Web 2.0

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.

The ‘Buy’ Button: Facebook’s Newest Feature

Picture 7-24-2014Facebook has long been trying to find ways to cater to advertisers, because at the end of the day, profitability is what’s most important to the majority of social networks. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are always looking for ways that their brands can be monetized, generally through working in creative ways with advertisers. All three of these social networks made announcements this week that have implied that they are making more pushes towards swift mobile payments.

Facebook has tried with varying degrees of success to find ways to benefit their advertisers by coming up with interesting ways for users to be able to purchase items directly from Facebook. They launched Facebook Gifts a long while back and followed that up with gift cards. Their newest endeavor appears to have arrived in the form of a ‘Buy’ button that appears on the News Feed of Facebook users and allows them to purchase products directly through Facebook, rather than being redirected to another page via the advertisement.

Currently, the ‘Buy’ button remains in the testing phases and is only available for a “few small and medium-sized businesses in the US” while Facebook continues to evaluate customer feedback. They have made statements saying that these features have been developed with privacy in mind and that privacy should not be something anyone has to worry about with these transactions. Credit and debit card information used for these Facebook-based transactions will not be shared with other advertisers and users can choose whether or not that information is saved for future purchases. The ‘Buy’ button began appearing in the web and mobile versions of Facebook last Thursday.

Facebook Launches New App for Celebrities Only

Picture 7-17-2014Twitter has long been a venue for celebrities to interact with their fans for a number of reasons. Celebrity Twitter accounts can be followed without having to follow back and Twitter has a useful ‘verified account’ feature that’s able to ensure that a Twitter account is the real deal rather than an impersonator or anything else of the sort. Last year, Twitter made its interface even more accessible for celebrities by offering verified accounts special filters that would allow them to interact with other verified profiles.

Not wanting to be left in the dark, there were also rumblings around this time last year that Facebook was working on their own private tool for celebrities, which would make it easier for them to communicate with fans through the popular social network. After this was leaked, there wasn’t much additional information regarding this potential service until just recently.

Today, Facebook announced that they are finally releasing their application for celebrities, known as Mentions. Mentions is a Facebook app specifically geared towards celebrities to help them post messages, photos, and videos to their fans, as well as make it easier to see what people are saying about them on the social network. These features seem to emulate existing features that Twitter has, which have helped to make it so popular for celebrities to use. Mentions can be used by anyone with a verified Facebook page, though its overall usability may be extended in the future.

How Facebook Messenger Has Changed

Picture 7-10-2014Back in April, I talked about how Facebook was pushing their Facebook Messenger application further by requiring Facebook users to use the separate app when communicating with other users on their mobile phones. Since then, there have been a number of updates rolled out for Facebook Messenger with the hopes that it will overall improve the experience for the app (especially considering everyone is now required to use it on their phones).

At the end of April, after Facebook Messenger had become a necessary part of the Facebook experience on iOS and Android, Facebook improved the photo and video sharing capabilities of Facebook Messenger. These updates were focused on simplicity, essentially making it much easier to add photos, videos, audio, and stickers to one’s Facebook messages with the simple touch of a button. Photos can even be taken through the app itself and they actually can be posted faster than they could be through an app such as Snapchat, though they of course lack the temporary nature of Snapchat and related social networking applications.

In more recent news, months after the Facebook Messenger app was initially released for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, a version of Facebook Messenger has been released that is specifically designed for usage on the iPad. Previously, usage of Facebook Messenger on the iPad simply enlarged the iPhone version of the app. The new, updated version for exclusive iPad usage features multiple windows and conversations that can appear at the same time, making better use of the iPad’s interface abilities.

Pyne: The Polling Social Media App

Picture 6-26-2014There are plenty of question and answer applications (or Q&A apps) available for mobile phones. Some of the more popular ones include Jelly, Need, and ChaCha. While ChaCha focuses on getting a question answered quickly (by a staff member who’s presumably an expert Googler), Jelly and Need are more focused on the social components of asking questions and answering them, which is something that the new iOS app Pyne tries to build off of.

While many people seem fatigued by the amount of Q&A apps that have been released recently, early news reports say that Pyne seems to break the mold with its fast, simple, and well-designed approach to polling. Users of Pyne can set up a Yes/No or multiple choice question and easily poll either their friends or all other users of Pyne. The questions are loaded very quickly and others with Pyne are presented with them to answer as soon as they are added.

In addition to being able to ask and answer questions, Pyne users can also talk with one another on the results page of various polls. The answers can also be filtered by different demographics. Eventually, it is expected that Pyne will further increase its range of use, potentially for dating or other purposes. Regardless of its future, Pyne as it currently exists already holds a lot of potential, especially if its user base continues to increase so that more questions can be asked and answered. Currently, the app is only available for iOS; plans have not yet been announced for an Android edition.

Yo: The Simplest Social Network

Picture 6-19-2014Since social networks began to expand outside of their initial target audience, simplicity has been something that many companies have focused on. Twitter only allows users to have 140 characters to communicate messages to their friends; Snapchat only allows users to look at their pictures for a few seconds; even Facebook and other major social networks have gone through major changes in order to make themselves more accessible to new users. Yet none have been quite as simple as the new hot social messaging application known as Yo.

Yo is about as simple as it comes — it simply allows users to send a single greeting to their friends: “Yo.” The application says that this greeting is all-encompassing and can be sent to friends if you want to say ‘good morning’ or ‘thinking about you’ or ‘are you awake’ or anything in between. Though the basic premise of the app seems pretty silly, Yo has already garnered $1 million and its creator has relocated from Tel Aviv to San Francisco, where the social media industry is booming.

The creator, Or Arbel, believes that there are many potential uses for his admittedly simplistic app. Companies like Starbucks could send a “Yo” when your drink is ready or airlines could send a “Yo” when it’s time board one’s flight. The app was launched on April Fool’s Day this year and is only recently beginning to surge in popularity, already with over 50,000 users who have sent out nearly 4 million Yos. Arbel believes the efficiency of Yo is its true selling point (it takes 11 taps to send “Yo” in WhatsApp, while it takes only 2 taps to send “Yo” in Yo). Still, some people are highly critical of the app’s simplicity and it remains to be seen whether the application will take off.

Slingshot: Facebook’s Newest Answer to Snapchat

Picture 6-12-2014On Monday, Facebook briefly teased users (albeit accidentally) with a new standalone app called Slingshot, which appears to be their newest foray into creating a Snapchat competitor. Facebook previously attempted to compete with Snapchat using an app called Facebook Poke, which never really took off and was ultimately removed from the app stores after a year of failing to threaten Snapchat’s popularity. However, Slingshot differs in a few major ways from Facebook Poke and Snapchat, though it still maintains the ephemeral self-destructing nature of these previously existing apps.

The largest way that Slingshot differs from Snapchat is that users are required to send something to their friends in order to unlock the picture that has been sent to them. For instance, one person may ‘sling’ a photo to a friend, but that friend cannot see the photo until they ‘sling’ something back to the person who sent the initial photo. Some news sources are already skeptical about this feature, considering it could make it quite difficult to send reaction photos, which is something that is easy with Snapchat.

Slingshot emulates some features associated with other apps, such as Taptalk and Rando, which supposedly influenced the creation of the app. Though the Slingshot app is already intriguing, it was only available on the iOS App Store for a brief period of time. A Facebook spokesperson stated that Slingshot was accidentally released early, but that an updated version would be ready soon for users to try out. There is not yet any word on when the app will return to the market or when an Android version will be released; it also remains to be seen what additional features may be added to the app before it is finalized.

Instagram Launches New Features for Phone Photographers

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.

Facebook Introduces Privacy Updates via Cartoon Dinosaur

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.

Facebook Adds Audio Identification Features

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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