, that the feature is currently in its earliest stages, so it remains to be seen if there will be new features revealed that may allow Instagram Direct to make a name for itself.

Facebook’s New Video Advertisements

Picture 12-19-2013Advertising is truly what generates the money for social networks and they are always trying to find new and innovative ways to advertise to their users. Since so many people use social networks in this day and age, brands are always striving to advertise to them and cater to potential customers based on their interests. Facebook’s most recent addition to their advertising repertoire comes in the form of auto-playing video advertisements.

The video advertisements are intended to not be entirely distracting from the social network itself. The videos will play automatically without sound within the News Feed, but if they are clicked on, they will extend to full screen and sound will begin to play. When the video is finished, the same advertiser will also offer two additional videos that can be potentially viewed by the Facebook user if they are interested in whatever is being advertised.

Interestingly, this method of advertisement may challenge marketers to take a new approach when it comes to finding new ways to make potential customers interested in their products. Because the video ads are not particularly intrusive, are soundless to begin with, and can be easily scrolled past, advertisers will need to find catchy ways to intrigue the interest of Facebook users without using sound in the short period of time that it will take for someone on Facebook to scroll past the ad.

Though the Facebook video advertisements have already been launched this week, they are still in the testing phases. They will initially only appear for some Facebook users, before they are gradually rolled out to the entirety of the social network’s user base. Facebook’s stock has already seen a 2% increase, based on the belief that these video advertisements will continue to boost the company’s revenue.

YouTube and Social Networks

Picture 12-12-2013YouTube is one of the biggest websites on the planet. In fact, in terms of page views in the United States, the website is second only to Google, narrowly beating out major websites like Facebook, Yahoo!, and Amazon. However, the Internet is a volatile realm where updates are constantly required in order to keep websites current, as evidenced by YouTube’s recent attempts to delve into features that are typically associated with popular social networks.

Back in August, YouTube decided to launch MixBit, their attempt at a direct competition with instant video sharing apps like Facebook’s Instagram service and Twitter’s Vine mobile app, though MixBit is a little bit different than these services. The way MixBit stands out on its own is by allowing all MixBit videos to be used for editing, splicing, and mixing with other videos. Though MixBit videos can only be 16 seconds in length, they can be edited together into a larger video that’s up to an hour long.

Another way that YouTube has moved into social networking territory is their recent decision to require a Google Plus account to post comments on the site. With interest in Google Plus recently dwindling, it’s likely that this partnership with Google was done in an attempt to increase usage of their floundering social network. However, it appears that the fickle users of YouTube are not particularly happy with the requirement of a Google Plus account to comment on videos.

People on the Internet can often be resistant to change and it appears that petitions have already been created and tens of thousands of people have commented on a YouTube blog post announcing the change with angry complaints, obscenities, and demands to change the commenting system back to what it once was. Some don’t wish to have a Google Plus account at all, while others are reluctant towards having their real name posted on their YouTube comments. Either way, these changes appear to be here to stay, as YouTube is quite used to angry comments and they have made no movement towards pulling back from Google Plus support.

What Lies Ahead for Snapchat

Picture 12-5-2013Snapchat is reaching all-time highs in popularity at this time. According to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, there are 400 million snaps shared a day, which exceed s the number of photos that are shared through both Facebook and Instagram, proving once and for all that Snapchat is here to stay and it’s huge. To compare, Snapchat was seeing 350 million snaps a day in September and 200 million a day in June, meaning that the social network is growing at a shocking rate.

Needless to say, it’s no surprise that investment analysts are saying that Snapchat has a very long-lasting and lucrative future. The social network has more funding and a higher valuation than Instagram and even YouTube did when they were at Snapchat’s stage in their lifespan. It’s not too much of a shock that there have been rumblings of a $3 billion offer from Facebook hoping to purchase Snapchat. Many attribute Snapchat’s popularity to its lack of permanence, referring to the way snaps disappear after an allocated amount of time.

Facebook is not the only massive company that is interested in Snapchat, however. There are other rumors abound that Tencent, an enormous Chinese corporation involved in the biggest Chinese social networks, has already made a major investment in Snapchat. A partnership between the two companies is likely to be mutually beneficial, as it allows Snapchat to extend into Asia and Tencent to have their first American subsidiary.

Another recent news update for Snapchat is the recent hire of Emily White, who was formerly the director of business operations for Instagram. She will now be working as the COO of Snapchat and it’s very possible that this may be a way that Snapchat will be moving forward with advertisements and monetization. Instagram itself revealed its new ads in October, leading some to believe that White’s hire may lead to a shift in the marketing of Snapchat as well.

Vine and Instagram Make It to Windows Phone

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People who are using phones with the Windows Phone smartphone platform, such as the Nokia Lumia series or the Samsung ATIV series, have been a bit behind when it comes to some of the most popular social networking applications. Though Windows Phone has been compatible with a number of the basic social networks like Facebook and Twitter, it has been missing major applications such as Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and more, until recent weeks.

Vine, Twitter’s popular video-sharing application, initially launched on the iOS platform in January and was eventually brought over to Android in June. It was finally released in early November for the Windows Phone platform, with all of the features included for the iOS and Android versions, as well as special exclusive features, such as the ability to pin favorite Vine accounts to the home screen.

Instagram’s launch on Windows Phone came about a week after Vine was launched, but it was received quite a bit more poorly than Vine. While Vine has only been around since the beginning of the year, Instagram has had three years to be working on a version for Windows Phone. Yet the application that was released appeared to be heavily limited and did not feature many of the basic functions that were available in the iOS and Android versions.

In particular, many users found themselves annoyed with the fact that Instagram cannot be used to take photos within the application, which has been one of its most primary and basic functions on the other platforms. Additionally, Instagram on Windows Phone cannot capture or share videos. Currently, Instagram on Windows Phone can only be used to share existing photos that have been taken through the phone’s basic camera application, which keeps it a long way from Instagram’s intended full functionality. At the time, the application is being referred to as a beta product, meaning it is still in the testing process.

Facebook Changes the Way We ‘Like’ Things

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Facebook has long been embedding its functionalities on popular news websites, to the point where the Facebook Like and Share buttons are seen more than 22 billion times every day on more than 7.5 million websites. For the first time since the Like and Share buttons were developed to be embedded on these pages, Facebook has decided to update the design of the buttons, removing the iconic ‘thumbs-up’ that has long been associated with the Like button and replacing it with Facebook’s ‘f’ logo.

The new design has reportedly come about in order to be optimized for high-resolution screens. Additionally, the Share button is replacing Facebook’s Send button, which was tested and ultimately deemed too confusing. The old buttons were blue on white, while the new ones are white on blue, allowing for a crisper look that can be better seen on the high-resolution screens that Facebook is apparently aiming for.

In addition to changing the design of the Like and Share buttons, it also appears that Facebook is testing the usage of star ratings for Pages. According to some screenshots and videos of live testing, it appears that Facebook is intending to employ a five-star rating system that users can use to rate certain Pages, taking things a bit beyond simply being able to Like a certain Page. Though no official announcements have been made, it is likely that this is something Facebook intends to launch in the near future.

The replacement designs of the Like and Share button began their official launch yesterday. Gradually, over the coming days, the new designs for these buttons will be ubiquitous on the websites that use Facebook’s embedding options.

Kids and Teens are Getting Sick of Facebook

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Back in May, the results of a survey were released, revealing that teens were starting to grow a bit tired of Facebook, finding a number of reasons to instead be drawn to other social networks such as Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat. Part of this is because of adults — including parents and grandparents — having an ever-growing presence on Facebook, which keeps Facebook from remaining ‘cool’. Other issues that were brought up included oversharing by their friends and ‘drama’ that would happen in real life because of Facebook.

Though Facebook repeatedly denied that teens’ interest in Facebook was waning, their recent quarterly financial statements have shown Facebook’s first-ever decrease in teenage daily users. Facebook continues to defend itself in regards to the fact that Facebook is still the highest-used social network by teens in the United States, but this admission led to a slight drop for Facebook in the stock market.

Apart from cyber-bullying and oversharing reasons, some news sources suggest that it could be Facebook’s mobile app that is holding it back by being so cluttered and full of options that it can be overwhelming and result in ‘decision paralysis’. When compared to simpler mobile apps that teens have been drawn to in recent years, it’s quite noticeable how much less clutter can be found on services like Instagram and Snapchat.

One of the reasons that teens appear to be drawn to Snapchat in particular is for the same reasons adults who use Facebook wouldn’t put certain information on LinkedIn. For instance, in the way that adults wouldn’t want to look like slackers by posting vacation photos on their LinkedIn profiles, kids and teens don’t want to have any of what they post permanently recorded on Facebook. Instead, they choose to share silly images and videos that are only temporary with their friends, so that their posts aren’t scrutinized and used against them at a later date.

Twitter #Music Apparently a Resounding Failure

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Earlier this year, Twitter announced their acquisition of the We Are Hunted service and their intentions to launch their own music-based mobile application. In April, this application came to be as Twitter #Music, which I covered upon its launch. Their were high hopes for Twitter’s official entry into the music business, with dreams that Twitter #Music would reach the same level of popularity as their video sharing application, Vine. Unfortunately for Twitter, this was simply not the case.

Upon its debut, Twitter #Music reached sixth place in the App Store rankings for free mobile application downloads, but this success was short-lived. By the end of August, Twitter had dropped to 1,672nd place in the rankings. Of music-related mobile applications alone, Twitter #Music currently ranks at 264, which is truly nothing to write home about for Twitter.

Apparently, behind the scenes, there were a number of missteps in Twitter’s development of Twitter #Music that may have led to its untimely demise. Unlike usual projects created by Twitter, the application was developed in isolation inside the company by the team behind We Are Hunted and former Twitter business development leader Kevin Thau. Part of the app’s lack of development may be attributed to the fact that Thau left the company right after Twitter #Music was launched, in order to become the COO of the mysterious startup known as Jelly.

While an official announcement has not yet been made by Twitter, inside sources claim that the project is going to be officially shut down, and that Twitter may instead find other ways to integrate music into users’ Twitter feeds. How exactly Twitter intends to proceed with Twitter #Music and their foray into the music industry remains to be seen.

Facebook Changing Privacy Settings

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With recent developments in Internet privacy news, one would expect social networks to be getting stricter with privacy settings. Facebook’s most recent announcements, however, prove that this is simply not the case: in fact, the social network appears to actually be reducing its privacy settings. It was announced last Thursday that Facebook would be removing the privacy setting that allowed users to hide themselves from other users in Facebook’s search field.

The primary reason that Facebook has stated they have made this specific alteration to the privacy settings was that the tool was outdated and it only made things more difficult for Facebook users who were trying to find their friends over the social network. The other likely reason is due to Facebook’s recent Graph Search addition, which is intended to make it easier to find people on Facebook. With Graph Search and the removal of this privacy feature, it will be easier than ever to connect with others via Facebook.

Another way that Facebook is altering privacy settings is in its relaxation of privacy rules for teenagers. 13 to 17 year olds who use Facebook are now able to share their photos, comments, and updates with the public. They can also now turn on the ‘Follow’ feature that adults have been able to use for quite some time now, which allows people who they are not friends with the see that person’s public posts in their own News Feed.

Oddly enough, Facebook also has announced that teenagers’ default share setting will no longer be ‘Friends of Friends’ and will instead just be ‘Friends.’ This means that posts made by teenagers will — by default, anyway — actually be harder for others to see unless the teenaged Facebook user has other wishes. Essentially, Facebook-using teenagers have the ability to share with more people than ever before, but their default settings will reduce that ability unless they choose otherwise.

Snapchat Experimenting with New Features

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I’ve talked about Snapchat before and how its simple interface led to it being referred to as ‘the next Instagram’. Snapchat was initially only set up to send temporary images and short messages back and forth between its users before expiring. Since its launch and especially in the past month or so, Snapchat has been making some tweaks to their existing formula, partially to add a bit more permanence to its typically temporary interface.

In particular, Snapchat has recently launched Snapchat Stories, which is essentially the ‘Timeline’ equivalent to Snapchat. Posts to Snapchat Stories last for 24 hours, compared to usual Snaps that only stick around for a few seconds once they have been viewed. Facebook has been in the news recent in regards to their upgraded search function that allows for users to easily find any posts that have ever been made by a Facebook user. This has called into question some people’s attitude towards permanency and Snapchat Stories appears to offer a happy medium between the quickly disappearing Snaps and the long-enduring posts on Facebook.

Snapchat introduced the Snapchat Stories function by debuting a variety of commercials that advertise the new feature, partnered with a number of bands and musicians. This is contrary to the way Snapchat has typically been marketed, and may have some implications for the way Snapchat is attempting to turn itself into a useful and marketable spin on the typical social network. For instance, Snapchat Stories’ 24-hour function could be a great way for businesses to send out limited-time coupons.

In addition to Snapchat Stories, Snapchat has also been experimenting with other ways to monetize their brand. For instance, Snapchat wants users to be able to connect with musicians and artists and simply double click their public posts on Snapchat Stories in order to easily purchase music or other products that are coming from those sources. These ideas are still in the early stages, but they show that Snapchat is working towards making themselves into a long-lasting brand.