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What Lies Ahead for Snapchat

Picture 12-5-2013Snapchat is reaching all-time highs in popularity at this time. According to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, there are 400 million snaps shared a day, which exceed s the number of photos that are shared through both Facebook and Instagram, proving once and for all that Snapchat is here to stay and it’s huge. To compare, Snapchat was seeing 350 million snaps a day in September and 200 million a day in June, meaning that the social network is growing at a shocking rate.

Needless to say, it’s no surprise that investment analysts are saying that Snapchat has a very long-lasting and lucrative future. The social network has more funding and a higher valuation than Instagram and even YouTube did when they were at Snapchat’s stage in their lifespan. It’s not too much of a shock that there have been rumblings of a $3 billion offer from Facebook hoping to purchase Snapchat. Many attribute Snapchat’s popularity to its lack of permanence, referring to the way snaps disappear after an allocated amount of time.

Facebook is not the only massive company that is interested in Snapchat, however. There are other rumors abound that Tencent, an enormous Chinese corporation involved in the biggest Chinese social networks, has already made a major investment in Snapchat. A partnership between the two companies is likely to be mutually beneficial, as it allows Snapchat to extend into Asia and Tencent to have their first American subsidiary.

Another recent news update for Snapchat is the recent hire of Emily White, who was formerly the director of business operations for Instagram. She will now be working as the COO of Snapchat and it’s very possible that this may be a way that Snapchat will be moving forward with advertisements and monetization. Instagram itself revealed its new ads in October, leading some to believe that White’s hire may lead to a shift in the marketing of Snapchat as well.

Facebook Changes the Way We ‘Like’ Things

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Facebook has long been embedding its functionalities on popular news websites, to the point where the Facebook Like and Share buttons are seen more than 22 billion times every day on more than 7.5 million websites. For the first time since the Like and Share buttons were developed to be embedded on these pages, Facebook has decided to update the design of the buttons, removing the iconic ‘thumbs-up’ that has long been associated with the Like button and replacing it with Facebook’s ‘f’ logo.

The new design has reportedly come about in order to be optimized for high-resolution screens. Additionally, the Share button is replacing Facebook’s Send button, which was tested and ultimately deemed too confusing. The old buttons were blue on white, while the new ones are white on blue, allowing for a crisper look that can be better seen on the high-resolution screens that Facebook is apparently aiming for.

In addition to changing the design of the Like and Share buttons, it also appears that Facebook is testing the usage of star ratings for Pages. According to some screenshots and videos of live testing, it appears that Facebook is intending to employ a five-star rating system that users can use to rate certain Pages, taking things a bit beyond simply being able to Like a certain Page. Though no official announcements have been made, it is likely that this is something Facebook intends to launch in the near future.

The replacement designs of the Like and Share button began their official launch yesterday. Gradually, over the coming days, the new designs for these buttons will be ubiquitous on the websites that use Facebook’s embedding options.

Kids and Teens are Getting Sick of Facebook

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Back in May, the results of a survey were released, revealing that teens were starting to grow a bit tired of Facebook, finding a number of reasons to instead be drawn to other social networks such as Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat. Part of this is because of adults — including parents and grandparents — having an ever-growing presence on Facebook, which keeps Facebook from remaining ‘cool’. Other issues that were brought up included oversharing by their friends and ‘drama’ that would happen in real life because of Facebook.

Though Facebook repeatedly denied that teens’ interest in Facebook was waning, their recent quarterly financial statements have shown Facebook’s first-ever decrease in teenage daily users. Facebook continues to defend itself in regards to the fact that Facebook is still the highest-used social network by teens in the United States, but this admission led to a slight drop for Facebook in the stock market.

Apart from cyber-bullying and oversharing reasons, some news sources suggest that it could be Facebook’s mobile app that is holding it back by being so cluttered and full of options that it can be overwhelming and result in ‘decision paralysis’. When compared to simpler mobile apps that teens have been drawn to in recent years, it’s quite noticeable how much less clutter can be found on services like Instagram and Snapchat.

One of the reasons that teens appear to be drawn to Snapchat in particular is for the same reasons adults who use Facebook wouldn’t put certain information on LinkedIn. For instance, in the way that adults wouldn’t want to look like slackers by posting vacation photos on their LinkedIn profiles, kids and teens don’t want to have any of what they post permanently recorded on Facebook. Instead, they choose to share silly images and videos that are only temporary with their friends, so that their posts aren’t scrutinized and used against them at a later date.

Facebook Changing Privacy Settings

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With recent developments in Internet privacy news, one would expect social networks to be getting stricter with privacy settings. Facebook’s most recent announcements, however, prove that this is simply not the case: in fact, the social network appears to actually be reducing its privacy settings. It was announced last Thursday that Facebook would be removing the privacy setting that allowed users to hide themselves from other users in Facebook’s search field.

The primary reason that Facebook has stated they have made this specific alteration to the privacy settings was that the tool was outdated and it only made things more difficult for Facebook users who were trying to find their friends over the social network. The other likely reason is due to Facebook’s recent Graph Search addition, which is intended to make it easier to find people on Facebook. With Graph Search and the removal of this privacy feature, it will be easier than ever to connect with others via Facebook.

Another way that Facebook is altering privacy settings is in its relaxation of privacy rules for teenagers. 13 to 17 year olds who use Facebook are now able to share their photos, comments, and updates with the public. They can also now turn on the ‘Follow’ feature that adults have been able to use for quite some time now, which allows people who they are not friends with the see that person’s public posts in their own News Feed.

Oddly enough, Facebook also has announced that teenagers’ default share setting will no longer be ‘Friends of Friends’ and will instead just be ‘Friends.’ This means that posts made by teenagers will — by default, anyway — actually be harder for others to see unless the teenaged Facebook user has other wishes. Essentially, Facebook-using teenagers have the ability to share with more people than ever before, but their default settings will reduce that ability unless they choose otherwise.

Facebook Makes Updates to its Graph Search Function

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Social media platforms tend to change and update features and layouts more frequently than almost any other website. Because of the immense competition between the major social networks, this is relatively unsurprising. Facebook recently made headlines with new updates that they have recently launched. Facebook’s announcement that they are making updates to their Graph Search feature has been of particular interest. Essentially, the update to the Graph Search allows for users to search for posts, in addition to people.

When the Graph Search was originally launched, it allowed people to search for friends who lived in certain areas, who worked at certain places, or friends of friends who were single, alongside many other options. These same options are now being extended to public posts and the posts of yourself and your Facebook friends. Graph Search now allows users to search for posts written during a certain year, posted at a certain location, or that talk about a specific topic.

Since Graph Search has been updated to allow users to search through every single check-in, status update, comment, or note that a person has ever posted on Facebook, it is not surprising that some people are worried about privacy, at least in regards to potentially embarrassing or upsetting past posts. Many people have had their Facebook active for more than half a decade, so it’s not too shocking to assume there may be opinions or information posted a long time ago that they don’t want their Facebook friends to easily see.

Luckily, Facebook has added new options to the social network’s privacy functions. Users can easily go into their privacy settings on Facebook and select the ‘Limit Past Posts’ function, which allows users to hide their past posts from being readily available and easily found through Facebook’s updated Graph Search. Though Graph Search was launched for a limited amount of users on Monday, it will be gradually extended to all Facebook users, so new privacy settings are important to know about.

The Value of Facebook Likes

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The Like button has been a major and iconic part of Facebook since it was launched in February 2009. In addition to its presence on Facebook itself, it has also become an integral part of the Facebook Platform, which allows other websites – such as news websites and blogs – to let Facebook users Like the content of the website in order to share it with friends on their own Facebook profile. In the average year, there are over 955 billion unique Likes on Facebook.

The Facebook Like button has gotten a lot of attention in recent months. Considering its popularity, it’s no surprise. According to one study, a Facebook Like on a certain brand is worth about $174.14 to that brand. This number was reached based on how a Facebook user spends money on products of that brand, their brand royalty, their potential of recommending that brand to other Facebook users, as well as a number of other statistics.

Another recent way that the Facebook Like came into the limelight was through an incident where a number of employees at the Hampton Sheriff’s Office in Virginia lost their jobs for expressing support for their boss’ opponent, many of them using the Like button on Facebook to show their support. Because of these firings, the Facebook Like was brought in front of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, to determine whether or not it was equivalent to protected free speech.

Though the Facebook Like has previously been stated as not part of this Constitutional right, it is likely that this most recent decision is going to be final, considering the rising popularity and understanding of the Like button. The court determined that Liking a Facebook page was the equivalent of putting a political sign in one’s yard, which has long been established as a right that is covered by the First Amendment.

Facebook Launches Shared Photo Albums

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Though some may not realize it, the major social networks are constantly evolving, regularly pushing out new features and making tweaks and updates in order to stay relevant. Historically, when social networks cease to make an effort to keep upgrading, they get left in the dust by newer social networks that are willing to constantly try out new things. This might be part of the reason why Facebook wound up the ‘winner’ of the social networks when websites like MySpace and Friendster were unable to keep up.

Most recently, Facebook’s newest update to its interface is the inclusion of shared photo albums that can be used by up to fifty people. These shared photo albums have been launched for the purpose of multiple people being able to add photos from an event or that share a common subject into one consolidated album. Each person that is allowed to contribute to the album is able to add up to two hundred of their own photos, meaning that a full shared photo album can reach ten thousand images.

Before the launch of the shared photo albums, users could previously only upload photos to albums that they had created and there was a limit of a thousand total images. The new shared albums also feature a few different privacy settings; they can be viewable by the public, by friends of the contributors to the album, or only by the contributors themselves, making an easy way for groups of friends to have their own shared private photo albums.

Facebook is not the first social network to delve into shared photo albums. Mobile apps like Albumatic and Flock based their platforms on group photo albums and will likely be hurt by Facebook’s move into their territory. Google Plus also has long featured a similar function through its Party Mode, where users can share photos and videos in real time for guests of a certain event.

Even More New Features Coming to Facebook

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Facebook has been pushing a number of new features lately. Recently, I talked about a few tweaks that the social network would be making to the News Feed, but the News Feed is not the only area of Facebook that is getting tweaked. One recent report mentioned that Facebook was working on testing a new group chat feature, with hopes of competing against Google Plus’ Hangout feature and applications like WhatsApp. The new feature is supposedly called Host Chat and will be launched from the status bar to create group chats.

Another feature recently enabled by Facebook that took a cue from Twitter and Instagram was the ability for users to embed Facebook posts on their own websites and blogs. Though embedded posts must be posts that are marked as public on Facebook, the feature is being first used by news sites such as CNN, Mashable, and the Huffington Post, and will work similarly to how Twitter has allowed embedded tweets for quite some time.

In another instance of Facebook adopting ideas from its competitor Twitter, on top of hashtags and embedded posts, Facebook has also begun testing the usage of trending topics. On Twitter, trending topics allow users in certain areas to see what subjects people are talking about via their Twitter posts and now Facebook appears to want to jump on the bandwagon and add trending topics to their platform as well.

Trending topics on Facebook are being pushed out slowly, with only a small select number of users currently able to access them. It is likely that Facebook will eventually look for promoted trends as a source of income, considering Twitter charges around $200,000 per day for their promoted trends. Many of these new Facebook features seem to be pushing the social network in a direction that is further away from Facebook’s origins as a purely peer-to-peer social network and closer to its new focus as a more public forum.

Facebook Making More Tweaks to the News Feed

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At the beginning of August, Facebook announced a press event that would be focused on finally clearing up some of the confusion regarding how the Facebook News Feed works. In particular, they wanted to explain why certain Facebook posts show up in users’ News Feeds while others might not. In addition to that, they stated that there would be announcements about some changes to the News Feed at this press event, which would help users see the posts that they were more interested in.

On August 6, Facebook held this press event and explained exactly how different posts are ranked in the News Feed. The posts are prioritized based on how much one interacts with a certain friend, Page, or public figure, the number of likes, shares, and comments that a post received, how much a user has interacted with that type of post in the past, and whether or not that post is being actively hidden or reported by other users. Facebook has acknowledged that there are over 1500 potential posts the average user might see a day, so they recognize the importance of trying to give priority to certain posts in each user’s News Feed.

In addition to offering more information on how the News Feed works, the press event also operated to announce that Facebook would be taking a page from Google and would start publishing blog updates on how the News Feed algorithm was going to gradually be changed. Facebook employees have said that there are a number of tweaks that are going to be coming to the News Feed in the near future and some of these alterations have already begun to surface.

The newest addition to the News Feed algorithm is that it will now take popular stories – particularly, one that’s getting a lot of comments and likes – and will put it at the top of your News Feed to make sure that you don’t miss it, even if it was posted earlier on in the day. This is the first change to the News Feed that Facebook has made and in the future, it seems they will be making a lot more to ensure that the News Feed remains a relevant part of Facebook.

Facebook and Twitter Cracking Down on Sexist Hate Speech

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Recently, Facebook and Twitter alike have come under fire from certain activists and advertisers regarding hate speech, particularly that of a misogynistic nature. In May, after a weeklong campaign by a number of women’s groups who had organized themselves under the name ‘Women, Action & the Media,’ Facebook was the first to fall in line regarding a stronger effort being made against pages that made light of rape, violence, or other degradation against women.

Facebook was truly under pressure; fifteen major companies had dropped their advertising in response to Facebook’s negligence for allowing hateful images that gratuitously encouraged violence against women. It’s no surprise that Facebook stated that they were going to be cracking down on these sorts of images and pages, considering it would not only be the best thing to do from a moral standpoint, but also from a financial standpoint.

Similarly, Twitter came under fire in early August, particularly in regards to a number of threats that had been made against female journalists and female members of parliament in the United Kingdom. Twitter intends to add a ‘Report’ button – which is currently only available on the iOS Twitter app – to Android and Twitter.com next month, so that Twitter users can more easily report abusive behavior.

The addition of this ‘Report’ button is likely due to a prominent online petition that garnered more than 128,000 signatures regarding the addition of this feature. Considering some of the threats against these women were threats of rape or bomb threats, it’s vital that Twitter update its rules and interface to ensure that people can feel safe on their social network. Facebook and Twitter moving forward with these calls to action against misogynistic hate speech are certainly necessary, though it remains to be seen how effective the social networks’ efforts will be.