You’d be hard-pressed to find a tech sector undergoing more change than social media. At least that’s how I feel.
Twitter and Facebook have transformed from simple tweets and wall posts into full-fledged communications platforms, offering more services and tools than most users know what to do with. Snapchat and other private messaging services are changing the way young people communicate. And LinkedIn, once little more than a repository for out-of-date resumes, is evolving into a virtual agora for professionals.
With hundreds of millions of — or, in Facebook’s case, more than a billion — users sharing their lives on these networks, they know more about us than most family members. Of course, they’re all racing to make money off that data.
So, as I begin my new role at Re/code covering social media, a topic I have written about extensively for the past year at Mashable, there’s a lot to think about when deciding what I’ll be watching closely. But here are some big ideas:
- The Battle for Your Second Screen
Facebook and Twitter are competing to become the default town square for conversation around live events and television. When you’re watching the Super Bowl, Twitter wants you tweeting about it. Watching the season finale of “Game of Thrones”? Facebook wants you posting excessively on your timeline. Even Snapchat is muscling in on the action — the L.A.-based startup recently launched a group-sharing feature only available to users at concerts and other live events. The payoff for these companies: More advertisers that want to be part of the conversation.
— Twitter Data (@TwitterData) July 14, 2014
- Private Messaging
After years of asking users to share their thoughts and photos publicly, social networks are now racing in the other direction to provide private messaging services where users can feel safe sharing things in a more exclusive setting. Facebook has five messaging apps — four of which it unveiled (or purchased) in the past year — and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo says messaging remains a top priority. (Twitter-owned Vine added private messages in April.) Add in other social messaging services like Snapchat, WeChat, Line and Path, and it’s already a crowded area.
- Short-form Video
The combination of high quality smartphone cameras and apps like Vine (six-second videos), Snapchat (10 seconds), and Instagram (15 seconds) have meant an increase in user-generated video content. Capturing and sharing videos has never been easier, and uploading them straight to Facebook or Twitter means the videos play in-line so those watching it never need to leave their content stream. Facebook made this type of video a priority over the past six months, tweaking its News Feed algorithm to surface “higher quality” videos, while simultaneously working to identify which users watch the most video content. The reason, no surprise, is advertising. Facebook, for example, is slowly rolling out auto-play video ads and identifying the Facebook users who are most receptive to video content is an important first step.
- The Great Unbundling
A handful of social media companies are breaking apart their flagship apps to highlight their most popular features as standalone apps. LinkedIn and Facebook are both fans of this strategy, but they aren’t alone. Path split its app in June and CEO Dave Morin said the startup is planning to release more apps later this year. Foursquare also split its app earlier this year, separating the check-ins feature from the discovery element of the app, which is aimed at finding places to eat or shop. One of the benefits of this strategy is that developers and designers can build simpler versions of the tools users enjoy. The concern, however, is that users will be inundated with too many apps. Why require two apps to do the job of one? Foursquare faced user backlash when it split its app, including this blunt break-up letter from a former Foursquare user.