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Checking Back in with Google Plus

Picture 5-7-2015It’s been a while since anyone has given much thought to Google Plus. Google’s attempt at a competitor to Facebook effectively crashed and burned, after not really providing users with anything that they didn’t already have from other existing social networks. It simply never offered anything that made people want to switch from one social network to the other. After Vic Gundotra, who focused largely on Google Plus during his tenure at Google, announced he was leaving the company last year, some news sources declared that Google Plus was effectively dead in the water.

However, Google has recently announced an overhaul of the Google Plus interface, which is drifting further away from a Facebook clone and actually seems to be emulating aspects of Pinterest. Google Plus’s newest feature is called the Collections tab, which allows users of Google Plus to group similar posts into sections, so that users can easily organize all of the things that they are interested in. These Collections can be shared publicly, privately, or with a specific group of people.

While Google Plus may have massively decreased in use, there were still plenty of people that were clinging to it. Roughly 6.6 million users made public posts in 2015, although that is only representative of 0.3 percent of all Google Plus accounts. However, Google was paying attention to what their loyal users were doing on the social network. These observations ultimately led to the launch of Collections, which is now available on the web and Android platforms and should be available for iOS in the near future.

Twitter Finds New Ways to Interact with Search Engines

Picture 2-5-2015One of the best ways for social networks to move up in the world is to pair themselves with the major search engines. Many of the larger social networks have some kind of history working with Google or Bing in different capacities. This is something that Twitter has recently been doing, as new features have been announced that directly implement aspects of these search engines. When it comes to Bing, Twitter has paired up with the search engine for translation reasons.

On the Twitter website, as well as in the mobile apps, users can now easily translate any tweet in a foreign language to the user’s default language. Though the translation tool is not perfect, it’s still a step up from not being able to read foreign tweets at all. Bing is not the only search engine that Twitter has found themselves recently pairing with, however. There has also been a deal made between Twitter and Google, which will ultimately allow tweets to appear in Google searches.

Yahoo and Bing already offer the ability to show tweets in their searches, but this will allow Google to have the same benefits. Twitter and Google had an agreement that was similar to this in 2009, but it was discontinued in 2011, around the same time that Google Plus launched. Google pairing themselves up with Twitter again may be yet another sign that they’re gradually removing support from Google Plus, which has been circling the drain for a while now.

Facebook and Bing Go Their Separate Ways

Picture 12-18-2014Facebook and Microsoft have had a long-standing relationship, which for quite some time has led to Facebook including Bing results in the Facebook search bar. Similarly, searching in Bing would allow Facebook users to find results from their friends. However, it appears that Facebook has been making some changes regarding the way their search function works. In particular, it looks like they have removed Bing from the equation, without fanfare.

One of the reasons that Facebook worked with Bing in the first place was because it has long considered Google to be a rival, especially with Google’s mostly unsuccessful plunge into social network territory with Google Plus. What this means for the future of the partnership between Facebook and Bing is currently unclear, though it is likely that these changes have been made in relation to Facebook’s new search functions, which I talked about last week.

It seems that Facebook wants to refocus their search functions to work within Facebook, rather than extending to the rest of the web. However, the refining of their search functions appears to be used to compete with other search experiences. A Microsoft spokesperson says that they continue to partner with Facebook in other areas apart from the search function. It still is possible that Facebook and Bing will work concurrently in the future, but under what circumstances is currently unknown.

YouTube and Social Networks

Picture 12-12-2013YouTube is one of the biggest websites on the planet. In fact, in terms of page views in the United States, the website is second only to Google, narrowly beating out major websites like Facebook, Yahoo!, and Amazon. However, the Internet is a volatile realm where updates are constantly required in order to keep websites current, as evidenced by YouTube’s recent attempts to delve into features that are typically associated with popular social networks.

Back in August, YouTube decided to launch MixBit, their attempt at a direct competition with instant video sharing apps like Facebook’s Instagram service and Twitter’s Vine mobile app, though MixBit is a little bit different than these services. The way MixBit stands out on its own is by allowing all MixBit videos to be used for editing, splicing, and mixing with other videos. Though MixBit videos can only be 16 seconds in length, they can be edited together into a larger video that’s up to an hour long.

Another way that YouTube has moved into social networking territory is their recent decision to require a Google Plus account to post comments on the site. With interest in Google Plus recently dwindling, it’s likely that this partnership with Google was done in an attempt to increase usage of their floundering social network. However, it appears that the fickle users of YouTube are not particularly happy with the requirement of a Google Plus account to comment on videos.

People on the Internet can often be resistant to change and it appears that petitions have already been created and tens of thousands of people have commented on a YouTube blog post announcing the change with angry complaints, obscenities, and demands to change the commenting system back to what it once was. Some don’t wish to have a Google Plus account at all, while others are reluctant towards having their real name posted on their YouTube comments. Either way, these changes appear to be here to stay, as YouTube is quite used to angry comments and they have made no movement towards pulling back from Google Plus support.

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.

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.

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.