Social Networking

Facebook Makes Updates to its Graph Search Function

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Social media platforms tend to change and update features and layouts more frequently than almost any other website. Because of the immense competition between the major social networks, this is relatively unsurprising. Facebook recently made headlines with new updates that they have recently launched. Facebook’s announcement that they are making updates to their Graph Search feature has been of particular interest. Essentially, the update to the Graph Search allows for users to search for posts, in addition to people.

When the Graph Search was originally launched, it allowed people to search for friends who lived in certain areas, who worked at certain places, or friends of friends who were single, alongside many other options. These same options are now being extended to public posts and the posts of yourself and your Facebook friends. Graph Search now allows users to search for posts written during a certain year, posted at a certain location, or that talk about a specific topic.

Since Graph Search has been updated to allow users to search through every single check-in, status update, comment, or note that a person has ever posted on Facebook, it is not surprising that some people are worried about privacy, at least in regards to potentially embarrassing or upsetting past posts. Many people have had their Facebook active for more than half a decade, so it’s not too shocking to assume there may be opinions or information posted a long time ago that they don’t want their Facebook friends to easily see.

Luckily, Facebook has added new options to the social network’s privacy functions. Users can easily go into their privacy settings on Facebook and select the ‘Limit Past Posts’ function, which allows users to hide their past posts from being readily available and easily found through Facebook’s updated Graph Search. Though Graph Search was launched for a limited amount of users on Monday, it will be gradually extended to all Facebook users, so new privacy settings are important to know about.

Twitter Alerts Launched to Send Emergency Tweets

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Twitter has long been working on ways to make their services better integrated towards societal wants and needs. About a year ago, Twitter launched a service called Lifeline in Japan, which allowed Japanese Twitter users to find out critical information about natural disasters or other moments of crisis, when other communications servers might be significantly more difficult to reach. For instance, Twitter users could find information about gas or electricity after an earthquake. Upon launching Lifeline in Japan, Twitter mentioned that they hoped to eventually expand these services across the world.

It seems that this time has come because Twitter has just announced the launch of Twitter Alerts, a service that will essentially expand the Lifeline service into other countries. Basically, the system allows a Twitter user to receive special alerts from designated emergency Twitter accounts that are run by government and non-government organizations, all with the intention to get important, accurate, and credible information out where it needs to be during emergencies and natural disasters.

Many national and international organizations have signed up for this new system to get important information out there. Some of these organizations include the American Red Cross, FEMA, the World Health Organization, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, among more than sixty others. Those using Twitter Alerts can select specific organizations that they wish to receive alerts from, so that they can get information that is relevant to their region.

Twitter Alerts will connect to the Twitter accounts of these major organizations, and they are allowed to mark certain tweets as ‘alert tweets’ so that they will be sent via text message to anyone subscribed to that account’s Twitter Alerts. Currently, the focus of Twitter Alerts is on the United States, Japan, and South Korea, though Twitter has already stated plans to further expand the services and include more organizations from all around the world.

The Value of Facebook Likes

Social networking LIKE

The Like button has been a major and iconic part of Facebook since it was launched in February 2009. In addition to its presence on Facebook itself, it has also become an integral part of the Facebook Platform, which allows other websites – such as news websites and blogs – to let Facebook users Like the content of the website in order to share it with friends on their own Facebook profile. In the average year, there are over 955 billion unique Likes on Facebook.

The Facebook Like button has gotten a lot of attention in recent months. Considering its popularity, it’s no surprise. According to one study, a Facebook Like on a certain brand is worth about $174.14 to that brand. This number was reached based on how a Facebook user spends money on products of that brand, their brand royalty, their potential of recommending that brand to other Facebook users, as well as a number of other statistics.

Another recent way that the Facebook Like came into the limelight was through an incident where a number of employees at the Hampton Sheriff’s Office in Virginia lost their jobs for expressing support for their boss’ opponent, many of them using the Like button on Facebook to show their support. Because of these firings, the Facebook Like was brought in front of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, to determine whether or not it was equivalent to protected free speech.

Though the Facebook Like has previously been stated as not part of this Constitutional right, it is likely that this most recent decision is going to be final, considering the rising popularity and understanding of the Like button. The court determined that Liking a Facebook page was the equivalent of putting a political sign in one’s yard, which has long been established as a right that is covered by the First Amendment.

What’s Happening with Foursquare?

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Foursquare originated in 2009 as a social network that allowed its users to ‘check in’ to different locations. Whoever checked in to a location the most would be deemed the ‘Mayor’ of that location and some stores, restaurants, and bars would even offer bonuses to the Foursquare Mayor of the location. Users could earn badges based on the types of venues they were checking in to and could compare their scores with fellow Foursquare users, as well as find out where their friends were currently hanging out at. Initially, Foursquare was quite a popular service, but its popularity began to dwindle after other social networks like Facebook introduced their own ‘check in’ feature.

In an effort to remain relevant, the creators of Foursquare began to alter the model of the social network. Some people indicated that the alterations made to Foursquare appeared to emulate some of the features of Yelp, in that Foursquare began to shift its focus towards recommending locations to users that they might like based on the ones they most frequently checked in at.

Foursquare has attempted to make other attempts to stay relevant by adding new features that its creators believe that the social network’s users will find interesting. For instance, since the hype surrounding mayorships and badges is no longer what it used to be, Foursquare now alerts people with encouraging messages – such as statements regarding checking in at the gym a certain number of days in a row – that can be shared to other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Another feature added was the Foursquare Time Machine, a visualization of one’s check-ins that allows Foursquare users to view a map of all the places they have checked in before and all the places they should visit next.

Though Foursquare may not be as popular as it once was, the social network still contains a lot of information that some people (and some companies) might find relevant. In particular, Yahoo appears to be expressing interest in the location data offered by Foursquare, in regards to using it for search results, content, and ads based on where a user currently is or the locations they have checked in to in the past. Though no official merger has yet occurred, Yahoo and Foursquare have been in talks for a partnership as of August.

Topsy: The Google for Twitter

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Twitter has long had a search function that allows users to search for certain words or topics that they might want to find tweets about. However, the search function has always been limited to a point, for the sake of reducing data usage and providing more up-to-date information to its users. Essentially, the search function on Twitter tends to show more recent tweets in the assumption that more recent tweets are more likely to be relevant to whatever the user might be searching for. However, Twitter has allowed a small number of data partners to have full access to the entire archive of Twitter data and one of these partners is Topsy.

Topsy’s goal is essentially to act as a Google service for Twitter’s entire archive. Recently, Topsy announced that they had indexed every single Twitter message since the very first tweet was posted in 2006, which ultimately contains about 425 billion pieces of content. Until this past week, Topsy’s archive only went back to 2010, but their recent update has included the years prior to this and the company has made the database free to the public. Before Topsy, the only ways to find this sort of information was through partners like Gnip and the Library of Congress, and it wasn’t presented in an easy-to-search manner nor was it free to access.

There are many ways that Topsy can be used beneficially, as it is very interesting to be able to look at trends regarding events, products, or people. Essentially, through the way that Topsy organizes its content based on relevance (using an algorithm that takes retweets and favorites into account), it is easy to see what Twitter users thought of a certain political figure or a news story at a certain time, as well as how those users’ attitudes have evolved over time.

Similarly, Topsy can be used for advertisers and others in the business world who want to see how Twitter users feel about a certain product or how their brand is being presented in social media. There are countless other ways that Topsy can be used as a resource to journalists, politicians, and simply those with a bit of curiosity. In the future, Topsy hopes to index public pages for other social networks such as Facebook and Google Plus.

Facebook Launches Shared Photo Albums

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Though some may not realize it, the major social networks are constantly evolving, regularly pushing out new features and making tweaks and updates in order to stay relevant. Historically, when social networks cease to make an effort to keep upgrading, they get left in the dust by newer social networks that are willing to constantly try out new things. This might be part of the reason why Facebook wound up the ‘winner’ of the social networks when websites like MySpace and Friendster were unable to keep up.

Most recently, Facebook’s newest update to its interface is the inclusion of shared photo albums that can be used by up to fifty people. These shared photo albums have been launched for the purpose of multiple people being able to add photos from an event or that share a common subject into one consolidated album. Each person that is allowed to contribute to the album is able to add up to two hundred of their own photos, meaning that a full shared photo album can reach ten thousand images.

Before the launch of the shared photo albums, users could previously only upload photos to albums that they had created and there was a limit of a thousand total images. The new shared albums also feature a few different privacy settings; they can be viewable by the public, by friends of the contributors to the album, or only by the contributors themselves, making an easy way for groups of friends to have their own shared private photo albums.

Facebook is not the first social network to delve into shared photo albums. Mobile apps like Albumatic and Flock based their platforms on group photo albums and will likely be hurt by Facebook’s move into their territory. Google Plus also has long featured a similar function through its Party Mode, where users can share photos and videos in real time for guests of a certain event.

Even More New Features Coming to Facebook

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Facebook has been pushing a number of new features lately. Recently, I talked about a few tweaks that the social network would be making to the News Feed, but the News Feed is not the only area of Facebook that is getting tweaked. One recent report mentioned that Facebook was working on testing a new group chat feature, with hopes of competing against Google Plus’ Hangout feature and applications like WhatsApp. The new feature is supposedly called Host Chat and will be launched from the status bar to create group chats.

Another feature recently enabled by Facebook that took a cue from Twitter and Instagram was the ability for users to embed Facebook posts on their own websites and blogs. Though embedded posts must be posts that are marked as public on Facebook, the feature is being first used by news sites such as CNN, Mashable, and the Huffington Post, and will work similarly to how Twitter has allowed embedded tweets for quite some time.

In another instance of Facebook adopting ideas from its competitor Twitter, on top of hashtags and embedded posts, Facebook has also begun testing the usage of trending topics. On Twitter, trending topics allow users in certain areas to see what subjects people are talking about via their Twitter posts and now Facebook appears to want to jump on the bandwagon and add trending topics to their platform as well.

Trending topics on Facebook are being pushed out slowly, with only a small select number of users currently able to access them. It is likely that Facebook will eventually look for promoted trends as a source of income, considering Twitter charges around $200,000 per day for their promoted trends. Many of these new Facebook features seem to be pushing the social network in a direction that is further away from Facebook’s origins as a purely peer-to-peer social network and closer to its new focus as a more public forum.

Facebook Making More Tweaks to the News Feed

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At the beginning of August, Facebook announced a press event that would be focused on finally clearing up some of the confusion regarding how the Facebook News Feed works. In particular, they wanted to explain why certain Facebook posts show up in users’ News Feeds while others might not. In addition to that, they stated that there would be announcements about some changes to the News Feed at this press event, which would help users see the posts that they were more interested in.

On August 6, Facebook held this press event and explained exactly how different posts are ranked in the News Feed. The posts are prioritized based on how much one interacts with a certain friend, Page, or public figure, the number of likes, shares, and comments that a post received, how much a user has interacted with that type of post in the past, and whether or not that post is being actively hidden or reported by other users. Facebook has acknowledged that there are over 1500 potential posts the average user might see a day, so they recognize the importance of trying to give priority to certain posts in each user’s News Feed.

In addition to offering more information on how the News Feed works, the press event also operated to announce that Facebook would be taking a page from Google and would start publishing blog updates on how the News Feed algorithm was going to gradually be changed. Facebook employees have said that there are a number of tweaks that are going to be coming to the News Feed in the near future and some of these alterations have already begun to surface.

The newest addition to the News Feed algorithm is that it will now take popular stories – particularly, one that’s getting a lot of comments and likes – and will put it at the top of your News Feed to make sure that you don’t miss it, even if it was posted earlier on in the day. This is the first change to the News Feed that Facebook has made and in the future, it seems they will be making a lot more to ensure that the News Feed remains a relevant part of Facebook.

Facebook and Twitter Cracking Down on Sexist Hate Speech

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Recently, Facebook and Twitter alike have come under fire from certain activists and advertisers regarding hate speech, particularly that of a misogynistic nature. In May, after a weeklong campaign by a number of women’s groups who had organized themselves under the name ‘Women, Action & the Media,’ Facebook was the first to fall in line regarding a stronger effort being made against pages that made light of rape, violence, or other degradation against women.

Facebook was truly under pressure; fifteen major companies had dropped their advertising in response to Facebook’s negligence for allowing hateful images that gratuitously encouraged violence against women. It’s no surprise that Facebook stated that they were going to be cracking down on these sorts of images and pages, considering it would not only be the best thing to do from a moral standpoint, but also from a financial standpoint.

Similarly, Twitter came under fire in early August, particularly in regards to a number of threats that had been made against female journalists and female members of parliament in the United Kingdom. Twitter intends to add a ‘Report’ button – which is currently only available on the iOS Twitter app – to Android and Twitter.com next month, so that Twitter users can more easily report abusive behavior.

The addition of this ‘Report’ button is likely due to a prominent online petition that garnered more than 128,000 signatures regarding the addition of this feature. Considering some of the threats against these women were threats of rape or bomb threats, it’s vital that Twitter update its rules and interface to ensure that people can feel safe on their social network. Facebook and Twitter moving forward with these calls to action against misogynistic hate speech are certainly necessary, though it remains to be seen how effective the social networks’ efforts will be.

Facebook Enters the World of Mobile Gaming

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Facebook has offered games for a long time, with popular games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars becoming worldwide phenomena. It’s no surprise – especially with Facebook’s recent pushes towards mobile advertising and the steady rise of mobile Facebook users – that Facebook has recently announced that they will be delving deeper into the mobile gaming industry. Mobile gaming on iOS and Android has also been increasingly popular in recent years and Facebook stands to potentially gain a great deal of revenue this way.

There were rumblings about a month ago that Facebook was looking into mobile gaming, and it seems that those rumors are true. Much of the revenue generated from Facebook comes from virtual currency transactions in their aforementioned social network games, so it’s definitely a financially viable idea for Facebook to get more involved when it comes to gaming.

Essentially, what Facebook will be doing is acting as a publisher to smaller game development companies. In return for a portion of the overall revenue of the game, Facebook will focus on the marketing and distribution of these games. Many of these smaller developers have difficulty competing with larger companies such as Zynga and Kabam, which is why partnering with Facebook will be beneficial to all: to developers looking for a better way to market their games, to Facebook looking for new sources of revenue, and hopefully to gamers who are looking for new, interesting mobile games.

Facebook made the formal announcement that they are getting into mobile game publishing at the Casual Connect conference in San Francisco on July 30. They have partnered themselves with roughly ten developers including Brainbow, Kiwi, and Space Ape, among others. Though traditional games publishers tend to have a hand in the development process, Facebook will stay out of funding and overseeing development and will put the majority of their focus into marketing and analytics tools.