As we come into the final weeks of the year, the updates keep on coming from the major social networks. And while most of them are minor, they each carry their own implications and indicators on future functionality and options - and they're worth taking note of, particularly as you go about planning your 2017 social strategy.
As part of our ongoing effort to keep you up to date, here's a listing of the latest interesting and/or in-test mode or tools and options - starting with Facebook, which has a few updates in motion.
1. Facebook Testing 'Send Wave' Option for Nearby Users
Facebook's constantly looking to ways to boost sharing and interaction - it's those personal exchanges, after all, which fuel the platform's all-knowing ad platform. All those prompts asking you to share what you're doing, what you're feeling, they all contribute to the greater whole and help keep the platform a more engaging experience.
As you can see from the image, Facebook's testing out an option that would highlight nearby friends on a map and enable you to casually get in contact by sending them a 'wave'. The function - which immediately reminded me of the 'Poke' option - is aimed at boosting interaction and connectivity by helping you connect with your friends, both on and offline.
It's a small feature, but it works for Facebook on two levels:
- It gets people interacting more by seeing those nearby, possible prompting future engagement through either meeting in person or just reminding someone you're there
- It could prompt more users to switch on location tracking to take part in this type of serendipitous connection, giving Facebook even more geo-targeting data to track
It's a handy addition, which could deliver significant benefits. There's no word on whether this might see a wider release at this stage.
2. Facebook Offers New 'Protect' VPN Option
Somewhat in contrast to 'Wave', if you're really not into your data and info being tracked, Facebook's also offering a new 'Protect' option in your available tools.
As shown in the above sequence - if you click on 'Protect', you're diverted to a download screen for the Onavo app - Onavo is a Tel Aviv-based analytics company Facebook acquired back in 2013. The Onavo app "helps keep you safe from malicious, phishing and unsecure mobile websites" while also securing your details when you enter personal information.
It's an interesting option for Facebook to provide - when The Social Network originally purchased Onavo, the view was that it would be used to boost their internet.org initiative by providing alternate ways to connect to Facebook. This newer application gives users more options to protect their privacy, should they feel Zuckerberg and Co are over-stepping their bounds.
But then, of course, the notes for the Onavo app do also state that:
"As part of the process, Onavo receives and analyses information about your mobile data and app use."
So maybe you're protected from some data breaches while enabling others.
3. Instagram Displaying Links to Facebook Pages
Later.com has reported that some users are seeing Facebook Page links showing up in Instagram profiles on the web.
In the above image, you can see at the bottom of the bio field that there's a new link, with a highlighted blue business name. Click on that and you're taken to the linked Facebook Business Page.
This is only showing up for some users on the web version, not the mobile app, but it's interesting to consider where Facebook may be headed with this, whether deeper connection between your Facebook and Instagram presences is coming soon.
The option would certainly add more context to your Instagram presence, and provide an additional link option in Instagram, which is always welcome - but then again, the coming shopping tags will provide more link options for brands either way, so this may not be a huge benefit.
4. Facebook Payments Coming to Europe
There's a clear Facebook theme to this edition of the five updates you need to know about, right?
The last relevant update from Facebook is that The Social Network has been granted an e-money license from the Central Bank of Ireland.
Now that might not mean much to you - aside from the fact that Zuck and Co seem to be giving the Irish a lot of focus right now. But actually, it's a bigger deal than it seems.
As per TechCrunch, because Ireland is in the European Union, getting approval for a payments system in that nation means that Facebook can take advantage of 'passporting', which means that the same license applies to all 27 EU member states.
As such, the approval opens the door for Facebook to roll out (according to Facebook) "charitable donations on Facebook or peer-to-peer payments via Messenger in Europe". Basically, Messenger friend-to-friend payments, currently only available in the US, will soon also be made available to users in Europe, greatly expanding Messenger's business capacity.
Facebook's working hard to push messenger as an eCommerce platform, and the additional option to make payments within the app in more regions will help solidify and accelerate those plans.
5. Google Adds Twitter Emoji/Search Integration
And the last social update of note involves a new integration between Twitter and Google. Looking for ways to expand their connective options for search, particularly for mobile users, Google has added a new emoji search capability to their Twitter handle which enables you to tweet @Google with an emoji character and get a relevant search result related to it.
The system can respond to around 200 different emoji characters. Some of the replies are just quips or jokes - tweet the peach emoji, for example, and you get a link to the lyrics for 'Bootylicious' by Destiny's Child (displayed within Google search). But the majority of the responses provide functional value, showing you the nearest locations relevant to your emoji request.
For example, tweet @google the taco emoji and it'll give you a link to a map highlighting all the local Mexican restaurants nearby (if you have 'Location services' enabled).
The integration is interesting for two reasons - first, because it further underlines the connection between Twitter and Google. While this may not be a direct partnership - Google could build an automated bot using Twitter's API without any specific agreements - when you take this into account along with their deal to show tweets in search results, and the long-running speculation that Google may or may not be interested in possibly acquiring Twitter for the right price, it adds another consideration to a possible Google/Twitter partnership in future.
And that also leads into the second point - Facebook has flagged that they're looking to develop their on-platform search capacity, meaning that 'social search' will soon become a bigger contender for Google's core business (if it's not already). If Google can provide their own social search functions, which they're also trying to integrate into messaging via their new Pixel phones, they may be able to fend off any such competition and remain relevant in all aspects of the evolving discovery process.
And what could be more relevant in the modern age than search via emoji?
Maybe it's just a fun tool, but there are potential implications beyond what's on the surface.