Social Networking

Twitter Expands: From Vine to Twitter Music

IPicture 4-11-2013n recent months, Twitter has been pushing harder to expand their market and also to expand on the features that Twitter can provide for its users. The first instance of this would be Vine, the video-sharing mobile app that was launched in January. Thanks to a successful marketing campaign, Vine has become the most-used video-sharing application on the market, and Twitter has shown no signs of slowing down when it comes to additional expansions to their company.

Twitter’s most recent acquisition is a software company known as We Are Hunted, which will likely be the first step towards Twitter’s foray into music. We Are Hunted has developed a service that allows users to discover new music and provides a constant stream of music via a simple interface. It is likely the simplicity of We Are Hunted that has attracted Twitter to the company, considering Twitter’s tendency to aim for simplicity, with their 140-character limit on tweets and Vine’s 6-second limit on videos.

No official announcements or release dates have been made, but Twitter Music is likely to be on the horizon. The acquisition may be part of a response to Facebook’s recent overhaul of its own music section, though it is more likely that Twitter is just hoping to expand their horizons and offer even more interesting services to its large user base. The Twitter Music app will allow Twitter users to find songs and artists that are recommended to them based on artists that they are following, as well as artists that people they follow are following. Twitter Music will not require a pre-existing Twitter account to be used, a choice which might ultimately attract new users to the service.

Twitter has long been connected to musicians and artists and many famous musicians use Twitter to announce news about upcoming albums or tour dates, or just to interact with their fans. Some musicians host live-tweet events where their followers can actively interact with the artists that they admire. It’s likely that the Twitter Music app will allow even further connectivity between musicians and their fans, and it will surely be interesting to see how the app evolves upon its release, and as time goes on.

Facebook Home: Integrating Facebook Features with Android Phones

APicture 4-5-2013 couple weeks ago, there began to be rumblings of the possibility of Facebook finally announcing something that has long been rumored to be the next step in the company’s evolution, a Facebook phone. Though there were some blatant denials of this from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it was known that Facebook was sure to be announcing something at the company’s next event, alongside one sentence – ‘Come See Our New Home on Android.’ The event in question wound up taking place on Thursday, April 4, and while Facebook did not announce a Facebook phone as rumored, they did announce something related to that.

What Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook did announce was something called ‘Facebook Home,’ which is a feature that operates as a custom homescreen for Android smartphones. What Facebook Home essentially does is integrates all of the features of Facebook and its various services – including Instagram and Facebook Messenger – fluidly and effortlessly into the homescreen of one’s Android phone. For instance, messages sent via Facebook are combined together alongside text messages, resulting in a single constant conversation.

Facebook notifications can be easily accessed through Facebook Home, even while other applications are running, a feature which most other smartphones cannot currently offer. Zuckerberg stated that launching a program that allowed people to transform their phones into ‘Facebook phones’ rather than launching a Facebook phone itself will allow the company to reach a larger amount of their user base. Zuckerberg stated even a great phone might only sell up to 20 million units, which would only reach 2% of Facebook’s active users. Thus, a program that will work on many different phones became the more viable option.

The first phone that will launch with Facebook Home will be the HTC First, released through HTC and AT&T. The phone will be available on April 12for $99.99. Though this announcement may not have been what people were expecting, it seems like a move in the right direction for Facebook, considering how many mobile users will likely be able to make use of the features offered by Facebook Home.

Could Google Plus Be Making a Comeback?

Recent reports are suggesting Picture 3-28-2013that the previously written-off social network launched by Google in June 2011 might be making a resurgence. A study focused on the December 2012 activity of social network users suggests that Google Plus is in second place to Facebook in terms of active users, with YouTube and Twitter coming in at third and fourth place, respectively. Of course, the leniency in which one defines an ‘active user’ is quite broad and though Google Plus boasts 343 million active users, it is clear that the 693 million active users on Facebook are much, much more active than those on Google Plus.

Regardless, this information is still interesting and could be used as proof that Google Plus might not be as much of a failure as many people believe it to be. One blogger suggested that Google Plus has been ‘playing the long game,’ as it continues to experiment with new functionalities and has cited its video chat function (known as Google Hangouts) as particularly innovative, due to its ability to seamlessly run live chats with up to ten people, taking a large step past other video chat services such as Skype. In addition to this, its connectivity with other Google properties such as Gmail, Google Voice, and Google Chrome is also being praised.

Indeed Google Hangouts have been taken more seriously in the past few months. President Obama has hosted two Google Hangouts after the State of the Union in 2012 and 2013 and other members of the Obama administration have also used this feature of Google Plus. Similarly, NASA recently hosted a Google Hangout from the International Space Station, which was used to allow other users to ask questions to astronauts.

Other recent updates to Google Plus, such as the ability to use animated GIFs as profile pictures, a feature that Facebook lacks, might also be representative of the continued evolution of Google Plus. Though the numbers that have been recently presented regarding Google Plus’ ‘active users’ may be misrepresented, it’s still interesting to note that Google Plus is still being taken seriously by a number of sources, including the White House and NASA.

Perhaps it will only be a matter of time before Google Plus starts to become a genuine competitor to Facebook. In the meantime, however, as someone who doesn’t care much for video chat, I’ll be sticking with Facebook until Google Plus provides me with a function that makes it truly worthwhile to make the switch.

Social Media and the Job Market

CPicture 3-21-2013onsidering how prevalent social media and social networks now are in the average American’s day-to-day life, it is fairly unsurprising that their presence has bled over into the job market in a number of ways. For starters, social media is now a dominant way that people can seek out new jobs, through useful social networks such as LinkedIn, which focuses on building one’s professional network in the same way that Facebook is generally used to build one’s personal network. There are many ways that LinkedIn can help connect people to new jobs, as employers are encouraged to feature new job postings on the social network as well.

LinkedIn is no longer the only social network that can claim to help its users get jobs, however. Though Facebook’s purpose has never been to assist its users to seek out jobs in the way that LinkedIn does, a study recently determined that people who regularly engaged on Facebook found jobs much faster than those who did not. Additionally, this study also suggested that stress levels were increased by people who talked about a recent job loss on Facebook, due to receiving comments from friends and family members asking how the job search was going or offering unwanted advice.

The study specifically suggested that, after losing one’s job, those who spoke more than average with their ‘strong ties’ (close friends and family) were twice as likely to find a new job within three months than the average user. Comparatively, those who talked more to their ‘weak ties’ (acquaintances) were half as likely to find a new job as the average user. This is perhaps because people do not reveal their lack of employment to those they do not feel close to or instead that job openings are not mentioned by mere acquaintances the way they might be by close friends.

But using social networking websites themselves are not the only way that social media is affecting the job market. Now that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are being used by companies and corporations for advertising purposes, many jobs revolving around social media are being developed on a regular basis. It has gotten to the point where certain universities such as Newberry College in South Carolina are even beginning to develop undergraduate majors for social media. People taking these courses will learn marketing and branding techniques regarding the modern usage of social networks. Though at first glance, this may seem a little silly, the fact is that there are thousands of social media jobs out there and the industry is only growing as social networking websites continue to become more popular.

Facebook Announces Updated News Feed

On Thursday, Picture 3-12-2013March 7, Facebook announced a new version of its News Feed – known as one of the ‘three pillars’ of Facebook alongside Timeline and Graph Search – and the thesis statement of this announcement appears to be that Facebook is looking to cut down on clutter. Essentially, the update to the News Feed will allow Facebook users to easily change what information they are viewing on their News Feed. The company has likened this ability to turning pages on a newspaper.

For instance, Facebook users will start out on the ‘front page,’ which includes all of the information typically seen on their News Feed. However, users will easily be able to ‘turn the page’ to other categories, such as a view that only shows close friends, a view that only shows photos, or a view that only shows game-related information. By filtering out the excess posts, Facebook users will be able to easily find whatever information they might be looking for.

In addition to these ‘pages,’ there will also be other design choices made to the new Facebook. Some sources have suggested that this redesign makes the web version of Facebook look a lot more like the exceedingly popular mobile version of Facebook, which is likely due to the focus on simplicity, considering the mobile version of Facebook is also less cluttered, out of necessity. In the new design, photos have been made larger and navigation options have been slimmed down. These changes sound great for most Facebook users, but the fact that users will be able to more easily filter certain posts out may be a hindrance to companies that rely on Facebook for marketing, similar to how DVRs have affected television commercials.

That’s how it looks at first glance, anyway. In actuality, some are reporting that the very reason that Facebook is receiving a redesign in the first place is to effectively include more advertising, allowing more space for ads and more ability to properly personalize those advertisements. Considering how there is often a bit of backlash every time Facebook chooses to redesign their website, followed by eventual acceptance and forgetting what the previous design looked like, one can only wonder how much backlash there might be to a redesign that’s being done particularly to include additional potentially invasive advertisements.

Instagram Reaches 100 Million Monthly Active Users

A recenPicture 3-5-2013t announcement stated that popular social networking site Instagram had recently reached 100 million monthly active users. For those not in the know, Instagram is a photo-sharing social networking website launched in 2010 that allows users to take pictures, apply special digital filters to them, and distribute them through other social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The app has often been lauded as the digital equivalent to using now-extinct Polaroid cameras.

In early 2012, only a year and a half after the initial release of Instagram, the company was purchased by Facebook for a whopping $1 billion. Some suggested that this purchase was made because Instagram was succeeding in the photo-sharing business in a way that Facebook had attempted and ultimately failed at. By making this purchase and allowing Instagram to be an integral part of Facebook (though not fusing the two social networks together), Facebook and Instagram have enjoyed a nominal amount of success together.

Though it may be surprising to some that a social network is able to take off into having 100 million users in a matter of two years, this is simply the fast-paced technological world that we now live in. In fact, looking at previous major social networking websites such as Myspace and Facebook, it usually took roughly two years to report these sorts of numbers in regards to their user base. In fact, Facebook hit its first million users – and this was years before easily-accessible mobile apps and the overall popularity of social networking – in roughly ten months.

With Instagram continuing to grow, and under the wing of Facebook at that, it has clearly made itself a name as one of the most popular and resonant social networking websites of all time. Though there were recently some troubles regarding an update to the website’s terms of service, in that it was mistakenly implied that the company would be able to sell images uploaded to Instagram to outside parties, that trouble does not seem to have majorly hindered the growth of the social network. In years to come, it is likely that Instagram will see an even larger base. Unless some hot new social network knocks it out of the water like Facebook did to Myspace, that is.

Twitter and Facebook, Hacked!

On FebrPicture 2-26-2013uary 1, Twitter let its users know in a blog post that the social network had been hacked and around 250,000 user accounts had had their information compromised. The hackers were reportedly able to access user names, passwords, and e-mail addresses, and those who were affected by this incident have been e-mailed by Twitter and instructed to reset their passwords to prevent any further tampering with their Twitter accounts. There had been evidence that there may had been a breach up to a week prior, but the company did not know the extent of the security snafu until the day it posted the announcement that the site had been hacked.

Considering Twitter boasts more than 200 million users, a compromise of 250,000 accounts is relatively a small percentage, but the company made sure to remind users of ways to help ensure that one’s accounts wouldn’t be compromised again in the future, such as using strong passwords, refraining from using the same password for multiple accounts, and disabling Java. The Twitter hack came only a few weeks after the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were reportedly compromised by Chinese hackers, though Twitter did not suggest that their cyberassault was perpetrated by the same people.

Shocking social network users even further was the announcement on February 15 that stated that Facebook had been the victim of a ‘sophisticated attack’, which apparently had taken place in January when some Facebook employees visited a website that installed harmful malware on their computers. Again, the perpetrators are unknown and are not suggested to necessarily be related to the Chinese hackers that compromised the news websites or the hackers who had gotten through to Twitter. Also, unlike the Twitter hack, Facebook has reported that no user information such as e-mails or passwords was released in its attack.

With this many attacks on major websites and social networks, it’s hard not to wonder how truly secure one’s information is. Many websites have home addresses, phone numbers, and credit card information logged into databases, and clearly even the largest social networks are not immune to the effects of sophisticated hacking. While there haven’t yet been any major incidents where massive amounts of information gathered from hacked websites and social networks were stolen and abused yet, it sure seems to be that things are pointing in that direction.

Considering how much trust is given to these websites and how much potentially damaging information these sites and social networks contain, the fear of being hacked in the future might be something worth worrying about. Facebook and Twitter, however, have made statements that they are working rigorously to prevent further compromises, Facebook stating that they are working with law enforcement officials and other people in the industry to help prevent future attacks.

Facebook Error Shows How Connected to Social Networking We Have Become

Picture 2-18-2013For a short time on Thursday, February 7, Facebook reminded the Internet how connected it has become to social networking and, perhaps, how reliant we as a society have become on social networks such as Facebook. How did Facebook manage to do something so seemingly drastic? This all stems from a minor error that occurred with the Facebook Connect API (application programming interface).

The Facebook Connect API is used on many third-party (non-Facebook) websites to allow people to easily post news articles and other information from websites as links on their Facebook pages, or to easily ‘like’ or comment on these articles and related Facebook pages. Many social networks have connections to major websites like this; so many, in fact, that it has become pretty much commonplace for one to be easily able to post a link to a news article on Facebook or retweet it on Twitter at the simple click of a button.

Essentially, what happened on February 7 was that this API crashed, causing hundreds of websites such as CNN, NBC News, Hulu, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Gawker, Pinterest, and many other popular websites that feature connectivity to Facebook also crashed alongside the API, causing visitors of those websites to be redirected to a Facebook error page. The error lasted for different amounts of time depending on the website, with NBC News reporting a twelve minute downtime, while Read Write Web reported an hour of downtime caused by Facebook Connect.

Reportedly, users on Twitter have referred to the incident as ‘Facebookmageddon,’ as the amount of websites affected by this problem ultimately affected millions of users on a very widespread scale. It is very interesting to see that something like this could happen and, considering how Twitter was recently hacked itself, where more than 250,000 users were compromised, it makes one wonder whether a skilled hacker abusing Facebook Connect could shut down hundreds of major websites all at once at some time in the near future. Regardless, it certainly is interesting to see how connected the Internet appears to be, simply through the usage of Facebook.

More Facebook Users on Cell Phones than Computers

It doesn’t seem likePicture 2-11-2013 it was that long ago when social networking websites like MySpace hit the scene and began to surge in increasing popularity; in 2006, MySpace was receiving more visits than Google in the United States, and in 2008, Facebook began to take over as the king of the social networks, surpassing MySpace in the amount of unique worldwide visitors. As these social networks have risen and fallen, one commonality between the majority of these networks has been connectivity with mobile phones.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the downfalls of MySpace’s relaunching as ‘Myspace’ was that there was no working mobile app released alongside it. Neglecting the many, many people who primarily use their cell phones to access their favorite social networking websites was a fatal mistake that will likely prevent Myspace from reaching the large audience that it’s hoping for. To prove this point further, one must simply look at Facebook trends regarding mobile users.

Currently, the Facebook mobile application is the most-used mobile app in the world, beating out other widespread mobile apps such as Google Maps, YouTube, and Gmail. It’s also the mobile app that people use for the longest; according to recent information, 23% of the time people spend using mobile apps is used with Facebook. Comparatively, second place – Instagram – only uses 3% of that time. Needless to say, mobile apps are very important when it comes to social networking.

In fact, for the first time since the company’s launch, the number of active daily visitors that check Facebook using a mobile app on their cell phones (or tablets or other mobile devices) is higher than the number of people that check their Facebook accounts using a computer connected to the Internet. This is relevant for more reasons other than being displayed as an example of how cell phones and other mobile devices are changing the way we look at the Internet and the world. To Facebook (and presumably other social networks), this is especially relevant because of the potential revenue there is to be made.

Initially, in the months after Facebook’s stock went public in May 2012, the company had claimed that it wasn’t making ‘any meaningful revenue’ from its mobile apps. However, in August, Facebook updated its mobile apps to show ads to mobile users, as well as employing other advertisement methods to encourage users to ‘like’ certain pages for companies on Facebook. Since this change, mobile ad sales have accounted for 23% of Facebook’s advertising revenue, which equals about $306 million. With mobile revenue suddenly becoming very relevant, it should be interesting to see how Facebook and other social networks continue to capitalize on mobile apps in the future.

Tracking This Year’s Flu Season with Social Media

This year’s flu sPicture 2-4-2013eason in the United States – which we are currently in the middle of – is, frankly, a little bit more horrible than usual. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has confirmed that we have exceeded epidemic levels of influenza in the country, particularly regarding deaths, which one expert stated might eventually reach a death toll of up to 36,000 people. Between December 3, 2012 and January 12, 2013, there were 5,643 deaths from the flu and from pneumonia, according to the CDC.

This is certainly the worst flu season the country has seen since the swine flu outbreak of 2009. Initially, the CDC reported that flu activity was low early on in what normally would be considered flu season. This announcement, unfortunately, may have led to many people skipping out on their seasonal flu vaccinations; this in turn may have led to the disastrous flu season that has commenced since then.

In the world we live in today, where many of us are consumed by electronics, social networking, and the Internet as a whole, it is no surprise that people are finding ways to use the Internet and social networking to track and document this devastating flu season. One such instance is Google Flu Trends, a website launched by Google that allows visitors to view a map of the country (as well as other countries) and even check out how much flu activity there is on a state-by-state basis. These numbers are generated in real-time through Google searches related to the flu, based on the principle that there are more flu-related searches during flu season, alongside figures presented from the CDC.

In a similar vein, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a way to track flu activity through those that are complaining about flu symptoms on Twitter; using special filters, it attempts to find posts with people discussing that they have the flu, rather than reactionary posts about the flu. Though these methods presented through Twitter and Google may not yet have the accuracy of the CDC reports, they do provide immediacy. The CDC releases weekly information regarding the flu, but the information is generally about two weeks old by the time they post their reports online.

Google Flu Trends and the Twitter filter are ways that social networking and the Internet can fill the gaps created by the long time that it typically takes for the CDC to post their statistics. There have been other projects recently that do similar things, such as ‘Sick Weather,’ a project that pulls from Facebook and Twitter to map certain contagious diseases. While there are obvious instances where certain important demographics are underrepresented, if not excluded (children and the elderly, in particular), these projects are all an interesting gateway to the future and how contagious diseases might be prevented or controlled using social networking technology in the future.