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How Has #SocialMedia Changed Over 2015?

In many ways, 2015 has been the year which defined every social media platform, in some sense or another. Putting aside all the news trends that rose and fell as the year progressed, and how they were filtered through each platform, technological development has had a significant role to play in the way social media has been developing, ditto financial fluctuation. What have been the most significant changes, though, and what do they mean for the future?



Twitter Rises from the Ashes

viasat1.com
At one stage this year, it looked a lot like Twitter was going be dead soon. Their stock figures were distinctly disconcerting, their board members and share holders weren't getting along and the search for a new CEO seemed utterly endless in the wake of Dick Costolo's departure. They also had to negotiate a minefield of controversy, as dozens of stories of abuse called many of their policies and guidelines into sharp question.

The bigger question, ultimately became about whether or not we even really needed Twitter anymore, given that Facebook and Instagram were now fulfilling so many of the needs that Twitter previously laid claim to. Moreover, all the new features they brought in were either already available elsewhere, or on the way to being. Moments was their biggest push, but Snapchat beat them to it. 

Happily, they've now managed to escape this tangle by doing everything within their power to accentuate their value as a primary source for news and sports coverage. A huge contigent of their promotional deals related to sports and TV and their decision to extend ad revenue to non-users has been hugely beneficial to their image as far as shareholders are concerned. Twitter will likely never catch back up to Instagram's figures, let alone Facebook, but they've carved out a niche, and their awareness of that has saved them from oblivion.


Messaging, Shopping and Video

customermagnetism.com
These are the three key markets that damn near every platform have tried to corner over the past year. While some platforms have almost entirely steered clear of messaging, most of the big ones have done their utmost to offer a unique experience. As you might have guessed, Facebook won that battle, extending their messaging function in a standalone app and pouring far more financial influence into WhatsApp. On a smaller scale, Twitter did away with the 140 character limit on their messages, which seems like a no-brainer, and Snapchat made a lot of general tweaks to improve their messaging functionality.

As far as shopping was concerned, the race was far more widespread and heated. Google tried to turn their entire searching experience into an open market, Facebook added store front functionality, Twitter added a buy button and Pinterest similarly extended users' ability to purchase things through the platform. Google did the most, but I'd say Pinterest won this battle, purely by dint of the fact that it makes the most sense to shop on Pinterest out of all of those options, but what they added works beautifully, to boot.

Finally, video, perhaps the most sensitive issue. Twitter and Instagram have both made some inroads into video, with Twitter throwing more weight behind Vine than ever before, as well as using Periscope to take a position in the live streaming race, but it's largely been a pitched battle between YouTube and Facebook

The former still retains the market edge, having brought in some pretty massive updates across the year, but Facebook have been breathing down their neck, improving to 8 billion daily views and introducing 360 video at around the same time that YouTube did. Their hastiness might have been mislaid though, as some have pointed out that Facebook video actually screws content producers over in some fairly major ways, and one video by the immensely popular 'In a Nutshell' channel brought them a great deal of negative press. 


Tinder Logic Takes Center Stage, For Better or Worse

Digital Trends
Social networking isn't its own entity any more. Increasingly, social networks with a more distinct, specific purpose have started to take precedent. Tinder remains one of the most prominent of these. At the end of last year they were processing over 1 billion swipes per day. Over the past year they've added a lot more elements to flesh it out, but the main thing which has really taken off has been the swiping format in and of itself.

All kinds of app-based services from shopping to property to job hunting have adopted the style, to say nothing of all the other dating apps that have taken influence from Tinder, like the increasingly popular female-targeted Bumble, the old age-targeted Stitch or the bizarre bacon-based Sizzle. It's a simple, but effective concept that's so malleable that it can be applied to basically anything that's even slightly reliant on preference, but through all of this, Tinder themselves have ended up with a bit of an image problem.

Criticisms of Tinder date all the way back to its launch in 2012, but 2015 has been their most difficult year yet. A scathing Vanity Fair article admonished basically every aspect of the app, prompting an enraged response from the company on Twitter, whilst figures about links between the app and the rise in STIs have started to appear more and more frequently, as well as unsettling stories about people being 'ghosted' by their partners. Tinder isn't going anywhere, but the honeymoon period is definitely over.


Hashtivism Runs Rampant

Rolling Stone
It's not been a particularly optimistic year, in broader terms. Across much of the world, protests and demonstrations have raged against governmental policies, wars, refugees, gun violence, racism and much more. Some positivity has prevailed, with several countries completely legalising gay marriage, most notably Ireland and the USA, but the one unifying thing that bound all these stories together was the hashtivism.

#BlackLivesMatter, #PrayForParis, #LoveWins, #RefugeesWelcome, #BaltimoreProtests, #DontBombSyria and many other similar statements have dominated Twitter and Facebook activity for much of the year, more than ever before. A lot of good has come of it, in particular the Black Lives Matter movement has inflated to such a huge degree that presidential candidates have started paying close attention and promising to do right by them. Following the Paris attacks, vigils all across the world were organised and broadcast with the aid of social media.

The problem? A trending topic is exactly as it sounds, and many critics have noted that, now more than ever, causes are being treated like fads. TI raised a lot of eyebrows when he performed a spoken word piece at an award show highlighting the emptiness and ineffectiveness of hashtivism. Facebook were criticised for their flag profile picture scheme, most notably applied after the marriage equality ruling and the Paris shootings, the latter being the one that drew in the most negative press, in the form of accusations of bias. These concerns won't go away, and will likely colour the response to every big or polarising news story from here on out, which could indirectly lead to more actual activism, or just a lot of arguing. Time will tell.


Social Media Melds with Tech

Salon
Perhaps the biggest overall change to social media in the past year has been the blurring of lines between social media giants and tech giants. This one is more applicable to Facebook than anyone else, since they've moved more violently in this direction than any other platform. Others have been involved too, but Facebook are now mired in direct competition with Google on almost everything, and R&D is a huge element of that. Both companies are making sizable inroads in AI and deep learning technology, both to help their companies and generally push the envelope.

They've also both showed a keen interest in expanding internet access across the globe. Facebook's first line of assault has been Internet.org, a scheme which purports to use interlinked mobile networks to broadcast a kind of 'internet lite' to certain countries. It's been met with a lot of criticism, but Zuckerberg and co seem determined to keep it going. Elsewhere, they've been testing gigantic drones as a form of airborne web broadcasting service. Google are actually ahead of them on this one, as their 'Project Loon' balloons have been launched in Sri Lanka and are fairing well.

Also, perhaps the most tangible results have emanated in VR development. Facebook snagged Oculus Rift in 2013 and they've been playing around with ways to outfit VI for social media advancement ever since. They're now promising a kind of 'virtual vaction' service by 2025, whilst Google have been working on VR systems that don't necessarily need an expensive headset, such as Google Cardboard. Interestingly, Microsoft have been a strong competitor in this field as well.


Government Clashes Intensify

Telegraph
The broader social media becomes, the more red tape it has to wade through, and this year Facebook in particular have practically had to hack through it with a machete. They're currently battling with the EU on several different fronts as new laws attempting to restrict or regulate social media use are appearing almost on a daily basis. Governments have been launching investigations into both them and Google following accusations of privacy breaching, most of which are still ongoing.

Elsewhere, the US government has been pressuring Facebook into releasing reams of personal data to aid with criminal investigations of all shapes and sizes, from matters of national security to benefit fraud. In particular, they've been under a lot of strain to crack down on activity by ISIS and other fundamental groups, something which Twitter have also been fielding. 

Largely though, the issue stems from social media evolving more quickly than governments can understand it, and a lot of rules and laws they've attempted to encroach on Facebook and others have just been far too out of touch to be applicable. It's not going to get any easier and there are faults on both sides of this debate, with many countries who had previously blocked social media platforms weathering massive public demand to recant their restrictions. 


Go Outside and Talk to People!

gadgety.co.il
This, for me, is perhaps the most exciting trend to have come out of 2015. It doesn't apply too heavily to any of the big platforms, but more the smaller start ups who are out to try and revolutionise the whole concept of social media. With app technology becoming more accessible and sophisticated, a lot of the new social media platforms seem to be either largely or entirely built around the notion of encouraging real, face-to-face social interaction.

Some of them use mapping software, some are just based around checking in, but the trend seems to be towards being able to organise meet ups and events on the fly. Whoop World is perhaps the best example, as it extends its appeal to tourism, prompting users to leave pins on an interactive map where they want to meet or where interesting things are happening.

Some of this has rubbed off on the big hitters, with Twitter encouraging users to use Periscope as often and actively as possible, Facebook vastly expanding their events portion (as well as checking in) and even Snapchat using 'Stories' to encourage active participation. It's still in its infancy, but hopefully in 2016 we'll be talking about how 'active social media' took the world by storm.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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How Has #SocialMedia Changed Over 2015? Reviewed by Callum Davies on Sunday, January 03, 2016 Rating: 5

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