Constantly changing features

In the social media world things change quickly. New features are constantly introduced, removed, and changed. Constant transformations happen in en ever-greater fashion. Things that were there yesterday may not be tomorrow. Users barely keep up with it all. For researchers the object of study, be it Facebook or Twitter, is in constant flux as well. Social media are never finished objects, always in transition. Most often we, whether users or researchers (or both of course) have to keep up with the object, run after it, not the other way round. When finally catching up with it, the objects run a wild again.

Sometimes changes become more visible than others. These are often changes that are perceived to have an impact on privacy. Discourse flares up, debates takes place, extensive blogging, mainstream media covers them, people become outraged, policy people start talking and corporations fuel their public relations machinery. Some changes, gain a lot of attention, some pass almost unnoticed. Almost guaranteed however, is the fact that no matter how serious the software update or change, a new change will soon take some of the bad attention away and replace it with new discourse.

What we are left with is a kind of bewilderment and nausea over what it is that we are actually dealing with. The ontogenetic logic of social media platforms certainly constitutes a modern day power relation contributing to modelling the user as flexible and adaptable. Constantly loosing control over features, settings and functionality runs the risk of users and researchers gradually becoming unresponsive to keeping up with it. This is particularly worrisome as the rolling out of constant new features and disappearance of previous ones also affect the default and privacy settings of these powerful media companies.

In principle every change in interface devices could also mean a change in layers beneath or beyond the primary pages. The problem is that is has become way to difficult and time-consuming to keep control of the increasingly complex social media environments that have become infused with platform politics.

The different social media platforms engage in a constant competition with each other for the best and most relevant features, often by disregarding the wishes and opinions of users. The politics between platforms is to a large extent reactive, rather than innovative. Facebook reacts to Twitter, Twitter to Facebook, Facebook to Fourquare, Foursqaure to Twitter and so on.

So in light of having lost track of the social media flow over the past month or so, I’ve tried to assemble some of the important changes, or changes to come, which have been announced, talked about and almost forgotten again.

– Twitter unveils new web interface

Twitter will over the course of the next few weeks roll out a new interface design that will integrate multimedia into the stream. The technology Mashable calls this change the Facebookification of Twitter. However, the point according to Twitter is not to become more like Facebook. In fact, Twitter doesn’t see itself as a social network: “Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information”.

– Facebook launches its location feature “Places”

The places feature is accessible through a web-enabled mobile device and is currently only available in a limited number of countries, including the UK, but not yet other European countries. Basically it lets you to see where your friends are and share your location in the real world through check-ins. It has long been announced that Facebook planned to launch a location feature and it was expected that they would do so at the f8 developers conference back in April. As a multimedia and all-encompassing social networking platform, Facebook needed to also be able to compete with services like Foursquare. However, unlike Foursquare, Facebook has decided not to offer game-like mechanics to their location feature. More information about places can be found in this guide.

– Fourquare moving beyond check ins

The 2.0 version of Foursquare, for the time being only available as an iPhone version, emphasizes “Tips” and “To-Dos”. These features are given much more prominent placement in the navigation bar, suggesting that Foursquare is more than a game for badges and mayorship. To do lists imply an expanded connectivity to other parts of the web. Like Facebook and Twitter before them, with the Like and the Tweet button, Foursquare has now launched an “add to my foursquare” button. So for instance when reading about a cool restaurant in the New York Times, users can click an “add to my foursquare” button and the restaurant will be saved in the to-do list on the mobile device. Once saved and in use, Foursquare will visually alert you to nearby saved To-Do’s

– Diaspora releases the source code

Facebook competitor Diaspora is slowly developing and just released its project code so that developers can start working with making it a feasible and good alternative social networking site. The code is shared at GitHub.

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