Advertisements

Tag Archives: social networking

Apps and social media fatigue

If I were to graph the number of apps installed on any device I own since I got my first Android phone in the summer of 2011 (an HTC Inspire), it would be left-skewed. A combination of concerns about battery life and storage space, the realization that some websites offer better experiences than their respective apps (especially Facebook), and an overall desire to just have few sources of information has led to delete nearly everything but preloaded apps.

What’s left? Not much.

15856075344_6c6a095976_h

What’s more, I haven’t actively searched for a new app in a while. I’m not sure if this says more about me being burned out on data and notifications (they feel so distracting, and I know I have written/read less because of them) or about the maturity of the app market.

I remember when “apps” became part of the lexicon some time in the summer of 2008. I had just moved to Chicago and I still had a Motorola RAZR that might have been cutting-edge in 2005, during my first year of college. When I got online for the first time ever in my first Chicago apartment – via a Dell desktop PC – the App Store was only 2 months old and Google Chrome was less than a week old. On my PC, I didn’t really think of “apps” except for Web browsers and games, and even then I thought of them as “programs.”

In 2009, I had my first brushes apps like Shazam and Grindr that offered something a lot different than what had been available from a PC or Mac. In 2010, I learned about Instagram and was for the first time jealous of people who had iPhones (I still had a dumb phone of some sort at that time). In 2012, I found out about Uber and was briefly enamored with it before it revealed itself as an ethically-challenged organization.

But since then, there haven’t been many “a-ha” moments for me in using mobile apps. The ones I use every day are based on age-old phone conventions like being able to send text messages (starting with SMS and now evolving into iMessage, LINE, etc.) and photos.

There’s also DuckDuckGo (a search engine, one of the oldest forms of exploring the Web), Lyft (since I can’t stand Uber), Flickr (for photo backup) and Tumblr (where I do some of my creative writing). There are ways to pay for my coffee (Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks) and then there’s Yo, which is a novel way to get updates on RSS feeds, Twitter accounts, etc. Although it started a gimmick, I think Yo has a lot of potential. There’s Pocket, my favorite. And 1Password, which simplifies so many headaches.

Part of the reason for the paucity of apps on my phone is that I have never been in love with social networking. With Tumblr, I can just publish from time to time and not worry about my real identity. But I steer clear of Facebook and Twitter on mobile since they just demand too much attention for too little return. I use Snapchat but have never used Secret (I don’t get it) or any dating app like Tinder (I’m married).

What is the future of social networking? Bleak, I hope, since it seems to make so many people anxious or unhappy, worrying about what others are doing and keeping track of when certain people are awake or active. I liked this passage from Tyler Brule:

“I have a theory about social media: that is exists not because people are dying to share everything but because of poor urban planning. The reason these channels have developed on the U.S. west coast stems from millions of people being lonely and trapped in sprawling suburbs. Apparently, the Swiss are among the lowest users of social media in Europe. I’d venture that this is due to village life, good public transport and a sense of community.”

In America, for someone born after 1980, there are so many barriers to meeting up with others unless: 1) you have a car; 2) have access to good public transportation. #1 is an issue for the cash-challenged Millennial generation, yet so much of American infrastructure – from sprawling parking complexes to office parks located in the middle of nowhere – assumes the ownership of one. #2 is surprisingly rare – I would venture to say that one can only comfortably be out and about in a city without having a car as back-up in exactly two American cities: New York and Chicago.

What fills the void? Social media and messaging apps. Maybe part of my own gravitation away from social media has been the fact that I have lived in one of these two cities for the past 7 years. Plus, no longer being single has also eroded a lot of the youthful fascination that once made, say, Facebook so exciting to use. It’s hard for anyone who joined Facebook after roughly 2006 or 2007 to know what it was like in the early years, when it was all single college students who send each other Pokes and edited each other’s Walls at will.

Less social media (and storage space – I settled for a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus) has led to a pretty spartan, utilitarian home screen. But it’s also, I suspect, left me happier since I don’t have to keep tabs on others as part of a lonely suburban existence.

Advertisements

5 Alternatives to Some Popular Android Apps

Bored of all the same-old free “must-have” Android apps that top the charts? There are a number of alternative, richly featured apps that do the same thing (or tap into the same service), plus, as an added perk, many of them are Android-only.

Flipster Pro (over Facebook)

Facebook’s Android app is ugly, slow, and unreliable. The Web app via Chrome is somehow a much better experience. But luckily, you don’t have to put up with either of them. Flipster is a nice Holo client for Facebook which gives you full functionality within a sleek design.

Falcon Pro (over Twitter)

I wrote about this great Twitter client before, but now it’s even better since it has a gorgeous 4×4 scrollable widget of Tweets. Its built-in browser lets you read articles, view photos, and watch videos without every leaving the app.

Notif Pro (over Wunderlist/Any.do)

Notif Pro does more by doing less. There’s really nothing to the “app” itself – it simply exists to make up your textual, visual, or list-based reminders, and then pins them (along with a custom Holo icon of your choice) to the status bar.

Eye in the Sky (w/Pro Key) (over WeatherBug and The Weather Channel)

Tim Clark’s exclusively Android weather app is a sublime marriage of style and substance. It has a beautiful widget that can forecast your city’s weather for the whole week, with a bevy of stylish icon packs to choose from. It also has a persistent in-status bar notification that gives terse assessments like “Slighty Cloudy. Ice Fog. Cool.”

Snapseed (over Instagram)

Ok, so this may be a bridge too far for some, but Snapseed is a great way to initiate actual reactions and +1s in Google+, which is so central to the “stock Android” experience, after all. It has some robust editing features that let your crop, rotate, filter, and tune your image, and it can share it directly to G+ with a button. Maybe it’s not a replacement for Instagram, but it’s something fun to run alongside Instagram.

-The ScreenGrab Team

Google+: No Exit

One of the only drawbacks of the Internet is that it dispels the illusion of independent thought. So, naturally, the WSJ ran a story yesterday about the increasingly intrusive advances of Google+, while I struggled to finish what I thought was a novel piece about how Mountain View’s pet social network, while struggling to match Facebook’s user numbers, could, with better execution perhaps, become both a blueprint for a truly cross-Web social experience and a chilling exemplar of how far Google would force our data thru its social portal. Well, I’ll post it anyway.

RE: the Wsj story, MG Siegler has predictably argued that Google +, like Windows 8, is the emperor’s new clothes, a lackluster project that is rarely called out (not true – it received a tongue-lashing from Farhad Manjoo at Slate). It can’t match Twitter in particular when it comes to the levels of engagement and ease of use, despite its nominally huge user base, which, while huge, obviously lags behind Facebook’s. All of this is basically right, but it misses the point because it overlooks how creepy unstoppable Google+ is. The question isn’t whether Google+ is a dud; it’s whether it can be stopped before it changes how the entire Internet works.

Do you use YouTube or Gmail? Chrome? Then get used to Google +. Like its spy movie partner in arms Google Now, it is blazing a trail toward a future (on Android at least, and that’s not nothing, what with Android accounting for 3/4ths of all smartphone activations) where your data is massaged by a free form service that know nothing about the sandboxes that separate apps a la iOS. Where does Google+ start or end? Unlike Facebook – the ultimate walled garden – Google+ is hard to define. It is a comment stream like Reddit, a reader like Flipboard or Currents, a public profile like Facebook, and a surefire steady stream of Gmail notifications if you make any sort of controversial or insightful comment.

What’s more, it is slowly creeping into the basic DNA of Android. The Nexus devices all come with Google+ preloaded, and even Samsung has begun pushing its Jelly Bean updates out with Google+ preloaded, too. Even beyond it becoming one of those dreaded uninstallable “core” apps, Google+ could become less like a traditional “app” and more like a largely unseen OS component that simply grabs info and modifies your social presence/profile. While I think that such a service would be cool, it would also be incredibly creepy

It isn’t clear whether Google+ can be avoided, especially considering how adept Google is at providing Web services. It still far outshines both Apple and Microsoft in this regard, which puts in the position of forcefully bundling its already stellar services with its perhaps less than optimal (so the conventional wisdom goes) social network. Like almost everyone I know, I rarely dabble into Google+, but I have done so more now that I use the Nexus 4 not only as my phone but as my primary computing device along with my Samsung Chromebook. It reminds me of a hybrid of Flipboard and Twitter, with lots of email spam.

That doesn’t sound so appealing, but with Google Glass on the horizon, and with the growth in mobile data speeds allowing for better video/chat apps like Tango, I feel like a truly “real-time” social Web is just around the corner, and Google+, which seems almost creepily designed to be a liaison between different apps, Google-made or not, could be one of its key pivot points. Searching with Google, or using YouTube or Gmail or Chrome or any of its other myriad services, will eventually be synonymous with signing over information and permission to Google+ and the new Web it is trying to create.

-The ScreenGrab Team

What’s the Matter with Facebook?

The recent Snapchat vs Facebook Poke snafu is one of the great under the radar tech stories of the year. After witnessing an entire generation of teenagers sext text each other via Snapchat, without in turn having to sign over any information or data to the folks at Menlo Park, Facebook responded by proudly boasting of its carbon-copying of the app, which took only twelve days and featured some very hands on (and mouth on, apparently) contributions from Mark Zuckerberg himself. The app’s name even made reference to “poking,” the hipsterest, old schoolest, most useless feature of the platform.

Yet after only a few days, Poke has plummeted. Like the company’s similarly panic-induced Facebook Camera app (that panic having been induced by eventual Facebook subsidiary Instagram), its initial popularity seems to have worn off as users realized that it did not deviate much from the app(s) it copied and is basically just leveraging the massive Facebook user base. There obviously is nothing wrong with copying a competitor’s features. On one end of the spectrum, there’s early-80s Apple xeroxing the plans for a mouse-driven interface from…Xerox, and there’s Canonical forking the Debian Linux distribution to make the massively popular and intuitive Ubuntu. On the other end, there’s Microsoft trying to paper over the fatal flaws of Windows Vista by imitating the translucency of early OS X, and there’s Facebook trying to protect its turf from its rival social networks.

Social networks are odd. A successful social network often succeeds due to being an early mover or having a critical mass of users, not because it has the best software or coolest features. Myspace, an unsightly and self-described cesspool, bewilderingly overtook Google as the most visited webpage in 2006, and the similarly sloppy Friendster actually pioneered the entire craze. Facebook itself, with its seemingly unchanging blue/white interface, me-too ads, and buggy pre-Googlesque search engine, feels like a relic of the desktop computing era. Its Android app only recently got an influx of native code that brought its performance up to a reasonable speed, and its iPad app was only released this year. No one uses Facebook because of its zippy performance, clean UI, or beauty – they use it because everyone else uses it. If aesthetics and/or innovation mattered, for example, Google+ would be the epicenter of the Internet (although it is worth noting that well-designed networks like Path and Instagram have succeeded in part due to their aesthetics).

Accordingly, Facebook has never had much to fear from the likes of G+ et al unveiling a single killer new feature or design that would allegedly make Facebook seem instantly dated (it already is dated, and no one seems to care). For example, Facebook even copied the nifty way that G+ displays photos and likely burnished its popularity in the process. Rather, the real threat would be creating a new platform, no matter how inane or poorly designed, which could draw (young) users’ eyes away from their News Feed and in turn make Facebook feel in comparison to this new app like a desktop now feels in comparison to an iPad or a Chromebook. Early Instagram did this and now Snapchat has done it, too, by creating a new walled garden that doesn’t play well with Facebook. It should have been disconcerting to Facebook investors when Facebook’s only real response to the Instagram surge was to simply buy out the company, a maneuver which it unsuccessfully tried to repeat with Snapchat.

Facebook has sometimes been likened to the next Google, an assessment which never seemed to make much sense, even if one leaves aside the massive disparity in revenue at similiar stages of company maturity. Google succeeded in large part because it opened up the Web to discovery and then transformed that success into imaginative reinventions of email, cloud storage, and mobile software. By contrast, Facebook has succeeded by combating the open Web, by luring you into a highly regulated, controlled site in which it makes the rules. The advent of the App Store, with its sandboxed discrete apps, aided Facebook’s ascent, too, by cultivating its analogous walled garden approach. But walled gardens have their risks, risks not shared by the creation of something open-ended like Google Search or Linux-based Android. Chief among them is the obvious possibility of another walled garden stealing your users – and when it comes to social networks, user acquisition really is a zero-sum game most of the time (I’m excepting Twitter, which, by virtue of its sheer brevity, is really a different bird, one that doesn’t really compete with any other), with every photo, message and status update migrating from one platform to another. Friendster gave way to Myspace, Myspace to Facebook, and Facebook to nothing, at least not yet.

So is Snapchat the network that finally begins Facebook’s decline? It’s unlikely. Snapchat is not a broad social experience and is more akin to flirting at a bar or mixer. But the waves it has created in the social network community should remove any doubt that social networking is a fickle, volatile sector driven less by software ingenuity than by the whims of young users. It should also be worrying that Facebook, despite its massive cash reserves and abundance of engineering talent, cannot find time to do anything more exciting that clone a sexting app, when the likes of Apple and Google (companies often mentioned in the same breath as Facebook) are pushing us into new computing paradigms. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg has something else up his sleeve. For the sake of high-profile tech innovation, I hope he does.

-The ScreenGrab Team