Instagram Launches New Features for Phone Photographers

June 6, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 6-6-2014On Wednesday, Instagram made an announcement through their official blog that they would be adding some major updates to the Instagram formula, effectively launching what they’re referring to as Instagram version 6.0. The primary focus of this launch appears to be new creative tools that can be used for people who like to take pictures via Instagram but want to be able to make more edits to their photos.

It seems that Instagram noticed that plenty of people were posting photos using their mobile app, but far fewer were editing their photos, turning to other apps such as VSCO Cam or Litely. Instagram appears to want to be an all-in-one photo app, allowing users to upload, edit, and share their photos with relative ease, all without having to use multiple apps or separate social networks.

The tools that have been added to Instagram include the ability to adjust filter strength, brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, highlights, shadows, vignette, as well as being able to further sharpen, crop, or straighten one’s photos. The features have been implemented with simple sliders that make it very easy for anyone to make edits to their photos. Many existing apps that feature these photo editing features are either expensive or cheap but not especially functional; Instagram hopes that including these features for free will allow cell phone photographers to create the photos they want for free without having to delve into different apps to find the best choice.

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Facebook Introduces Privacy Updates via Cartoon Dinosaur

May 29, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 5-29-2014Considering the frequency that social network privacy comes under scrutiny in the media, it’s important to companies like Facebook that they make privacy settings more accessible and easily understood by their user base. Last month, Facebook introduced a pop-up function featuring a little cartoon dinosaur that was intended to help guide users of Facebook that haven’t adjusted their privacy settings. The overall intention is to make changing one’s privacy settings easier and more straightforward.

When they announced the beginning of these changes back in April, Facebook admitted that many of their users were confused about privacy in general, which is why they decided to introduce more on-screen explanations for their users who might need a little bit of additional help. The company mentioned that they do 80 trillion privacy checks per day and run thousands of surveys about privacy every day, in order to better find ways to ensure the safety of their users’ information. These surveys have led to some changes already, regarding the privacy of Cover photos, resharing content, and what status updates are shown to which groups of friends.

Most recently, Facebook made even more changes to privacy settings, including finally setting the default visibility of status updates and photos from ‘public’ to ‘friends only’. The new updates will also add a Privacy Checkup, which will allow users to review and confirm their privacy settings in order to ensure that the information they are sharing on Facebook is only able to be seen by who users want to see it. With Facebook’s friendly cartoon privacy dinosaur along for the ride, Facebook users should be able to set their privacy settings much more easily than they have been able to in the past.

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Facebook Adds Audio Identification Features

May 22, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 5-22-2014Not long ago, Facebook added a feature that allowed users to mark what they were ‘listening to’ or ‘watching’ that would automatically include links to things like Spotify and feature a neat little icon (such as a pair of headphones or a television) to better show off what users were doing. Though it was a cool little addition, there wasn’t a whole lot to it. A recent announcement by Facebook made on Wednesday has stated that this is about to change.

Facebook has announced that they will be implementing a feature that uses audio recognition, similar to the popular Shazam application. This function — which users can choose to use or not — will be able to use their phone’s microphone to automatically use audio recognition to determine whatever music you are listening to or whatever TV show or movie you are watching, and instantly update your Facebook with this information. If the feature is turned on, an icon will be shown on the phone’s screen as a status update is being written. This means the new, unnamed feature is listening and determining what song, TV show, or movie is being listened to.

The audio recognition will be able to allow users to share a 30 second clip of whatever song they are listening to; if it is a TV show, Facebook will automatically be able to pick up what season and episode is being watched, which can be used for further discussion with one’s Facebook friends. While Shazam is usually used to determine the name of a song you’re listening to, perhaps so you can share it with your friends, Facebook seems to be attempting to cut out the middleman, which could be quite detrimental to Shazam and other audio recognition software. Of course, Facebook will also likely be using this information to better gear advertisements to their user base.

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Tags: Social Bookmarking,Social Media,Social Media News Brief,Social Networking,Web 2.0

Twitter Unleashes the Mute Button

May 15, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 5-15-2014Twitter announced on Monday that they’re rolling out a new feature that will be available on the Twitter website as well as the iPhone and Android applications. For quite some time, Facebook has featured the ability to ‘hide’ a friend, which allows them to be completely taken off of your timeline without defriending them completely. This allows a Facebook user to not have to see obnoxious or annoying or boring posts without the potential social awkwardness of having to delete someone from your friend list (which is often seen as a personal denouncement).

Twitter’s announcement is the release of a similar feature, known as the mute button. The mute button will allow a Twitter user to stop seeing posts by users that they do not want to hear from; they will no longer receive notifications on their phone from that user and that user’s Tweets and Retweets will not show up in the timeline. A user who has been muted will not be notified that they have been muted, again allowing users to restrict potentially annoying or otherwise unwanted messages to prevent any awkwardness.

This isn’t exactly a brand new feature, however. As the ‘hide’ function has long been popular with Facebook users, certain third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetbot, have allowed mute functions for quite some time, even including the ability to mute specific hashtags and keywords, which is an option that Twitter has not yet made available. Hopefully, in the future, Twitter will continue to expand on this new feature to maximize its usefulness for what Twitter users do and don’t want to see in their timeline.

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Foursquare Divides by Two

May 8, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 5-8-2014Though Foursquare has not lately been at the forefront of the social media world — especially with other social networks like Facebook incorporating check-in features that have made Foursquare somewhat obsolete — they have recently made an effort to gain a resurgence in popularity by splitting their mobile application in two. What was once Foursquare will soon be two separate apps: Foursquare and the newly launched Swarm.

While Foursquare’s focus has long been on checking in to specific locations, Swarm will be more focused on providing a general idea of where your friends are. Rather than having to check in to certain locations (although this feature is still available for those who wish to use it), Swarm will instead passively take note of the general area or neighborhood that you are currently in. You’ll be able to see what other Swarm users are around you at all times.

Foursquare itself will be undergoing a large number of changes as well. Early reports are claiming that Foursquare’s well-known check-in feature will be removed entirely and the mobile app will be transformed into something that resembles Yelp more than anything else. The new Foursquare will be used to search for places and recommend places (such as restaurants, bars, and other venues) based on the places you have already been, what you have rated highly, and what your friends have rated highly.

Since this is the fast-paced world of social networks, it’s no surprise that Foursquare has already managed to step on a few toes. A preexisting start-up known as Swarmly, which also works with sharing location, has mentioned that they think it’s a little too coincidental that Foursquare has launched Swarm under that name, considering the Swarmly CEO claims that Foursquare is already quite aware of their app. Regardless of this potential naming conflict, the main issue will be whether users are interested in using the newly updated Foursquare and its companion app Swarm at all.

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Snapchat Dives into Messaging and Video Chat

May 1, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 5-1-2014As older social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have been updating their functionality to keep up with the times, newer social networks like Snapchat are adding new features in order to stay ahead of the game. In an effort to consolidate a large number of useful features into one mobile application, Snapchat announced today that its platform will now include live video chat and ephemeral messaging options, putting it in direct competition with other apps, without damaging the integrity of Snapchat’s original purpose.

In order to use these new functions, a Snapchat user simply must swipe right from the main camera screen, which will lead to their list of friends. From there, messaging and video calls can be made. One of the biggest draws to Snapchat is that pictures sent via the mobile app are ephemeral, meaning that they appear for a temporary amount of time before deleting themselves. Keeping in tune with this, the messages are also ephemeral and are erased after they are viewed.

Snapchat announced these updates by sending out a Snapchat message to all of its users, featuring a video that showed the messaging and video chat functions in action. There have been applications that featured ephemeral messaging that have been released to varying degrees of success, such as Ansa, but Snapchat’s ever-increasing popularity makes it quite likely that these new additions to the application will result in a purge of its rivals, or at the very least, will force its new rivals to implement additional features to their own mobile apps.

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Deleting the Past: Teenagers and Social Networks

April 24, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 4-24-2014Social networks have long been associated with youths, as the younger generations tend to be the ones who pick up on new Internet trends and phenomena before adults fully grasp the concepts. Even though Facebook has recently seen its first decrease in teenage users, as they drift towards newer social networks and applications like Snapchat, there is still a very heavy presence of youths and teenagers using social networks. Even LinkedIn recently opened its user base up by allowing students over the age of thirteen to create their own pages.

Because of their heavy usage of social networks and their teenage mindsets, it’s unsurprising that it has become quite common for teenagers to post information that they might later regret online. Sometimes these might be pictures of themselves wearing not enough clothing or statuses referring to their partying and underage alcohol consumption. Many people believe that these mistakes and indiscretions shouldn’t follow them throughout the rest of their lives and make it more difficult for them to get a job or get into college.

For this reason, California enacted a law last year that will give children under the age of 18 the legal right to delete anything they post online. Though most mainstream social networks such as Facebook and Twitter already allow their users to delete posts, this law will require any social media websites to provide the option for minors to delete anything that they have posted. Because most major social networks already provide this, some news sources see this law as unnecessary and unrealistic considering users cannot delete posts that other people have made about them, and believe that it will need to further evolve before it can become worthwhile.

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Facebook Wants to Let Your Friends Know Where You Are

April 18, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 4-18-2014Facebook’s most recent updates to its user interface have focused specifically on letting your Facebook friends know where you are or where you are going to be. First, Facebook started with the launch of their “traveling to” feature, which allows users to mark where they are traveling to so that all of their Facebook friends can see. Though right now, the feature simply allows for an accompanying emoji, some news sources believe that Facebook will eventually use this to alter the interface of your Facebook when you are in a different city. For instance, if you marked that you were going to New York, your News Feed might be more focused on the posts of your friends in New York. Facebook has not made any announcements like this just yet, but it does seem like the next logical step.

In addition to the “traveling to” feature, Facebook’s next big update has been with the “Nearby Friends” feature. This feature ties in with the fact that most Facebook users are connecting through their mobile phone app, and smartphones these days are generally connected to GPS. Facebook has decided to merge these two concepts into the “Nearby Friends” feature, which — if you choose — will allow your Facebook friends to see where you are at all times.

The Nearby Friends feature is not turned on by default, so those who want to protect their privacy (or otherwise don’t want their Facebook friends to know where they are) can refrain from using the new feature. Facebook users can choose whether they want to share their general location with all of their Facebook friends, close friends, or a specific list of people. Your location can only be shared with other users who have opted in to the Nearby Friends feature who have also chosen to share their location with you.

Facebook users can be alerted when their friends are nearby, which happens in real-time, to differentiate it from the manual check-in feature that was already available with Facebook. There is even a precise location function that allows you and a specific friend to view each other’s exact map locations for a certain period of time, which can be used to help find a friend in a crowd or if you’re both trying to navigate a city’s streets to find one another. This isn’t the first time a feature like this has been included with a social network, as similar functions have been available with Google Latitude and Foursquare. However, Facebook is well-known for constantly finding new ways for their users to connect, so there is a lot of potential available with the Nearby Friends feature.

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Facebook Pushes Their Messenger App

April 10, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 4-10-2014Recently, Facebook has been making more efforts to push the Facebook Messenger application on mobile phones. While the app has long been available for iOS and Android, it finally reached Windows Phone in early March, a whopping two years after the application had arrived on the other platforms. The reasoning behind this launch seems to be that Facebook very much wants its user base to download Facebook Messenger in addition to Facebook itself.

To make this push even more clear, recent reports are stating that Facebook will be removing messaging entirely from the standalone Facebook application, so that users will be forced to download the Facebook Messenger app in order to message their friends on Facebook. Some users in Europe have already been getting notifications stating that they will need to download Facebook Messenger to keep using the chat functions and it is expected that this will eventually ring true for all users of the Facebook mobile app.

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook Messenger application was launched in order to remove friction from the standard Facebook app, so that there could be a more streamlined experience for chatting and direct messaging through a separate application. Though this may be good news for some, others are worried about the potential consequences of this action.

Some suggest that not everyone will want to manage multiple Facebook apps on their phone, while others wonder if this is Facebook’s first step towards merging Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which they recently acquired. Others have issues with the interface of Facebook Messenger itself, which features icons of people that one is chatting with in a somewhat intrusive manner on the phone’s homescreen. The only way to escape using Facebook Messenger in the future will be to use an Android phone with an OS that is too old to run the app, to use Facebook’s mobile website, or to use Facebook’s news reader app, Paper.

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Twitter Evolves, Becomes Less Like Twitter

March 27, 2014 · Written by Andrew S

Picture 3-27-2014Yesterday, Twitter announced that it was launching a few new features related to its image sharing abilities. These new changes will allow Twitter users to tag other Twitter users in photos, something that social networks such as Facebook and Instagram have allowed for a long time. Up to ten people can be tagged in a photo on Twitter; this is useful for Twitter users who previously had to use some of their 140 characters to mention other Twitter users in their posts. Now, Twitter users can mention their friends and link them to images without having to shorten the accompanying tweets.

In addition to the ability to tag multiple users in Twitter image posts without using any characters, Twitter has also enhanced their photo sharing abilities by allowing users to share up to four photos in one tweet; these additional images will also not affect the character limit, and tweets will still be able to contain 140 characters in full, removing any user tags or additional photo links from the equation.

Though it’s obvious to see how these new updates to Twitter’s interface could be useful, some critics are not responding well to the updated features. The updates to Twitter have been compared to Facebook, and some say that this is pulling away from what Twitter is meant to represent. Many people like that Twitter is a very different social network than Facebook and enjoy the minimalism that Twitter represents by offering only 140 characters to work with when it comes to each tweet.

By adding in ways to offer more photos and more tags for friends, these critics believe that Twitter is transforming to fit standards that have been established by Facebook, and though this might be the best move for Twitter when it comes to evolving with the times, it may alienate some Twitter users who use the social network as a means of getting away from Facebook.

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