January 2013

Vine: Twitter’s Entry into Video Social Networking

An odd trend iPicture 1-30-2013n recent years with social networks is to base new social networking ideas off of existing ones. For instance, when MySpace relaunched as Myspace, it was immediately compared to other social networks, referred to as LinkedIn for musicians with a layout resembling Pinterest. With the large amount of major social networks that are prevalent in this day and age, it’s tough not compare new services to the old ones, especially considering how often multiple social networks do the same thing (see Facebook and Google Plus or Facebook Poke and Snapchat, as have been discussed in previous blog posts).

The newest popular venture into social networking is Vine, which of course is already being referred to as ‘the Instagram of video’. The new social network was launched by Twitter last Thursday and it allows its users to post six-second video clips without sound that operate similarly to animated GIFs. The social network has simple connectivity to smartphones and the Vine mobile app operates quite easily; all one has to do is touch the screen to record and let go to stop.

This isn’t the first time that something has been pitched as ‘the Instagram of video,’ as networks such as Viddy, Color, Socialcam, and Cinegram – which was seeing a recent surge in popularity until Vine was launched – have tried to do the same thing. Yet tech critics are skeptical that Vine is going to become the same kind of social phenomenon that Instagram has become. For one, part of the appeal of Instagram is its ability to shift pictures into looking more interesting, as if a photo taken with a cameraphone was taken by someone with an actual camera and photography skills. Vine simply records video, removes the sound, and makes it easy to share.

The fact that Vine has Twitter behind it is going to be positive for it in the long run, but that’s only if Vine actually manages to catch on in the first place. One common problem with these video social networks – and a similar one that Snapchat and other networks have faced recently – is the posting of lewd and pornographic content. Because of the enormous amount of user-generated pornographic content that has already been posted on Vine, the mobile app was recently removed from the ‘Editor’s Choice’ section in the iPhone App Store.

Vine’s removal from the metaphorical front page of the iPhone does not bode well for it and neither does the fact that many offensive comments are already being posted in response to video posts on the service. Vine is already doing what it can to reduce pornographic content labeled with obvious hashtags, but posts about violence, urination, and other potentially offensive material are often harder to track down, and if they aren’t technically violating the terms of use, it’s hard to say what the moderators of Vine can even do about it. The ‘Instagram of video’? Maybe not so much.

The New Myspace: A Flailing Attempt at Resuscitating a Dead Social Network

In the beginnings of 2011, the users that remained on MySpace generally were people who had forgotten to delete their accounts after switching to Facebook or indie bands trying to promote themselves to the few niche users that remained. 2011 was a harsh time for MySpace, to the point where it was generally believed that the website didn’t have much of a future. In fact, in February 2011 alone, MySpace lost a devastating ten million users, after losing fifty million users over the course of the previous year. It seemed that MySpace, as it once was known, was dead in the water.

Then, in June 2011, singer-songwriter turned actor Justin Timberlake purchased MySpace for $35 million, alongside a company called Specific Media Group. Since that time, Timberlake and other representatives of the company have repeatedly stated that MySpace would be going under major renovations to reestablish the dying social network as a superpower website like it was in its heyday. Now, a year and half after the purchase, MySpace has been transformed into Myspace (without the capital ‘S’) and has gone live.

The new Myspace appears to be appropriating a lot of ideas from other social networks into its revival, with a focus on the music aspect that was the primary remaining force on Myspace in its later years, hence Timberlake being the new face of the organization. The new Myspace is intended to operate like the music industry’s own version of LinkedIn, while integrating the celebrity-user personal interactions available to Twitter, as well as featuring streaming music like Spotify. Mix these features in with a layout similar to Pinterest and a few remnants here and there of the old MySpace and you have what one would imagine to be a new, interesting social network.

Unfortunately, the new Myspace is off to a rough start. For starters, and perhaps most importantly, there is no functional mobile application (or even mobile functionality at all) for the social network, which is something that has become pivotal for all social networks in recent years. Considering there are 604 million monthly active users that use the mobile Facebook app (as of September 2012), leaving out a mobile app is a bizarre and enormous first mistake for Myspace.

The ‘revamped’ social network suffers from other problems as well; a very large cover photo (1024×768 pixels) is required to complete the look of one’s profile, sharing links lacks the dynamic functions of Facebook and Google Plus, the layout often lacks intuition, and some are saying there is too much focus on the music of Justin Timberlake and his collaborators. With the enormous blunder of not releasing a mobile app at launch, the clock is certainly ticking for the new Myspace to be officially seen as a resounding failure; considering how much Myspace’s target audience embraces instant gratification, it isn’t likely that the company has much time before their social network is once again forgotten in lieu of other, better websites.

The Facebook Trinity: Newsfeed, Timeline, and Graph Search

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a press event today to unveil a new feature known as ‘Graph Search’ that, while currently in its beta stages, will soon be included alongside the Newsfeed and Timeline currently offered on the popular social networking website, which features over a billion users. The Graph Search will fill in the blanks leftover from the Newsfeed and Timeline, the two aspects of Facebook that are currently available. Each of these sections of the ‘Facebook trinity’ will feature a certain aspect of the connections available between Facebook users.

The Newsfeed is a collection of statuses and updates to Facebook user pages of all of one’s Facebook friends, so it essentially can tell Facebook users what’s currently going on in the lives of their Facebook friends. The Timeline is the feature that allows Facebook users to know a bit more personal information about one of their specific Facebook friends. Each Facebook user has a Timeline that displays all of their interactions with other Facebook users, the statuses and photos that they have posted, as well as plenty of other information.

And now comes the Graph Search, which should fill in the blanks between ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What are you doing?’. Though the Graph Search will still adhere to current privacy settings that are set up on Facebook profiles, it can be used as a search function to get broader information and find select individuals. For instance, Facebook users will be able to easily search for which of their friends (or friends of friends) speak Spanish, live in Dallas, went to University of Florida, or all of the above.

The intention of Graph Search is to further connect Facebook users. In Facebook’s earlier years, it was easier to find connections to other Facebook users, based on one’s favorite movies or what groups the Facebook users both belonged to. In recent years, this connectivity has been replaced as Facebook has been updated. As Zuckerberg has stated, the Graph Search feature is a call-back to Facebook’s roots of being used to make new connections.

Though the Graph Search is not a full-fledged Internet search engine, it can be used to easily search for things like “photos I’ve liked” or “friends of friends who are single in San Francisco” with instant results. Additionally, Facebook will be featuring Bing results in Facebook searches; while Facebook and Google do not have the same functions, it is unsurprising that the two act as competitors and that Facebook would affiliate itself with Bing, considering Google’s attempt to directly compete with Facebook with the mostly failed Google Plus service.

The market’s reaction to the announcement of Graph Search has been fairly low-key, as Facebook’s shares fell 2%. However, some market critics are saying that Yelp, Inc., a company focused on online reviews and recommendations, may suffer from Facebook’s Graph Search feature, as users will be able to easily see restaurants and other services that their Facebook friends have ‘liked’. Thus, Yelp’s shares falling more than 6% was a predictable turn of events.

Snapchat and the Rise and Fall of New Social Media Platforms

In the past few years, companies are constantly trying to figure out what the next hot social networking service is going to be. Before its launch, Google Plus was expected to be the ‘Facebook killer’ and people believed that with a company as large and influential as Google, everyone would be moving on from Facebook to Google Plus in the same way that people migrated from MySpace to Facebook in 2006, when Facebook expanded its membership eligibility from college and high school students to anyone over the age of thirteen with an e-mail address.

However, Google Plus did not prove to be the ‘Facebook killer’ it was initially believed to be, as many people flocked to create accounts and soon after abandoned the website, realizing it offered very little that Facebook didn’t already have to offer. These days, the majority of Google Plus users tend to be Google employees themselves, and though there are a significant number of accounts, these accounts’ activity has lulled almost to a complete stop, evidenced by Facebook being the #2 in the Alexa rankings in the United States, compared to Google Plus’ ranking in at #129,199 at the time of this posting.

So what will be the ‘Facebook killer’? And does there even really need to be one? These days, other social media platforms appear to be trying to integrate with the social media conglomerate, rather than competing with it. There are functions for users to share their Twitter and Instagram posts on their Facebook profiles and these major social networks appear to currently be co-existing rather peacefully. That is, except for a recent surprise hit known as Snapchat.

While Snapchat is hardly a Facebook killer, nor does it claim to be, some tech critics are referring to it as ‘the next Instagram’ and it’s notable because of Facebook’s half-handed and failed attempts to try to compete with it. Essentially, Snapchat’s appeal is its ability to send temporary messages, pictures, and videos to individuals and groups that expire in a few seconds and are immediately deleted from the devices and the company’s servers. In the fast-chatting, quick-sharing world we live in, and that teenagers are growing up in, Snapchat has been particularly popular among youths.

Though, like Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat offers Facebook connectivity so that users can send ‘Snaps’ to their Facebook friends with relative ease, Facebook has also attempted to launch a competing, nearly identical mobile application called ‘Facebook Poke’. Facebook Poke has not attracted many users at all, and in fact, some are citing the fact that teenagers are interested in Snapchat specifically because it isn’t Facebook. Could it be this attitude that ultimately becomes the oft-mentioned Facebook killer?

When parents and grandparents and teachers all have Facebook profiles, is Facebook starting to become the social network that’s no longer ‘cool’? Time will only tell what youths of the future will turn to when it comes to their favorite social networks, but Snapchat appears to be one step in a certain direction of instantaneous and fleeting communication.