2011 was a huge year for social media. Granted, since 2004 we’ve seen an explosion of social networks, an insane growth in Facebook users, and Twitter take on widespread adoption. More of my students are using Twitter today that in previous semesters.
But still, in comparison to other years, this year was huge for social media. Not only did Facebook and Twitter see massive changes, but we saw another big tech company enter the social media ring: Google. The big three are all moving decidedly in one direction: mobile.
Let’s be honest. Google and social media haven’t exactly had a great relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Google fanboy, but I’m not blind. Let’s take a look at what Google’s offered in the past.
- Okrut, which never saw widespread adoption
- Google Buzz, which was kind of a disaster
- Google Wave, which was good but misunderstood
So all in all, not great, but Google felt that would all change with Google+.
When Google+ launched, it offered a number of incredibly nice features, including something called Circles. Circles allow you to organize anyone you add on Google+ into communities of people, which you can selectively share to or view. For example, I have a “Friends” Circle and a “Work” Circle. I generally don’t share the same things with these circles. I can also choose only to view updates (the Stream) from my Friends Circle. You can also add news/topic Streams to see what’s buzzing outside of the people in your Circles. Just do a search and save it to have it added to your Streams list! My favorite part about Google+, however, is the Hangouts.
Hangouts allow you to video chat with multiple people at once. Share with all or some of the people in your circles and interact with up to 9 (10 people total) at the same time. The focus will switch to whoever you choose, or to who’s talking (which is awesome). Just recently, they rolled out mobile Hangouts, and Hangouts “On Air,” so that even if you’re not one of the 9 that interact with the host, you can still view the Hangout.
Best of all, after a bad original misstep in regards to brands on Google+, they’re finally gotten their act together and opened Google+ for brands, sites, and more. We’ve now got Google+ pages for all of the AppStorm network. The only problem is, there’s no way to integrate Google+ with other apps for now, so it takes a lot more work to keep your Google+ brands pages updated.
Google+ has also seen crazy growth in it’s 1st 6 months, reaching almost 87,000 users. This has actually prompted Facebook to make some changes themselves! Speaking of…
Facebook did quite a bit of work this year to improve the experience for their users. Aside from the smaller changes they made seemingly in response to some of Google+’s features (like really pushing lists, allowing for public sharing, etc) and a brand new (and really stellar) mobile app/website, Facebook added some really great features and made some very nice changes.
Just recently, the made Timeline public to everyone. I did a post on it back in October, detailing the new layout and features. I think this is a really, really nice change and the perfect way to view your ever growing Facebook profile. By breaking down your posts into Decade, Year, Month, you can quickly locate a post from months or even years ago. It also gives a nice look at your life AF (Anno Facebookus).
Facebook also really upped the ante on communication and messaging this year, making two big improvements to their chat feature. The first one, of-course, is the integration of Skype into Facebook chat. This makes it easier than ever for video chat (or video calling, as they call it) with your friends. Just click the camera icon in the chat window to start a video call. No Skype account required!
They also released a new mobile app called Messages (my review of the Android version is here), which is a stand-alone Facebook Chat app. While this will give you all of the functionality you’ll find in the web version, including the ability to send images, the best part of the app (and my favorite of Facebook’s improvements) is the ability to group chat with not only Facebook Messages users, but anyone who could get text messages. My 3 brothers and I (3 with smart phones, one without) have made plans strictly using Facebook Messages and it works incredibly well!
Twitter has also had quite the year, making some interesting acquisitions and reaching a milestone of 100 Million active users! Twitter’s biggest advancements have been in app development, both on mobile and on the desktop. Twitter not only bought Tweetdeck, possibly the most popular Twitter desktop application this year, but they recently rolled out new versions of the app that are native to the platforms (as opposed to running on Adobe Air). While the Windows app is a bit lackluster right now, the fine people at Twitter are working to improve it. They also released their own native app for Macs, appropriately named Twitter for Mac. This app is beautiful and functions really well. The first version left me wanting a bit more, but the earlier this year they made some incredible improvements to it that completely won me over.
Twitter has also taken a solid stake in the mobile app space. The biggest mobile news for them is probably the very deep integration that Twitter now has with iOS 5. It’s now easier than even to tweet links, photos, and more from and iPhone or iPad. But Twitter didn’t stop there. They completely revamped their mobile website and mobile apps, really improving the User Experience in both.
Finally, Twitter also rolled out a brand new design to match the mobile website and apps.
It has been quite the year for the big three in the social media space, with the trends definitely (and probably obviously) going the way of mobile devices; not just with native apps, but mobile friendly websites as well. I’m excited to see what 2012 holds!