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Secrecy, Privacy, and Ephemerality in Social Media

Picture 9-11-2014In a world where millions of people post every thought, photograph, or video to our social media profiles, we have effectively given up our privacy. And yet we still cling to the idea of privacy, even if that just means setting some sort of limit to the people who see all the things we’re posting for everyone else to see. Social media security has been a hot-button issue for this reason and over the course of the past couple of years, there have been a large number of breaches and hacks where social media users’ information has been compromised. I’ve talked before about hacks that affected Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, but these are not the only social media networks and apps that have had breaches in their security.

Back in June, the simplistic social media app Yo was hacked by three college students, who were able to get the phone numbers and contacts of every Yo user as well as being able to send them false messages that appeared to be from other users. Considering Yo was developed in merely eight hours, it wasn’t a huge surprise that there were security issues, but what’s disturbing is how quickly users latched on to the new hot social media app without considering that their personal information might be at stake. The social network Secret was marketed as the ‘anonymous social network’ but hackers last month were able to find an easy way to make it a lot less anonymous.

Though Yo and Secret have issued fixes to these security breaches, as have the larger, more popular social networks, it would not be crazy to say that our faith in social network security is waning. Facebook is making efforts to change things; they acquired a cybersecurity start-up company called PrivateCore last month in an effort to help protect the data of Facebook users. However, with the state of social media privacy and security still unsure, there are other things people and social networks are turning to (including Facebook).

Ephemerality is the nature of apps like Snapchat, Bolt, Slingshot, and plenty of similar social media applications. The idea here is to ensure some manner of privacy by making messages, photos, and videos only appear temporarily before being deleted forever. Recently, Facebook began testing their own new ephemeral feature, which will allow users to use a ‘Choose Expiration’ function. This feature will give posts a life expectancy from anywhere between an hour and a week. Thus far, this feature has only been available to a small set of users operating Facebook for iOS and it is unclear what the future of the feature may be.

Hyperlapse: The New Time Lapse App from Instagram

Picture 9-4-2014It was only about a month ago that Instagram launched their recent project, Bolt, a competitor to Snapchat, available exclusively to New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa. Their newest project, however, has been far more widespread: the app is called Hyperlapse and it allows users to create time lapse videos. Historically, the creation of proper time lapse videos has often required expensive photography equipment, which is something that Hyperlapse aims to move past (not unlike the filters available on Instagram).

An Instagram account is not required to use the separate Hyperlapse app, which launched for iOS devices on August 26. Users simply need to tap once to start recording and once again to stop and then are able to alter the playback speed as well as a number of other options. Once the videos are created, they can be easily shared via other social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

Though ultimately the functionality of the application may seem simple, Hyperlapse is using a lot of powerful technology that allow users to shoot steady, professional-looking videos from their mobile devices. Some social media blogs believe that Hyperlapse was launched as its own separate application so that it would not merely be buried as an Instagram feature, and people could fully get a chance to harness the powerful technology behind it. On top of this, Hyperlapse’s focus is more as a video creation app rather than a social network, although it is quite easy to share the videos via social networks once they are completed. Due to technological limitations, there are not yet plans to bring the app to Android devices.

Slingshot Finally Becomes Usable, Perhaps Too Late

Picture 8-8-2014You may recall that I discussed the launch of Slingshot back in June, which was another of the many, many Snapchat competitors that have been launched since Snapchat’s enormous surge in popularity over the course of the past year, this one being run by Facebook. Upon its release, social media blogs were largely skeptical about whether or not people would embrace Slingshot, and for good reason. Slingshot effectively worked this way: a user sends a photo a friend, but that friend could not unlock the photo until sending their own photo, creating an infinite, confusing loop that would make it impossible to have a photo-based conversation.

To many, including myself, Slingshot’s primary difference from Snapchat simply didn’t make any sense, and this is a feeling that was generally ubiquitous across its user base (which, of course, pales in comparison to the user base that Snapchat has been able to boast). Thus, it was really no surprise when Facebook updated Slingshot to remove this odd feature completely, so that any photo, video, or text message can be immediately replied to.

In addition to removing the oddness that made Slingshot ineffective and unusable, they have also added a ‘My People’ feature, allowing one to see everyone that they are ‘slinging’ with. This is a feature that seems to bring the application even closer to Snapchat. In fact, right now, since they removed the initial feature that separated Slingshot from Snapchat, I’m not sure what makes Slingshot any different, apart from some aspects of the interface and design. Considering Instagram (who are also owned by Facebook) launched their own Snapchat-clone called Bolt just recently, I find it unlikely that Slingshot stands much of a chance at remaining in the competition.

Bolt: Yet Another Snapchat Competitor

Picture 7-31-2014It wasn’t very long ago that I mentioned that Facebook had launched Slingshot, their own answer to Snapchat (after previous failures such as Facebook Poke). The app hasn’t been especially well-received and its confusing requirement that one cannot view a photo until they sling a photo back is the main reason people appear to be turned away from it, compared to Snapchat’s simplicity. One of Facebook’s famous subsidiaries, Instagram, has also launched their own individual attempt at creating a Snapchat competitor; this new application is known as Bolt.

Word first began to arrive about Bolt about a week ago, when some Instagram users began to report that there were dead links showing up in Instagram mentioning a free ‘one tap photo messaging app’ called Bolt. No comments were made until Bolt was officially unveiled a couple of days ago. What’s odd about the launch of Bolt is that it’s not available in the United States (at least not yet); it has only been launched thus far in New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa. These countries were reportedly chosen due to their geographic diversity and tight-knit communities.

The primary difference between Bolt and the other massive amounts of applications that do the exact same thing appears to be that less taps on the touch-screen need to be made to perform the same thing. Perhaps the people behind Bolt are aiming for the simplicity route, like Yo, but social network commentators seem to be skeptical about whether or not that’s different enough to be worth using when other existing applications that people are already familiar with have all of the same basic features.

The interface for Bolt is a little bit different, in that you can click on the picture of a contact rather than a username, like you would using Snapchat. However, other than this and the fact that it requires slightly fewer taps, it doesn’t appear that there’s much difference at all between Bolt and Snapchat (or the endless stream of other message, photo, and video sharing apps). According to Instagram, Bolt will soon be spreading to other countries; hopefully when it does, it will find a way to make itself better stand out from the existing herd.