February: monthly social roundup

Snapchat files for IPO – After months of rumours, Snap Inc. is finally listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In its IPO filing, Snap Inc. revealed that it generates more than $400 million in sales annually – up from $58.6 million in 2015 – and that it has 158 million daily active users. To gain investors, the company will need to prove whether it can access an audience outside of its current millennial demographic and how it can grow its revenue to many billions of dollars. It will be interesting to see how Snap positions itself to investors once its roadshow begins, and whether its focus on Snapchat Spectacles will form part of the direction it will pursue. In the filing, Snap Inc. describes itself as a “camera company” and talks about “reinventing the camera”, but whether investors buy into this (literally) will be proven in the coming weeks.

Instagram launches carousel posts – Having problems deciding which pictures to share on Instagram? No need to worry, as Instagram has now launched carousel posts for all users on the platform. With this update users can share up to 10 photos and videos in one post, which viewers can swipe through one by one. This is a feature that businesses have been able to utilise for a while through ‘carousel ads’, but this update brings the capability to all users.

Will Facebook TV draw in an audience? – Facebook’s stance has been changing over the past few years, becoming a platform that both amplifies and owns media. Reflecting this, the world’s largest social network is now developing original TV shows. MTV executive Mina Lefevre has joined Facebook, to lead the development of both scripted and unscripted programmes following the platform’s increased resource investment into original video content over the past year. To back this up, Facebook is also building a TV app that will work in the same way as Apple TV.

Yahoo is curating a ‘news feed’ – As Yahoo looks to improve its news output and give UK brands a global distribution platform, it has begun to court British newspapers and publishers for its own news feed. Currently, five publishers have signed agreements with Yahoo to run video and text content via the news feed in the UK, the US, Canada, India and Singapore. Yahoo plans to push this content in front of its vast international audience of more than 1 billion monthly users. Tactically, Yahoo has also said that this initiative means it can access quality content without having to employ  “masses of journalists to try to cover every piece of news out there”. The five publishers that have signed up are the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph, ESi Media and Hearst UK. The content they will push out will be related to news, sports, finance and lifestyle, and Yahoo has said that it doesn’t plan to introduce any new topics. The curated news feed will use both editorial judgement and algorithm ranking, and intends to offer a more human alternative to Facebook and Google whose content is purely dictated by an algorithm.

WhatsApp: the new Snapchat? – With WhatsApp’s new ‘Status’ feature, Facebook is once again introducing ephemeral content on one of its well-used platforms. The Facebook-owned messaging app now lets users share photos, GIFs and videos overlaid with drawings, emojis and a caption – which will be visible for 24 hours before they vanish. This move shouldn’t come as a great surprise, given the success of Instagram (another Facebook-owned social network) Stories. However, the impact of this new feature on WhatsApp will be felt more substantially than it was on Instagram. Firstly, the app has – up until this point – been used for private conversations and not for users to passively consume others’ content. This reflects the original purpose of WhatsApp: its founders built the app with the purpose of letting users update others about their status. Secondly, this creates a potential opportunity for advertisers, something else that hasn’t been yet implemented in WhatsApp.

Facebook dips its toe further into the e-commerce pool – Facebook Messenger is continuing to forge its way into payments, and a new partnership with TransferWise expands its offering significantly. With this new relationship, users can talk to the TransferWise chatbot and send money to others in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Europe, all through Facebook Messenger. This partnership is a move towards connecting users with businesses and allowing them to complete transactions, all without leaving the app. While this may seem a small step, in reality it means that Facebook is pursuing its ambition of creating a multi-purpose platform that serves a useful e-commerce purpose where people can purchase tickets, taxis and food – amongst other products – through the app. It’s also an opportunity for Messenger to contribute a larger proportion of revenue to Facebook.

Facebook: the new LinkedIn? – Facebook has announced it is branching out into the professional sphere. Following the launch of Facebook Workplace, the platform has announced that its new tools will allow companies to create job postings and will let job seekers apply for positions through the network. These new tools, which will first be launched in the US and Canada, puts Facebook up against sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Posting a job will be free of charge, but companies will be able to pay to boost posts with targeted News Feed campaigns. The desktop site and mobile app will both see a new ‘Jobs’ bookmark, and jobs will be live on the dedicated ‘Careers’ section of the website as well as being advertised in users’ News Feeds. In terms of applications, businesses will be able to customise applications with personalised interview questions and other details, including salary and job location. When job seekers go to apply for a job, their public profile details will automatically be populated into the relevant application fields. Upon submitting an application, a Messenger thread will be created so they can track and review their application. Given Facebook’s monthly active user base is more than three times the number of total registered LinkedIn users, this may – if successful – be an incredibly effective way for companies and employers to tackle their number one challenge: finding the best talent possible.

LEGO Life: a social network for children – LEGO is launching a social network for kids. LEGO Life is a safe, online space for children to share their LEGO creations, and to connect with a wider community. The platform is available as an iOS and Android application, and is aimed at kids under 13. LEGO Life can be personalised based on each individual user, and will show a tailored newsfeed customised to their interests. There are topics and groups available for children to follow, and LEGO Master Builders will also be showcasing their more impressive creations. On top of this, LEGO characters will be commenting on builds, which kids will share by uploading photos, and users can watch videos, read news updates and play quizzes. LEGO Life has taken a novel approach to safety, working with UNICEF on its set of safety features. When users comment on user-generated content, the only keyboard available will be the custom LEGO emoji keyboard, leaving little room for cyber-bullying. Additionally, all emoji comments will be moderated. This is the only method of communication; kids can’t chat directly with one another. The app also prohibits the sharing of personal information and photos that could be used to either identify or locate people. Users’ avatars are customisable LEGO characters and usernames are generated by a random three-word generator that comes up with names such as ‘DukeCharmingShrimp’.

Facebook videos on the up – Facebook is working on its video capabilities, following its announcement about Facebook TV. The platform has announced that videos will now autoplay with sound, vertical videos will easily expand to fill the screen and users will be able to keep watching a video while continuing to scroll, or after exiting the app. Despite the vast majority of videos being watched without sound, Facebook’s own research has found that 41% of videos are meaningless if they are mute. Facebook is also improving the way vertical videos are played, since it’s discovered that people prefer this orientation. Finally, the ‘watch and scroll’ feature was tested two years ago and has now been fully introduced, allowing users to minimise the video they’re watching into a picture-in-picture view that continues playing in the corner of their screen and which can be dragged anywhere.

Twitter further integrates Periscope videos in its app – Twitter has made moves to further integrate Periscope, its standalone live-streaming app, into its main platform. The social network has announced that the ‘Explore’ section will include live Periscope videos in ‘Top Trends’. This is a logical step given the ongoing integration of Periscope: in December it announced that users will be able to live stream directly from Twitter without having to open the Periscope app. This also comes after the new ‘Explore’ tab, which includes trends, Moments, video and more, has seemed to put a greater emphasis on live video streaming. While previously this included live streams from media partners, this new development will allow trending videos from individual users to be included in the ‘Top Trends’ section.

Pinterest Lens is the Shazam of home décor – In mid-2016, Pinterest’s Engineering team issued a research paper on its plans to introduce automatic object detection to visual search – essentially, Shazam for images. This visual search system would let users highlight any item in a pinned image to find similar items. Pinterest’s LensBETA takes what somebody sees and turns it into a search, meaning that users can search for ideas or looks without having to find the words to type into a search box. The search function uses a smartphone’s camera to search for similar clothes, items of furniture, and even food (which will offer up recipes). Pinterest has stated that the more people use Pinterest Lens, the better results will get and the range of objects the search function recognises will continue to grow. Given the ubiquitous use of Shazam, and – perhaps more importantly – the innovative marketing initiatives that have made use of the app, Pinterest Lens is another channel where businesses will soon be able to shine.

Facebook learning to recognise images without captions – Facebook is another platform dipping its toe into the image-recognition pool. A new research paper released by the platform has outlined how Facebook is pushing computer vision “to the next stage with the goal of understanding images at the pixel level”. In short, this means it will be able to recognise what is in an image without resorting to the caption or tags to give better photo descriptions for visually impaired people, as well as better search results for posts containing images and videos. Facebook has managed to do this with AI, and more than a million experiments every month on its specialist engineer platform. This led to the development of Lumos, the platform built for image and video understanding, and allows for the continual learning and development of image recognition. The paper says that, in time, users will be able to search for something as simple as “black shirt photo” and be shown the most relevant photos – even if none of them are explicitly tagged with that information. Facebook talks of the “long and exciting road ahead” and how it is “just scratching the surface”, but it seems that this will lead to a far richer user experience in the not-too-distant future.

YouTube Go comes to the Google Play Store – Google is preparing to release its faster and lighter video-watching app, YouTube Go, to the public. The app has features that make it easier for viewers to watch videos without a high-speed internet connection, it takes up less space (it is smaller than 10MB in size) and lets users share files using Wi-Fi Direct protocol as well as Bluetooth connections. The app enhances YouTube’s offline feature, letting users save videos to their smartphones for offline viewing, and offers a “super low bandwidth” video preview. It also shows information about the data that a video will consume.

Facebook becomes even more personalised – Facebook has made a few more changes to the News Feed. In two blog posts, the social network has outlined its plans to further tailor the content that users are shown, now taking into account how long people watch videos for to offer them similar content and introducing a new way to predict and rank which posts might be more relevant for each user. Firstly, Facebook will take into account the “percent completion” of videos (as opposed to measuring based on duration, which penalises longer videos) to show users more content in line with videos that they have indicated an interest in. Secondly, as part of its fight against fake news, the platform is now using new signals to identify and rank authentic content, for example looking at whether users tend to hide a post after reading it which would indicate inauthentic content. Hand in hand with this is the move to take into account real-time signals and engagement to show users topics and Pages that might – at a particular time – be of more importance. These posts and Pages will then be shown higher up the user’s News Feed.

Explore Twitter’s Moments and trends with a new tab – You may have noticed that the ‘Moments’ tab on Twitter has disappeared. The platform has integrated Moments and trends into its search function and introduced a new ‘Explore’ tab. Twitter says the purpose of this is “to make it easier to see what’s happening”, cementing its position as a news network as opposed to merely a social network. Twitter is focusing on making it easier for users to find newsworthy content outside of their timelines, and by absorbing Moments into the Explore function, it’s placing more of a focus on real-time updates in whatever form the user prefers. The Explore tab offers people the chance to see news, trending content, and posts that are popular right now. It also provides news, and the opportunity to view content in the ‘News’, ‘Sports’, ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Fun’ categories. If users were to only concentrate on this tab and ignore their timelines, it seems that Twitter would function perfectly well as a news app, which perhaps has been the intention all along.

Facebook’s Stories follow in Instagram’s footsteps – Facebook has (once again) copied Snapchat by trialling ‘Facebook Stories’ in Ireland. Reflecting the well-known feature on Snapchat and Instagram, the feature will let users share ephemeral photos and videos for 24 hours, before disappearing into the void. The circles that appeared at the top of the News Feed during the trial are, stylistically, very much the same as those that are shown on Instagram, and the function is also identical. Facebook has said that this update is due to the increasing focus on photos and videos and that its plan is “to make it fast and fun for people to share creative and expressive photos and videos with whoever they want, whenever they want”.

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