In the second of this two part post Clare Brown, Library & Information Manager at Collyer Bristow examines developments and potential risks of a range of social media websites. Part 1 was published on 27 February 2014.
We can partly blame Instagram for the inexorable march of the selfie (a self portrait). It is a photo app which enables people to take a photo, apply an interesting filter and then upload to the Instagram site. You can share to other social media sites such as Facebook, Foursquare, or Twitter. Purchased by Facebook in 2012, it has come a long way since 2010 when it was only available on the iPhone – it now has 150million users worldwide.
Users are able to follow people, ‘favourite’ pictures and add comments. If you’re ‘public’ on Instagram, anyone can subscribe to follow your photos. They have a special private option so users are able to approve follow requests. As a photo site, there are a number of potential risks in terms of inappropriate content, geo-tagging, and bullying/harassment. If people ‘copy’ other people’s photos and amend them in any way, this is major cause for concern.
Instagram was in the news recently because of a student took a photograph of herself with a cadaver on a school trip to a biology lab. The photo has been deleted but she is under investigation by the school. Prior to this connected age, it would have been dealt with by parents and the school without recourse to the press and public opinion.
Pinterest is pinboard-style photo-sharing website which allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies. So if you are redecorating your kitchen, you can use it as a one stop shop for your thoughts and potential designs. Users can browse other pinboards for images, ‘re-pin’ images to their own pinboards, or ‘like’ photos. It is extremely visual and acts like a shop front for vendors of jewellery, art, clothing and other artistic endeavours.
Social media is all about creativity and once people worked out how Pinterest could be used, it took off with 70 million users. Despite its launch in 2010, I don’t think Pinterest has reached its peak of popularity in the UK, despite other commentators saying it’s downhill from here – perhaps it’s different in the US. The commercial aspects are still very much alive and it has 500,000 business accounts.
The main risks on Pinterest revolve around copyright because it is an image driven website. You can protect your images by adding code to them so they cannot be pinned and shared. They are also acting against users who pay others to follow them or re-pin their images – whether this inability to buy new followers or shares affects the sites commercial attractiveness remains to be seen.
Foursquare is an app which allows you to share and recommend places you have been which is useful if you are in an unfamiliar place. When you ‘checked into’ a place repeatedly, you get game-like rewards. They offer personalised recommendations and deals based on where you, your friends, and people with your tastes have been.
Given you can now ‘check in’ to places using Facebook and Twitter, I assumed this network was on its way out. When I checked the stats, however, I found they had over 45 million users and have recently received US$15 million in funding as a result of a partnership with Microsoft. This suggests it is still a valid contender in the social media world.
There have previously been issues with privacy and when it first became popular, the geo-location option was considered a stalkers paradise. However there are privacy options and users should realise it isn’t a good idea to advertise their exact location on social media.
Tumblr is a social media – micro blogging site hybrid. It is a platform for users to create so-called “tumblelogs”, focussing on text snippets, photos, gifs, and videos, rather than large amounts of text. Much of the content, like Pinterest, isn’t original but reposting of other material. The site’s popularity is demonstrated by the figures. The site’s running count says it has 171m registered blogs and 76.4 billion posts. However user statistics are interesting. 13-19 year olds may have once considered Facebook to be their social media hub, now 61% are on Tumblr.
Although Tumblr has this young ‘anti-establishment’ feel, it was bought by internet giant Yahoo! in May 2013 for $1.1bn. Yahoo! say they are standing back from the website and letting it run as an independent business. Inevitably, some users are unhappy and predict functionality changes and adverts. They have used Tumblr’s topic-tagging feature to post entries to tell Yahoo! what they think of the purchase.
The appeal of Tumblr is anonymity. The site is hard to monitor because the search engine is inadequate and there is a massive volume of activity so web safety experts are worried about keeping children and young people safe. Tumblr are working with the larger search engines, continuously monitoring various controversial tags, designing and implementing a ‘safe mode’ for those wishing to avoid adult content. How they can avoid tragedies such as the recent suicide of Tallulah Wilson remains a concern for all.
In other matters, they have already proven they will remove blogs which repeatedly infringe copyright demonstrating the company’s willingness to enforce with their terms and conditions. Of course this may just be a cynical ploy to keep brands reassured that their intellectual property is safe. As for reputational issues, singer Lorde recently had a run in with them but how seriously do you take an anonymous Tumblr called ‘Old black people who look younger then Lorde’?
Snapchat is a photo messaging app where users take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, collectively known as ‘snaps’, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their snaps (as of December 2013, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds) and then they disappear. The appeal of this app is huge with about 60 million total installs and about 30 million monthly active users.
A large number of users are in the 13-19 age group. Parents, carers and schools are concerned about the negative aspects of this instant and ephemeral way of communicating – bullying, sexting, pornographic images have led some schools to ban the site. However the app has recently had larger problems regarding security and hacking and there is a danger of Snapchat self-destructing like one of their snaps.
Other ‘self-destruct messaging’ sites such as Wickr, ZipaClip, Confide and TimeAppsule are competing for users. Will one of them replace Snapchat?
Ask.fm enables users to ask other users questions, with the option of anonymity. You set up a profile with the option of linking to Twitter and Facebook contacts and then start answering and asking questions. Questions range from the banal, to the philosophical, to the downright odd – ‘are you wearing socks, if so, pics!’. Again numbers are vast with 80 million registered users in 2013, who post 30 million questions and answers per day.
Given Ask.FM do not monitor interaction on the site, there is a groundswell of unhappy parents and carers. This is understandable because the site has been linked to the suicides of 14 teenagers around the world. Anonymity is the main issue, and as it has been proven, people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face-to-face world and it can become unbearable for vulnerable people being bullied or harassed.
This list will never be exhausted and new social media sites are coming online all the time. However their success depends on capturing the interest and imagination of a critical mass of people.