shares are down, people will keep using the service until another, more shiny one comes along.
As some of you may not be familiar with some of the existing social media sites, I’ve selected the popular ones and given a brief description of them, as well as personal observations as to risks and potential for misuse. I haven't included YouTube, blogging sites such as WordPress or Blogger, or others such as Reddit, MySpace - there are quite a few. I am not an expert, legal, psychological or otherwise, so please excuse any omissions.
I’ve assumed a reasonable knowledge of Facebook and Twitter because of the high profile harassment cases in which they have been involved, therefore they are not included. Although LinkedIn is well known, I include it because of recent blocking technology developments.
LinkedIn is popular as it is one of the few social media sites which is positively encouraged by many firms because of its networking and information sharing possibilities. With 259million people and an excellent reputation it is definitely one of the strongest and most professional social media sites.
Where many other sites are taking steps to act against problematic users, LinkedIn has recently come under fire for their laissez faire attitude. Although you can report a user for spam, as yet there is no block button. They say they 'are working on a setting that will allow you to block another member from viewing your profile and will prevent any unwanted contact. We’ve already begun testing this setting’. So this is still in development and will come as a relief to those affected by stalkers and harassment.
If you haven’t ventured beyond LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, the other sites can be rather confusing; however they have millions of loyal users and enable people to interact.
Foursquare is a free app that allows you to share and recommend places you have been. This information is useful if you are in an unfamiliar place. Not only that, when you have ‘checked into’ a place so many times, you get rewards which turns it into a game. With this information, they offer personalised recommendations and deals based on where you, your friends, and people with your tastes have been.
Given that you can now check in to places with Facebook and Twitter, I assumed this network was on its way out. When I checked the stats, however, I found that they had over 45million users and have recently received $15 million in funding as a result of a partnership with Microsoft. This suggests that 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 to everyone their exact location on social media.
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 a filter to make it look more interesting and then upload to the Instagram site. You can share to other social media sites such as Facebook, Foursquare, or Twitter. Recently 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.
It is obviously an interactive app and members are able to follow people, favourite pictures and add comments. They have a fairly open policy so that if you're 'public' on Instagram, anyone can subscribe to follow your photos. They have a special private option so that a user can make sure he/she approves all 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 could also be cause for concern. However, their terms and conditions are very clear and there is an option to report and block.
Instagram is 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, this 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 that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies. So for instance, if you are redecorating your kitchen, when you are browsing for ideas 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 more like a shop front for vendors of jewellery, art, clothing and other artistic endeavours.
Social media is all about creativity and once people have worked out how it can be used, it takes off with 70million 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 seem to revolve around copyright simply because it is an image driven website. However you can protect your images by adding code to them so that 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.
Tumblr is a social media - micro blogging site hybrid. David Karp’s creation Tumblr provided a platform which was easy for users to create so-called "tumblelogs", which focused on text snippets, photos, gifs, and videos, rather than large amounts of static prose. 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 it is the statistics around the users which is most interesting. Where once 13-19 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. They say they are standing back from the website and letting Karp run it as an independent business. Inevitably, some users are unhappy and used Tumblr's topic-tagging feature to post entries to tell Yahoo! what they think of the purchase. Whether the predicted functionality and advert changes occur remains to be seen.
Given that the appeal of Tumblr is anonymity, compounded by a less than adequate search engine and volume of activity, 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 that they will remove blogs which repeatedly infringe copyright, which certainly demonstrates 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.
Once again a large number of users are in the 13-19 age groups. Parents, carers and schools have been 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; which one will take off and replace Snapchat remains to be seen.
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 that Ask.FM do not monitor interaction on the site, there is a groundswell of unhappy parents and carers. This is understandable given that 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 ones are coming online all the time. It's whether they capture the imagination of a critical mass of people that is crucial. I await the new ones with interest!