May 2013

Facebook and Google Plus Appropriating Hashtags

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Hashtags are a relatively recent addition to a number of social networking platforms; the website they are most associated with would be Twitter, who have been using them since 2009. Essentially, hashtags are tags using the ‘#’ symbol that are used to more easily group similar messages and topics together. Many social networks have integrated hashtags into their interfaces in order to encourage further connectivity between users.

Though hashtags are most commonly associated with Twitter, there are many other major social networking websites and other websites that also use hashtags frequently. Instagram users often include heavy amounts of hashtags on their pictures, as they are not restricted to 140 characters like they would be with Twitter, allowing for people to use a much larger number of hashtags than would be possible on Twitter posts. Though some people believe that too many hashtags can be excessive, this hasn’t stopped other social networks from hopping on the hashtag bandwagon.

Google Plus has offered the usage of hashtags for quite some time now, though they are evolving into what have been referred to as ‘smart hashtags,’ as they are automatically assigned to posts based on recognition of the words and images that were used in the post. These features have recently been added to the Android and iOS apps for Google Plus and may offer a glimpse towards the future of hashtags.

Of course, Google Plus is not the only major social network hoping to be a part of the future of hashtags. Facebook, not wanting to be left behind, is also rumored to be toying with the inclusion of hashtags on their social network, likely aping the model that has been previously established by networks like Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is looking at hashtags from a marketing standpoint, as they believe that there are additional ways that hashtags can be used to promote business pages on their social network.

‘Facebook Phone’ Not Doing So Well

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In a previous blog post, I discussed the announcement of Facebook Home, a feature that would be used as a custom homescreen for Android smartphones and would be launched on the HTC First, which has since been colloquially known as the ‘Facebook Phone.’ The HTC First was launched on April 12 at a price point of $99.99, which apparently was not a viable option for many consumers looking to purchase a new phone and try out the Facebook Home feature.

The first sign that AT&T and HTC were having problems selling the phone was when the phone’s price dropped from $99.99 to $0.99 (with a two-year AT&T contract) only a month after its release. Though the price drop was referred to as a limited time offer, the media says otherwise, believing that the so-called Facebook Phone has been a complete flop and is not likely to do much better from here on out. It is likely that the price drop is an effort to push out the phone to those who are looking for affordability rather than being jam-packed with useful features.

Some media outlets have cited other issues for why the HTC First has been a flop. In particular, there has been focus on the new phone’s unremarkable hardware in comparison to other recently released phones, as well as the fact that the HTC First was supposed to operate as a showcase for Facebook Home even though there were plans to immediately bring the Facebook Home platform to other Android phones. On top of that, only a select group of individuals are likely to be particularly interested in Facebook Home in the first place, further reducing the potential target market for the HTC First.

Recently, the Facebook Home feature has been released for the much more popular HTC One as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4. With Facebook Home on these smartphones, it’s no surprise that the HTC First is tanking. In fact, AT&T is reportedly planning to discontinue the phone entirely, considering it only sold 15,000 units in the first month it was released. Granted, this was before the price drop, but the fact that they are still reportedly discontinuing it means that lowering the price doesn’t seem to be increasing the sales by enough.

Vine is Coming to Android

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In a blog post I wrote back in January, I mentioned the launch of Vine, which at the time was a new social networking service launched by Twitter that allowed users to share six-second video clips without sound that operated similarly to animated GIFs. Since the video social network was launched in January, it has blown up in popularity, even though it still remains only available for iOS and Apple devices. It has consistently been among the top apps downloaded in Apple’s iTunes store.

In fact, after its launch, Vine’s users grew by 50% in a month and by the end of February, Vine was being used by 2.66% of all iOS devices in the United States. As Vine rose to the top, similar services such as Viddy, Cinemagram, and Socialcam began to rapidly decline in their user bases, even though they had all been launched months before the more popular Vine service.

One thing that has been holding Vine back a bit, at least thus far, is that it is currently only available on iOS and not available on platforms such as Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. Well, that’s about to change, at least for Android, the platform that tends to receive support for major apps like this long before Blackberry or Windows Phone, due to having a much larger user base. According to Twitter, Vine will be coming to Android’s Google Play store soon.

Though the exact release date has not yet been announced, there is still an app that Android users can use in the meantime while they wait for Vine’s official Android launch. Vine Flow is a mobile app that allows users to browse and discover videos posted on Vine, though it does not allow users to upload their own videos like the eventual official Vine app will. Until Vine’s official launch, Vine Flow is about the best that Android-using hopefuls are going to get.

Facebook Charging Money for New Features

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Facebook’s primary source for revenue has generally come from the enormous amounts of ad sales that they have made to countless companies that are looking for the incredible amount of exposure made possible through Facebook’s reported 1.11 billion active users. Though Facebook has certainly never been hurting for money and the majority of their services remain free, they have released a number of paid services over the past few months in order to generate additional revenue.

One of the earliest features that Facebook began to push out is the ability for users to ‘promote’ their Facebook posts. Essentially, promoting a post means that will increase the likelihood that one’s audience (people who like your Page) or Facebook friends will see a post by moving it up higher in their News Feed. The cost is based on one’s geographic location and how many people the post would be reaching. More recently, Facebook also added the ability to promote any of your friends’ posts, even without their permission, though these posts can only be viewed by anyone that your friend shared said post with in the first place.

Another new feature that Facebook is beginning to push through is an update to the social network’s messaging system. In the system’s current state, messages received from people that someone is not Facebook friends with will be filtered rather aggressively into an ‘Other’ folder that is often looked over. Facebook wants to offer the ability to pay to circumvent this filter. In other words, Facebook users will be able to pay a small fee – supposedly somewhere between $1 and $15 – to get messages more easily to people they aren’t Facebook friends with. In order to prevent abuse of this service, Facebook has said they will only be extending this service to people – rather than businesses – and users will only be able to receive one paid message in their inbox per week.red said post with in the first place.

Another much more bizarre feature that Facebook recently added was a similar messaging ability, albeit a much more expensive and specific version of that ability. Essentially, it works in the same way as the aforementioned messaging feature: Facebook users can pay a fee to get a message sent to someone and ensure that it won’t go into the ‘Other’ folder, only in this case, that someone is Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The price to get a message directly to Mark Zuckerberg is a cool $100, which has been mentioned as Facebook as an ‘extreme price point’ that is being used to see what works to filter spam.

How Ads are Evolving on Social Networks

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Those without a depth of knowledge regarding social media may wonder where revenue is generated from for these multi-billion dollar companies, considering the services are free for anyone to use and so many people are taking advantage of these networks. Though there are a number of ways these companies generate revenue, the simplest route is through advertisements that are made on the networks from companies and corporations that are trying to get their own names out there through social media.

With social media becoming as prevalent as it is, companies like Facebook and Twitter are trying to get a little bit more creative with the way that advertisements are targeted to their users. For instance, Facebook has recently incorporated a system known as ‘Facebook Exchange’ to the ads in Facebook’s News Feed, which allows Facebook to pull from other websites that the user has visited in the past. Moving those advertisements from the right side of the page to the News Feed itself was major for business prospects, due to the ability to more easily view these advertisements on Facebook’s ever-growing mobile presence.

More recently, Twitter has chosen to take a page from Facebook, as ads from Twitter will appear based on keywords used in a Twitter user’s tweets. Twitter had initially categorized its users based on tweets, so that someone who tweeted about coffee would be put into a ‘coffee lover’ group, but Twitter will now respond directly to certain words in recent tweets and adapt its advertisements to suit the user’s possible interests. The service will even be using ‘natural language processing’ which will allow them to prevent from offering ads for something that someone is tweeting negatively about.

Certain reports have stated that Facebook is planning for yet another step in regards to updating their advertising options. This summer, they may be releasing auto-playing video advertisements. The videos would be 15-second spots that would come with a mighty price tag, supposedly costing $1 million per day per demographic, a move which could ultimately net billions for Facebook. How users react to auto-playing video ads on their Facebook, however, might be another story entirely.