August 2017

As the premier video streaming platform online, YouTube is always under a lot of pressure to keep its users happy. They've undergone redesigns in the past to keep their site from becoming stale, and now the latest one has been released with some very desirable changes.

The major focus for the revamp has been on mobile devices where the YouTube app now allows users to watch videos with a lot more control at their fingertips. Variable speed - a feature that was already present on the desktop site - is now available on smartphones, giving people the option to change the pace of the video they're watching. Whether they want to watch it sped up or slowed down, they're free to play around with it however they want.

This adds to the 'gestures' that YouTube are gradually adding to their app, which so far include the ability to double tap to fast forward or rewind a video by 10 seconds. YouTube revealed in their press release that they're planning to add more of these in the coming months, with the next one planned to be the ability to move between videos with just a swipe left or right.

Quite a significant new addition to the app is the integration of vertical videos so that they play seamlessly without the intrusion of black bars at the sides. Users can watch it full screen or minimised just like usual, but now your phone automatically shows the video in the optimised layout so that you don't have to mess around with it. Whether you're watching something horizontal, vertical or even square, YouTube has (or will soon have) the best display possible.

Desktop evolution.gif
Img: YouTube
Outside of the app, changes have also been made to the desktop site, particularly in regards to the overall look. It's received a Material Design makeover which prioritises content by providing a "fresh, simple and intuitive user experience", including the ability to apply their 'Dark Theme'. This essentially changes the white background to a black one and adjusts the text so that it fits with the colour scheme, making it ideal viewing for low-lighting situations like when it's nighttime. According to YouTube, this is to give it "a more cinematic look".

A similar redesign has been applied to the app where the content has been brought to the forefront by reducing the colour in other aspects of the layout, e.g. in the header. By having more white space, the thumbnails attract more attention from the eye and are more likely to increase viewership.

YouTube's update is finished off by the adjustment of their logo, improving the design to be more flexible across multiple platforms. Their icon - the red box with a white play button - is now used in place of the full logo on smaller devices, because it's become synonymous with the platform's brand, while on desktop this icon is accompanied by the site's name in black text.

It has long been known that Facebook is making steps towards setting itself up as a dominant force in the world of virtual and augmented reality technologies, but details concerning such developments are generally quite scarce. However, a new patent application filed last Thursday and first spotted by Business Insider may have offered us some additional insight into Facebook's development of AR glasses.

Img: Facebook/USPTO
The patent application, filed for a "wavelength display with two dimensional scanner", marks the latest effort by Facebook's VR subsidiary Oculus to deliver upon hefty promises which have been preached about for years now with very little actual progress.

According to the patent application, the display "may augment views of a physical, real-world environment with computer-generated elements" and "may be included in an eye-wear comprising a frame and a display assembly that presents media to a user’s eyes."

Basically, they are in fact the long-promised AR glasses.

In place of a traditional display the glasses would use a waveguide display to project images onto the wearer's eyes. The glasses will be capable of delivering not only static images but also video and audio, when connected to headphones or speakers for the latter. This approach falls in line with similar efforts made by the likes of Microsoft and Google. In fact one of the patent's authors, namely Pasi Saarikko, only joined Facebook in 2015 after leading the optical design of Microsoft's HoloLens.

Although Facebook and Oculus declined to comment on the patent when approached by Business Insider, an excerpt from Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash's talk at the Facebook developer conference earlier this year does provide some insight into their future ambitions.

He told his audience at the conference, "20 or 30 years from now, I predict that instead of carrying stylish smartphones everywhere, we’ll wear stylish glasses. Those glasses will offer VR, AR and everything in between, and we’ll use them all day."

Progress on VR and AR technologies may be slow, but it is far from stagnant. So long as giant technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple continue to pour resources into the field, significant breakthroughs are surely just around the corner.

Instagram are pushing their photo messaging service hard at the moment. Not content with simply offering a decent quality direct messaging option, they have been broadening the options offered by photo messaging with almost every new app update. The most recent addition is the ability to reply to photo messages by sending the photo back, with a few changes.

Now, when you receive a photo message within private chat, there will be a reply button attached. Tapping this button will turn the photo into a sticker, and from there you can draw on it, add text to it, enlarge it (until it fills the top half of the screen) and add further stickers to it. With that done, you can send it back to the respondent, along with whatever image you choose to put in the background (probably just a selfie).

It's a cool addition, and it does open things up to some pretty ridiculous, feedback loop image sending. Just think, if you send an edited reply back, and the other person then does the same thing to that image, and you do the same again, well you get where this is going. It wouldn't surprise me if we soon start seeing posts about people trying to break the record for longest 'Instagram Inception' message chain.

The nice thing about the reaction side of the response is that it doesn't have to be a photo, it can also be a video or Boomerang, and if it's a selfie, the same library of filters is still available. It's fair to point out that photo replies like these run the risk of becoming cluttered, but that's really up to the people using it, and it will probably be a while before anyone figures out the most elegant way to use this feature.

It doesn't stop at private messaging, though. You can reply to Stories with either text or a photo now as well. It's not as deep as the photo editing reply option, but it almost makes more sense, as it's finally opened up a way for people to show a more contextual appreciation for Stories, rather than just registering their approval.

Time and Date
Today (Monday August 21st), a substantial portion of the United States will be able to witness a solar eclipse. In certain areas, the moon will completely cover the sun, plunging the areas in question into darkness for up to a few minutes. For the first time, Twitter is going to be broadcasting a comprehensive live-stream of the event itself.

Starting from 12pm ET, they will be showing live footage from every state where the eclipse reaches totality, or anything close to it, including Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky and South Carolina. The footage itself is being provided by NASA, but there will also be real time storm tracking and drone footage included and the whole thing will be presented by Weather Channel meteorologists/weather reporters Domenica Davis and Ari Sarsalari.

Twitter will also be inviting users to submit their own images and videos of the event. As if that wasn't enough, there are also a number of interactive features planned, as well as a 'Fact Off' game show featuring the hosts of the Part Time Genius podcast and even footage of a joint wedding planned to take place during the eclipse. Lastly, Twitter are teaming up with Red Bull to broadcast a cliff diving event, during which divers will leap into the water while the sun is being blotted out.

In essence, Twitter is turning into eclipse HQ, and it's easy to understand why. Total solar eclipses only happen one or two times a century. Last time this happened, we had nowhere near the means to share images and footage in real time that we do now. Twitter already have an established reputation as a source of the most up-to-date content, so it makes sense that they would want to capitalise on this.

Following it all is simple, all you need to do is follow this link on Twitter and wait for all the fun to start, but the feed can also be followed through the Weather Channel's official website and their app. However you choose to follow it, this is not something to be missed.

Business Insider
Reports have come through that at the end of last year, Facebook shut down an anonymous in-house forum called FB Anon. The forum had allegedly become something of a hub for Trump supporters, and was used to debate various different right wing issues. Gradually, more and more sexist and racist material appeared on the forum and then things turned even uglier, with Facebook staff actively harassing each other. At this point, in December, the powers that be decided to pull the plug.

FB Anon had a much more innocent birth. It was intended as a place for Facebook staff to freely complain about workplace issues without the risk of management finding out. A soundproofed water-cooler, in essence. Once the election started to loom, things changed, as the pro-Trump contingent of the company started to use it as a place to express their views without any fear of being publicly reprimanded for them.

It's emblematic of an issue which ran beneath the entire narrative of the 2016 election. Many Trump supporters felt that if they demonstrated their support publicly, they would be shamed, so they started doing it anonymously, reducing the capacity for open debate. In the eyes of some, this is one of the main reasons why Trump won, and it's also been linked to other shock results like the Brexit vote.

In the case of FB Anon, things didn't stay civil for long. In one case, some male staff members began to complain that code written by women was being rejected more often in order to set a lower bar for female employees. It was around this time that FB Anon users began allegedly violating Facebook's terms of service. Just before the election, forum users started putting 'Trump Supporters Welcome' posters up around the Facebook campus.

After the forum went down, a new set of posters reading 'Silenced, but not silent' and featuring the forum's start and end dates began to appear around campus. The closure of the forum is still a touchy subject, and even some of the forum's critics seem to disagree that it should have been taken down, and now that the news is public, there's likely to be a fresh wave to debate about Facebook staff's right to express their views anonymously.

Some hacking groups exist purely to spread chaos, others hold websites and accounts to ransom in exchange for money or other demands, and some are out there to expose the security shortfalls that large scale companies have either on their websites or their social media accounts. OurMine is one of these groups, and their latest victim is HBO.

The TV network's main social media accounts were breached, as well as the official accounts for several of their flagship programs, including Game of Thrones. All the messages posted were variations on the theme of "We're just testing your security", with no harm being done, but for HBO it's the latest in a string of security issues which have left them dealing with leaked scripts, TV episodes and crucial company data. While this latest twist is the least damaging, it's still a cause for concern.

Last year, OurMine managed to break into social media accounts belonging to Netflix, Sunder Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg. On the official Game of Thrones Facebook channel, they posted a status calling for people to post the #HBOHacked hashtag, presumably to spread the news about the holes in their cybersecurity. HBO have yet to directly comment on the issue, but all the posts have since been taken down and business as usual has resumed.

The data breach in July left HBO scrambling to recover as Game of Thrones scripts and unaired episodes of Insecure and Curb Your Enthusiasm were seized. Thus far, four people have been arrested in relation to the leaking of a Game of Thrones episode which had been set to air on Sunday (August 20th). By the time the leak had been plugged, the episode had been shared thousands of times across various torrenting and illegal sharing sites.

Leaking has been an ongoing issue for HBO and Game of Thrones for the past few years, but this year, with the soaring popularity of the show, it's been worse than ever. A social media breach may seem like a comparatively minor issue, but it's one more thing for the TV company to deal with. If nothing else, at least this time the hack was perpetrated by someone with less nefarious intentions.

On Tuesday, Facebook added a new Daily Deals feature to the app version of their Marketplace tab. As the name suggests, it enables users to browse online deals within the app, but there's more - the deals themselves are pulled from eBay. It's only in the testing phase at the moment, but select users are reporting the appearance of the new feature, which shows eBay deals but requires users to actually visit the site via the link if they actually want to buy anything.

The test is largely meant to determine whether or not people are interested in bargain hunting while they're on Marketplace; the fact that they're using eBay is more in the name of convenience than anything else. Marketplace is a direct competitor to eBay, which draws some question as to why they would ever choose to partner up with them, even on a temporary basis. It could just be in a simplicity thing, or it could be Facebook demonstrating their understanding that they'll never be able to stand up against eBay, although given the way they've fought against Google, that's unlikely.

This comes on the heels of Facebook expanding Marketplace into a further 17 countries across Europe, so it's clearly a feature that they're determined to keep on championing, but breadth of features really isn't their key issue at the moment. Rather, the real problem is that there simply isn't enough being sold on Marketplace yet to make it a viable alternative to eBay or even Craigslist or Gumtree. Facebook also haven't put enough groundwork in to guarantee seller and buyer security. When so many trustworthy online markets already exists, it takes a lot to convince people to migrate.

The only real USP Marketplace has to offer at the moment is that it's on Facebook, and while in-house features are certainly a benefit, Facebook seem to regularly overestimate just value people see in not having to open a new tab. Marketplace may yet have a bright future ahead of it, but at the moment it's a distant runner up in the online marketplace race.

While Facebook are enjoying continued success with their Stories feature on Instagram and lukewarm success with the Messenger version, the main platform equivalent continues to suffer. Despite the fact that they're winning the battle on two fronts, Facebook are continuing to try and salvage the languishing third version, rather than simply letting it die out as they often do with features which the public don't latch onto.

Their latest attempt to win people around to the idea is a slew of new updates for the in-app camera. These include the ability to create those colourful text posts using the camera, live stream video straight from the camera screen and, most significantly, create GIFs. It works much like Boomerang, enabling you to record a two-second GIF from the camera screen and post it either as a Story, in your news feed or send it as a message to someone else.

These new features are all useful, and certainly have applications above and beyond Story, but that's what Facebook are trying to steer people towards. I'm making a bold prediction here - it won't work. The issue with Stories isn't that it isn't versatile enough, it's that there are three more popular versions of it on three other applications which all suit it better than the standard Facebook app does. Facebook's feed is in danger of becoming a cluttered mess, when all anyone actually does is scroll through the news feed, look at other profiles and occasionally check their On This Day tab. GIFs or no GIFs, Stories is a needless appendage.

More to the point, Instagram is already equipped with all the features that Facebook are now adding in, rendering the entire update almost completely pointless. Facebook are in danger of overcommitting with their app synergy, up to the point where there will be little to nothing unique about each individual service beyond its primary function. Migrating features over from Instagram is redundant because those features fit that structure, but don't fit Facebook's.

Sure, Instagram has enjoyed success off the back of these changes, and there is a market for Facebook users who aren't on Instagram, but the thing to bear in mind is that if users don't have Instagram, it's probably because they don't want it. Facebook are in a position now where virtually no decision they make will jeopardise their position at the top of the social media tree, but it would still be nice to see them flexing their imagination a bit more, rather than just rehashing features from other platforms, especially features originally stolen from Snapchat.

Mashable/Lonely Planet
Back when Instagram first appeared, the onus was on taking photos of things facing away from you, often very far away. Long before the days of Boomerangs, filters, food porn and even selfies, Instagram feeds were often almost exclusively populated with landscape shots as users documented their various travel destinations, delighted at the chance to turn their mobile snaps into more polished, attractive shots.

A lot has changed since then, to the point where there's a certain stigma attached to using Instagram to post travel snaps. Worries which didn't exist in 2008 dominate the social media landscape now - oversharing, FOMO, padding the echo chamber, and so forth. People still post travel pictures on there, but cautiously, sparingly and often with little to no detail about where the picture was taken or in what context. It's a shame, really.

Clearly, Lonely Planet think so too, as they've now brought out their own app to give people their travel-snapping fix - Trips. It allows you to post collections of images from your travels, along with map locations and text information about where you were, why you were there, what happened while you were there and anything else that might be relevant/interesting. It's only social in the sense that following and liking are both enabled, but really it's just about photo journaling, through and through.

The real purpose of Trip is to help fellow travellers evaluate different places that they might want to visit next. By default, posts are shared publicly, so anyone will be able to see and search for your content if they so choose. The map referencing also allows people to see almost exactly where you took the photos, doubtlessly the app's most useful feature. Lonely Planet famously produce guidebooks, and this kind of feels like a user generated travel guidebook.

Curated collections from the app's best users will also be appearing, with quality being judged not just by the photos but by the depth of written detail about the places in question. While Trip isn't a viable Instagram alternative, it certainly suits the travel minded far better, and may well end up carving out a market niche which Instagram themselves have effectively abandoned.

Messenger is about so much more than just letting you chat to your friends, and one of its more impressive features is a kind of AI assistant called 'M'. At present, M's repertoire is limited to helping you arrange Uber rides and setting reminders about paying people back (two things which are often connected). Now M is being given a new bowstring - the ability to recommend music on Spotify.

Facebook have already implemented the ability to create Spotify playlists directly through Messenger, so this seems like a logical next step. By simply typing 'play music' or 'listen to music' into a particular conversation, M will trigger and display a 'Find Music' option within the dialogue box. Pressing the button will link you directly out to your Spotify.

That's just a bridge to a separate program though, the real fun begins when you mention an artist by name. Do that, an M will provide a direct link to their Spotify profile, even if you just mention them in passing. It might not sound like much, but if you're recommending music to somebody else, it makes it that much easier to take them from a name to a sound (provided they actually have Spotify).

After a link has been clicked, a new one comes up - Share More Music - through this you can see recently played tracks, albums and playlists, search for more music and even start making the aforementioned group playlists. It acts like a little hub for all the Spotify options you can access through Messenger.

It's worth pointing out that there was already a Spotify extension on Messenger which offered a few of these options, but M speeds the whole process up and generally makes it more intuitive, which is important. M's Spotify helper is appearing for some users but not others at the moment, so keep your Messenger updated and sit tight.

Over the weekend, the Virginia city of Charlottesville succumbed to chaos as a rally led by white supremacists turned ugly. It began months ago when the city council voted to rename two parks formerly named after confederate generals. They also voted to remove a bronze statue of Robert E. Lee, the highest ranking general of the confederate army and one of the key figures in the civil war.

Demonstrations began in May, and even then arrests were made as counter-protesters arrived and things got heated, leading to numerous injuries. In July, a group of KKK demonstrators were overwhelmed by more counter-protesters from Black Lives Matter and other groups. At the time, it was hailed as a victory, even though 22 people ended up in the back of police cars.

Last weekend things escalated as what's been described as "the largest gathering of its kind in decades" descended on the city. Violence erupted, pepper spray was thrown, white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed while the police desperately tried to run them out of the park. A group of counter-protesters was rammed by a car, and a 32-year-old women later died from the injuries sustained in the impact.

It was a hideous tragedy which has sent much the US into an outrage, and many are using Twitter to express their displeasure. A number of accounts started posting images of the rally and asking the Twitter community to identify people involved in the rally. Already, one participant has been ID'd and subsequently fired from their job. Some have argued that this is a violation of user privacy, but it doesn't actually run against Twitter's terms of use.

Defenders of those at the rally have characterised the campaign as a form of mass doxing, but once again, it's not doxing if the people being identified appeared in public. Companies are also perfectly allowed to terminate staff based on their political views if they run counter to their own ethos. White supremacist groups are a lot more upfront than they used to be. Initiatives like this may discourage further demonstrations, and reduce the risk of more violence.

Cult of Mac
Filters are one of the less sophisticated features Snapchat sports, but it is by far the most popular. The advances they've made with Stories, Discover and their forays into augmented reality have been impressive, but they've done little to increase their growth rate. Filters, on the other hand, are only getting more popular, and how do you ride that wave? Simple, tie them in with familiar intellectual property; in this case, Pokemon.

They've added a filter which turns users into a kind of human/Pikachu hybrid, sporting the pointy ears and red, electrified cheeks of the iconic creature. If you move your head or open you mouth, he appears on screen and shoots out a blast of lightning. Putting aside the fact that that would hurt like hell, it's a cute addition, and an ideal swing for Snapchat's target market, who are almost all provably Pokemon-crazy.

Pokemon is one of the most lucrative franchises in history, from video games to toys to TV to the most recent success story - Pokemon Go. It's unlikely that one filter will bring in a tidal wave of new Snapchat users, but it's certain to get the current user base worked up into a frenzy, especially considering that it's only out on a limited run. It's probable that most users will use the time to create a broad spread of different selfies which they can break out in virtually any situation. Well, any situation where it seems appropriate to make yourself look like an electric mouse.

Depending on how well this plays, it may well not be the last time Pokemon makes an appearance on the platform. The filter represents a partnership between Snap and The Pokemon Company, so it would be odd if they only brought out one limited filter. Will more of the original 150 get the same treatment, or are the two companies planning something more ambitious down the line? Either way, it's a smart play by Snap, sad as it is, this is the kind of thing that will help them stay above water.

Currently, there are roughly 7.5 billion people worldwide. A recent study undertaken by Hootsuite and We Are Social revealed that of those 7.5 billion, 3 billion are logging into social media accounts. That's around 40% of the global population. To put that into perspective, mandarin, the most widely spoken language on the planet, is spoken by just over 1 billion people. It's also more than double the number of children in the world, and only 9% shy of the number of women. That's right, there are almost as many social media users on the planet as there are women.

If those statistics don't impress you, these one is a little bit more relevant - there are an estimated 1.4 billion households with a TV in the world, and more importantly in 2015 3.2 billion people were using the internet. That means that almost 100% of all the internet users in the world are using social media. Simply put, it is now the largest, farthest-reaching cultural phenomenon the world has ever seen. Take a moment to really think about that.

When you average out the growth rate, it means that social media as an entity is picking up a million new users every single day. Some platforms are contributing small amounts to that figure (Twitter), others are committing middling amounts (Instagram) and others still are heavily contributing (Facebook, YouTube).

Regardless of proportions, people are connecting to each other at a more accelerated rate than ever before. Video games, television, radio, all overtaken. Literally the only form of long distance communication that has more impressive figures than social media now is the telephone (6.8 billion contracts worldwide), and even with that, you have to remember that the two go hand in hand.

Many people have expressed concerns about the way social media is shaping our future, but figures like these prove beyond any doubt that it's here to stay. This isn't VHS, it's not going to be eclipsed by some more convenient format, it's a global phenomenon which is shattering records left, right and centre. For many, it has become an intrinsic element of everyday life. Hell, this entire website is predicated on sharing news about it. Will everyone in the world be logged in one day? Unlikely. Is social media going to provide the framework for the future of humanity? It seems that way.
We've all done it, happily scrolling through our news feed when our finger accidentally puts the pressure on at the wrong moment, inadvertently tapping or clicking on an ad which we have little to no interest in. For us civvies, it's a very minor annoyance, but for the brands themselves, it can turn their metrics into a bit of a mess. More importantly though, it means they sometimes end up paying for Audience Network fees that it didn't actually gain anything from.

Facebook have now instated a clause where if the clicking user leaves within two seconds or under, it won't be counted towards metrics/Audience Network fees. The two seconds isn't set in stone, it's just a jumping off point, and will likely be adjusted when Facebook have a better idea of what the margin of error actually is, after all, just because you don't leave the page immediately doesn't mean you clicked the ad on purpose, necessarily.

Some are concerned that this may end up having a negative effect on their bottom line stats but that's a small price to pay for cultivating a more balanced, accurate advertising system on Facebook. Given that they plan to soon make deeper ad metrics more broadly available, it all feels like part of a bigger push to lure new advertisers in and appease existing ones. If there's one thing Facebook are good at, it's ad space, and with all the trouble Google have been facing on that front, they're steamrolling the competition.

Social media advertising is still, in many ways, an unanswered question. Nobody really fully understands the best approach yet but Facebook are setting the standard. What advertisers are really looking for is a malleable experience, one which feeds them back the most in-depth information it's possible to get, and shows them how to refine their ads to improve on existing stats. Little tweaks like discounting accidental clicks might not seem like much, but when taken in conjunction with everything else, it's a prime example of why Facebook are so far ahead of everyone else.

Towards the end of August 2016, when Facebook copying Snapchat was still in any way surprising, they launched a teen focused app that shared a great deal with Snapchat - Lifestage. Largely built around photo editing, Lifestage was one of the more ambitious attempts by Facebook to move in on Snapchat's territory, and it taught Facebook one fundamental lesson - don't rebrand to grow an audience.

The Verge
The reason why Facebook have done so well with Instagram is because it was already an established name when they picked it up. Almost every time Google, Facebook, Twitter or whoever else have brought in a new platform with a new name and only tenuous links to its parent, they've struggled to bring in enough of a user base to maintain. That's probably why, just under a year after launching proper, Lifestage is no more.

That's far from the only reason though, the app was fraught with problems. Most notably, despite it supposedly being limited to users aged 21 and under, there was no means of actually enforcing that rule, raising very valid concerns about it being used by predators. Just generally though, the app seems to have struggled to gain any kind of consistent popularity. In fact, it hasn't been updated since October of last year, when it was launched on Android. Clearly this has been on the cards for quite some time.

The idea that Facebook would want to jumpstart a brand new app at this stage in the game seems ridiculous, the market is oversaturated as it is, but it's easy to forget that even a year ago, they weren't doing anywhere near as well against Snapchat as they are now. At that point the strategy was virtually non-existent, they just homed in on successful ideas which have helped Snapchat, and tried to put their own spin on them.

Now, virtually every feature Lifestage had to offer is present on Instagram, Facebook mobile and Messenger, rendering the app itself almost entirely pointless. In the official statement about mothballing the app, a spokesperson clarified that the company had 'learned a lot" from Lifestage, which is code for "everything we needed from it we have elsewhere now". Still, somewhere out there, there must be a handful of teenagers disappointed about the death of their favourite app, but I imagine it's a very small fan-club.

If you're in my generation, the term 'split screen' conjures up images of late night Goldeneye 64 sessions fuelled by store brand fizzy drinks and Haribo. For those a bit younger, it might not be such a familiar term, now that gaming isn't the social activity that it used to be. Seems like the Instagram team remember those days though, and they're currently testing a new way to implement the concept in live streaming.

The idea is simple: during a live video you can sub in a mate from a menu on the bottom right of the screen and they will be added to the feed, with the screen being split vertically. Apart from the extra person, the basic format of live streaming remains unchanged after that. Facebook actually rolled out a similar update a few months ago so it feels like a logical progression, but given that Instagram is much more closely mapped to mobile use than Facebook is, it makes even more sense here.

At the moment, the feature is being tested on a limited basis, available to a small pool of users, but this one is being fast-tracked, and will probably be launched proper within the next week or so. In cases like this, one of Facebook's platforms acts as a proving ground for the other. This feature has been shown as a worthwhile addition to Facebook, so it's being migrated over. That was probably the plan from the beginning; Facebook have always been very conscious of brand synergy.

The trouble with that is that there are so many identical features across platforms now that it sometimes hard to tell them apart. It's a scattershot approach, adding the same feature to everything and seeing which one sticks. Typically with anything video based, Instagram is the clear winner, but Facebook continue to bring such features out in triplicate to stand the best chance of success, and also to carry on elbowing Snapchat out of the limelight.

They've had limited success with this on Facebook and Messenger, which makes you wonder why they don't just throw all their weight behind Instagram and have done with it, but as stated above, there are benefits to having one platform as a testing ground and another as a real launchpad. Expect to see split-screen streaming on your Insta very soon.

Sprout Social
One of the biggest issues YouTube has faced recently has been ad regulation. They faced an immense backlash when brands started discovering that their ads were appearing on extremist and offensive videos and began pulling their funding, and even since they started untangling that web, more and more criticisms have surfaced.

For the most part, they've dealt with this by tightening restrictions on which videos can make money from ad revenue, but that's brought its own issues, as some publishers have complained that their content as been unfairly blacklisted. In particular, "inappropriate use of family-friendly characters" has been earmarked as unsuitable for ad revenue, which has gone down like a lead ballon among some of the more prominent comedy video publishers.

More broadly, the issue has been that publishers don't actually know why their videos aren't allowed to make money, and this is something YouTube are now taking steps to deal with. Now there's a colour coding system for videos which indicates exactly how much profit they're entitled to. A green dollar sign means they can earn money from any an all forms of advertising and YouTube Red, while yellow signed videos can still earn from Red, but a more limited set of advertisers. A black dollar sign, ironically, means that the video can't make any money whatsoever.

It's useful, if vague, but it goes beyond that. If a particular publisher disagrees with the way their content has been labelled, they can appeal. YouTube's reporting systems don't exactly have the best track record, especially with regards to flagging inappropriate content, but at the very least it's a gesture of good faith to the creator community, a demonstration that YouTube are open to suggestion on their policies.

How well it will actually work remains to be seen, YouTube have been struggling to find an ideal balance between the way they police content and keep their publishers happy, as well as making sure brands feel like they're advertising in safe space. Things are moving in the right direction though, and anything which gives the user base a voice in what goes on has to be a positive step in some sense or another.

Right now, somewhere deep in the annals of LinkedIn's offices, a new version of the app is being developed. Various new features are currently undergoing internal testing, but one in particular stands out - a kind of 'mentor matching' feature which will enable users to list the kinds of things they want advice about and then get connected to industry professionals willing to give advice in those areas. For people just starting out in their careers, or changing careers, this could be extremely useful.

It's good for the mentors as well, as they can filter through potential candidates based on how much experience they have, what university they went to and where they're based. In this sense, it wouldn't be too difficult to set up a network of local area/graduate mentors to help young people get a vital leg up in particularly difficult lines of work. People will need to commit for it to work, of course, but it has a lot of promise.

This feature will be directly linked to LinkedIn's ProFinder service, which is largely designed to connect users to freelancers. More broadly though, this will be a good way for job-hunters to better navigate the often daunting career landscape, especially if they're entering into a competitive industry, a job market in a big city, or both. Even more enticing is the fact that, unlike most career advice, this doesn't cost any money.

That's something of a double edged sword though. Without any financial incentive to offer, it's somewhat hard to figure out what LinkedIn are planning to do to encourage mentors to get involved, perhaps they're hoping that professionals will want to help other people purely out of the goodness of their own hearts, or perhaps they were already trying to advise new starters, but didn't have the right platform for it.

Hopefully it works as well as LinkedIn are hoping. LinkedIn has always been a deep well of untapped potential, but recently more and more has been brought to bear. Making connections in job-hunting extends far beyond simply linking employees to employers, and this is a great example of the versatility LinkedIn's structure offers.

Android Central
YouTube have been testing out their private messaging feature for the better part of a year now. It's something which the users have been requesting for much longer and now it's finally here and fully publicly available. In the most recent update to the app, a new feature has appeared which allows users to send each other videos and chat about them privately, no comment chains, no linking out using other platforms, no trolls.

Sharing works with anyone in your contacts and sharing groups can contain anything up to 30 people. Beyond simply sharing videos, it works like a stripped down version of Messenger - you can send text and emoji replies and even 'heart' specific messages. It's all designed to make YouTube feel like a more inherently social, friendly experience. It had that bearing before this, but most of the communication is done on comments sections between people who usually don't know each other.

YouTube is a social media platform, strictly speaking, but it behaves very differently to most of the others, and in the past it's actually relied on Facebook and Twitter to connect people. If you wanted to share a video, you went out of YouTube to do it, but this new feature cuts out the middle man. What will be interesting is seeing how the social dynamic translates over to YouTube now that it's all in-house.

The feature won't appear to all users right away, I still can't see it, but once it does, you'll see it as a sharing option for videos alongside Facebook, email and all the others. Once the video is shared, it is pinned to the top of the thread, with messages rolling out in real time beneath it. More improvements are planned once the feature has finished its full release.

The only issue is that basically anyone can send a message request at any time, opening up the way for some serious spam attacks. You can, of course, just refrain from accepting the requests if you don't know the sender, but still, it's bound to irritate some, and YouTube might want to consider bringing in some kind of filter system in a later update.

Snapchat have tried to play the civil game. Despite repeated copycatting by Facebook, they've carried on doing their own thing and refused to stoop to cheap tactics, and it's done them virtually no good whatsoever. A combination of waning growth, migration over to Facebook-owned platforms (particularly Instagram) and, of course, the ongoing IPO nightmare has left the company in a deep hole. It seems perfectly reasonable that, after all that, they might decide to take a few cues from their biggest competitor, and so they have.

One of Snapchat's biggest concerns at the moment is keeping advertisers interested. They've been frequently updating their advertising space to make it easier for brands and businesses at all levels to advertise on the platform in the hopes that they can market Snapchat as one of the most versatile advertising spaces on the internet. Now they've added 'Advanced Mode', a special services within Ads Manager which larger businesses can use to roll out more varied, complex campaigns rapidly.

Facebook have a feature which is very similar to this in their arsenal - Power Editor. It launched in 2011 as the final piece in a chain of advertising features designed to improve the monetisation of the platform. It started with direct ad sales and eventually moved in API, which is more or less exactly the path Snap are taking with Snapchat. If you're going to lift any ideas from Facebook, their financial strategy is probably a good bet, especially given that money is the biggest problem Snap have right now.

Ad agencies spend billions on Facebook advertising, compared to hundreds of millions on Snapchat advertising. They will probably never catch up to those figures, but if they start pulling in more blue chip agencies the cumulative revenue could help push their share prices back up and steer them back in the right direction. If their user figure won't rise like Wall Street want them to, they have to find other ways to earn big.

The Australian Public Service Commission has issued an interesting warning to public servants, one which has somewhat upset the union. The new guidelines have warned that public servants need to watch how they behave on social media, particularly in relation to anything critical of their minister. More broadly, anything that might make them appear to be biased, or otherwise unprofessional.

It might not sound like the most difficult thing to avoid, but it extends to such innocuous things as which posts they like, and even what their friends post. According to the guidelines, doing nothing when someone on your friends list posts politically critical content, be it a comment or a link, is almost as bad as showing support. Servants are encouraged to actively state that they disagree with it.

It goes further still, the warning also covers activity done on accounts set to private, or even active under a pseudonym. Essentially, if you're a public servant in Australia, any and all social media activity must remain squeaky clean at all times, and if you have some friends who disagree with the current political climate, best to either give them a wide berth or try and talk them around.

It's worth bearing in mind that these are guidelines, rather than actual rules, but it's still got the Community and Public Sector Union bent out of shape. Their national secretary has described it as an "overreach" that risks jeopardising public servants' right to live a normal life. Whether or not social media is a vital part of everyday life is an argument for another day, but it does seem to be an unfair restriction.

Australia isn't the only country to flirt with this kind of restriction, China and Russia both put heavy sanctions on what government staff can and cannot post online, and even in places with no direct restrictions, politicians and civil servants alike are often pulled up for saying the wrong things on their accounts. This is one of the first cases in an English speaking country acting so strictly on it, however; public servants could face disciplinary action if they violate the guidelines, something which is bound to stir up yet more controversy if it happens.

YouTube has a very large network of security measures for moderating content. They have an in-house team of moderators, an algorithmic flagging system and a broad volunteer service called Trusted Flaggers. Of the three, Trusted Flaggers is the widest reaching, and in some senses the most useful, since they relay vital feedback to the company about significant issues. Recently, a number of them have stated that YouTube is struggling to deal with child endangerment.

Allegedly, a massive backlog of reports going back months has built up, as only a small percentage of complaints about such issues are formally addressed. It's a problem that extends to pretty much every kind of flag-worthy content on the platform, but it's especially pronounced in this case because reports left unaddressed could leave children in danger. In one particular case, a reporter claimed that he had made over 9,000 reports in a single month and not even one was taken forward.

The sheer volume of reports being made is, of course, difficult for YouTube to handle, but the wider issue at play here is that there simply is not enough security on the site to protect children. Many of the reports made concern comments on videos either made by or featuring young teens, sometimes asking them to undress or behave in a sexually explicit way, and sometimes trying to lure them onto private chat channels.

Some have theorised that there's a sizeable pedophile ring operating on YouTube, and although there's no proof of that, there's certainly plenty of evidence to support such a claim. The Trusted Flaggers system is proven in its accuracy, but that means little if YouTube staff aren't acting on the reports.

In this case, this could mean that any number of potential abusers are using YouTube to contact children and nothing is being done. Either YouTube need to find a way to improve the response rate or figure out a better method of coping with the threat of child abuse, but in either case, something more needs to be done.

Snapchat are currently navigating a minefield of financial woes. Share prices are plummeting, user engagement figures aren't moving in the right direction and virtually every idea they bring in is eventually copied by Facebook. In some sense, they're in a very similar position to the one Twitter was in last year, and just like Twitter, talk of potential buyers has been a key factor, and now a new one has come to light: Google.

Reports have come through that last year, Google made a $30 billion offer to buy out Snapchat, but CEO Evan Spiegel flatly refused. When the IPO first launched in May, the company was valued at $30 billion but since then that figure has been sliced in half. Since the news about Google surfaced, share prices have risen a small amount, but nowhere near enough to undo the damage done in the last few months.

Snap and Google have had a close working relationship for years, Google chairman Eric Schmidt actually acted as an advisor to Evan Spiegel, and even after the huge company failed to buy them out, they still continued to invest in them via CapitalG. At that point, Snap were confident that the IPO launch would go as smoothly as predicted, but in light of current events, they may well need to reconsider being absorbed into Google.

That may no longer be an option, though. Currently, Google are working on a news media app called Stamp which allows users to look through articles optimised for mobile reading and tailored to their profile parameters. In form and function, it's very similar to Snapchat Discover. Rarely do companies create a competitive product against another company which they'd been interested in buying anyway.

Even if Google did decide to put an offer on the table again, Spiegel has full directional control of the company, so even if his investors steer him towards the acquisition, the final say always comes down to him. Spiegel is an intelligent, canny businessman, but it would take a dire situation to bring him even close to the idea of selling the company. If he continues to avoid clear chances for help, Snapchat will only continue to suffer.

Sprout Social
Almost everything Pinterest have done to improve the platform over the past year has been in the name of better search functionality. With the impending introduction of Lens, Pinterest are on track to become the most accurate image searching service on the internet, and they want all their users to know. In the latest update, the search bar has been moved from the navigation bar to the home page. It only saves users a single click/tap, but that doesn't diminish the significance of this move.

In particular, this is aimed at mobile users, who themselves make up 85% of the searching done on the platform. In previous versions, users had to go to the navigation tab if they wanted to search for something, but now the option is right there in front of them the moment they boot up the app. This brings both text-based searching and image searching (done using a button with a camera icon) right to the front of the Pinterest experience.

Lens is still in beta testing, but Pinterest are likely hoping that by the time it's ready, their searching statistics will be even higher, and it will be easy to introduce people to it without having to hold their hands. Pinterest have been gradually reinventing themselves as a web searching tool for some time now, and Lens is the most significant step they've taken in that direction. Once it's ready, they need to point a spotlight at it.

As well as text and image searching, Pinterest are championing 'mood board' searching as a way of finding things. In many cases, people visit Pinterest with a rough idea of what they're trying to find, but not necessarily any specific terms. The mood board option allows users to select a range of terms applying to what they're after, and gradually refine the results until they hit the target. Combined with Lens (which is being improved and expanded all the time), this gives Pinterest a unique and intuitive approach to searching.

Aside from moving the search bar, Pinterest have also added a recommendations section which is constantly updating based on pins and searches made. The updated Pinterest is available now for iOS and the Android version isn't far behind.

Facebook have already taken steps to filter badly optimised websites out of the news feed, and now they’re turning their attention to sites which load slowly. As far as Facebook are concerned, this is a means to make sure people are seeing well managed, functional websites and those that aren’t have a further incentive to improve their loading speed. Generally though, they’re just trying to improve the news feed experience.

Statistically, around 50% of users will leave a site if it takes more than three seconds to load. Facebook are simply expanding on that by actually limiting the visibility of sites which are on the sluggish side. The issue with this is that poor site loading doesn’t necessarily mean the site is poorly managed, it may just mean that the site in question doesn’t have enough money to afford a better server rate.

That being said, Facebook are taking other factors into account, and the final decision on how well your website appears on Facebook will be based on a mixture of different things, including how often users actually click on links, like or share them. In this since, users will still see content relevant to them, even if it does load slowly, just not quite as high up on the list as might otherwise have been.

This change won’t come into effect for another month, a deliberate decision on Facebook’s part – they’re giving site managers time to address their loading speed issues. At this point, it’s just another addition to the long list of things that site runners need to account for when they’re making sure that their content is properly optimised for Facebook promotion, which itself is doubly important now that Facebook has surpassed 2 billion users worldwide.

The change is taking place across all formats, but there’s a particular focus on mobile users. Facebook have been fielding complaints that things aren’t loading quickly enough when accessed through the app, which may well have been the thing that sparked this change in the first place. Generally though, all the changes Facebook make are geared more towards mobile users, as they are trying to court users to spend as much time on the app version of the platform as possible.

About five million years ago, there was only one Paranormal Activity movie, a remake of a student film written and directed by Oren Peli. Since then, he's acted as a producer on numerous films (including all Paranormal sequels) but only directed a further one. That might be because Peli has been developing a social media app, which was actually the direction his career had been heading in before he started making films.

The app is called 'Spot' and while it covers a range of social activities, it was inspired by the dating scene. Peli came up with the idea when he was single and tired of the same old cafe or bar based dating pattern. Instead, Spot enables people to connect around specific activities. With Spot, people can post activities and put down pins on a map so others can see/search what’s going on in their local area and then get involved.

You can share events either privately or publicly, depending on what you’re trying to organise, and then other people can message the organiser or just indicate that they want to get involved. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s tapping into a market which is shaping the landscape of social media. Apps which encourage people to actually get out and do things in the real world are cropping up all the time, but the formula hasn’t been perfected yet, it hasn’t found its killer app, as it were.

Spot could well be it, but at the moment it’s limited to building a community in Los Angeles, almost as a proving ground. It’s completely free, and the aim further down the line is to get businesses involved and fund the further development of the app through advertising revenue. It seems like Peli has decided to shift his focus away from filmmaking permanently, but given the potential of Spot (and the stagnation of the Paranormal Activity series), that’s far from a bad thing.

I have a confession to make - last week I posted an Instagram Story for the first time. In fact, I posted three, and while, granted, I was using it for professional purposes, I still felt a bit dirty. Here was a feature that had been shamelessly lifted from Snapchat, and then copy/pasted across all of Facebook's platforms in a bare-faced attempt to pull traffic away from them and encroach on their territory. The thing is though, it worked.

Instagram Stories have been around for a year now, and in that time, the daily active user count has risen beyond 250 million. Most recently, Instagram have reported that users under 25 now spend an average of 32 minutes on the app every day, compared to 24 minutes for users ages 25 or older. Perhaps most impressively, 50% of all the businesses on Instagram have published at least one story this month.

Of all the iterations of Stories Facebook have trotted out, Instagram's is by far the most viable, even though they're all almost exactly the same. The key draw of Instagram Stories is brand and influencer engagement. More than Facebook or Snapchat, Instagram is a means for people to keep track of all their favourite bands, movie stars, TV shows and whatever else, and Stories has provided an ideal means to keep putting out content without overwhelming the feed.

Snapchat are able to provide that too, to some degree (DJ Khaled springs to mind), but they are currently contending with far bigger problems, far too many for them to effectively deal with Facebook's constant (and ever more efficient) copycat behaviour. When the news hit that Instagram had overtaken Snapchat's daily usage count, the share price dipped to $12.67, the lowest valuation yet.

As well as Stories, Instagram have had a lot of success with their clone of Snapchat's messaging services - Instagram Direct. In this case, they've overtaken Snapchat so significantly that Direct is now ranked as one of the most popular messaging services in the world. In particular, Direct has proven invaluable for brand engagement, as more and more users have been messaging brand and business pages privately.

The most significant step Instagram have taken in borrowing so heavily from Snapchat is establishing themselves as an app meant for frequent, even spontaneous posting. Before, Instagram posts were carefully constructed, and limited to one or two posts per pay. With Stories and the host of other features recently brought in, users have started posting serval times a day, as well as directly communicating with other users and generally treating the service like a more rounded, comprehensive experience. Snapchat aren't dead yet, but they've lost this ground, and they're unlikely to win it back.

Snapchat Discover is becoming broader all the time as the company continue to bring in new contributors from publications all around the world. It serves as a draw to a more international audience, and a slightly older one, as well as being one of Snapchat's most significant steps towards becoming a viable news outlet. Snapchat are tinkering with Discover all the time, and most recently that's meant some experimentation with college journalism.

The company has confirmed that last spring, they conducted a soft launch for a college specific publisher within Discover. College papers could publish material which was only available to students at said university, much like the paper itself. At that point, only a small set of schools, such as Dartford and UCLA, but now it looks like the project is expanding ahead of the autumn semester.

This isn't the first time college material has been integrated into Snapchat. Campus Stories pulled together snaps from users all over the college in question and used them to create a spread of content surrounding particular campus events or general goings on. In this case, student journalists are being given the chance to access the same platform as papers like the New York Times, only in a kind of hyper-localised format.

It's not clear yet exactly how many US colleges will be brought in this time around, but given that Snapchat are broadcasting this more publicly than they did last time, it's a fair bet that quite a few will be involved. Further down the line, Snapchat might even start doing the same with establishments elsewhere in the world. Snap are based in America and few other countries take college papers as seriously as America does, granted, but Snapchat is being sold more and more as a truly international platform, and Snap would be wise not to favour their US users too heavily.

Twitter has long relied upon daily active user (DAU) growth as an indicator of the platform's performance, releasing DAU percentage increases (hopefully) each quarter. The reasoning as to why they use DAU growth rather than monthly active users is that while monthly usage may drop or remain constant from one quarter to the next, daily figures are considered a better indicator of user engagement. I can see the sense in that, but people have long been baffled as to why the company only ever release this information as a percentage of increase as compared to past metrics, and opt not to release an actual number for DAUs.

Well, the company have finally broken their silence on the matter in a tweet posted on the 27th of July.

The news follows correspondence between Twitter and the SEC, in which their rationale for not releasing any actual numbers was questioned. In response, Twitter insist that they do not release such numbers as they are viewed as "competitively sensitive".

The post continues to say, "The absolute number of DAUs is less important than the percentage change in DAUs because the key factor is whether engagement is increasing or decreasing on a relative basis.

"The Company also focuses investors on percentage change rather than absolute DAU numbers to avoid confusion when comparing the Company with other companies that disclose information regarding DAUs, but use different definitions of DAUs that may include different segments of their respective user bases."

In short, Twitter feel that revealing an exact figure for DAUs would draw unfair and unnecessary comparisons between themselves and global giants like Facebook, who report around 1.32 billion DAUs. They also point out that the various platforms have different definitions of daily users, further rendering the comparison invalid.

All in all it does seem to make sense, and hopefully the fact that Twitter have finally commented on the matter will help to improve their image in the eyes of shareholders and potential investors.

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