Last week was busy in the world of social media. Facebook included new updates to their site that everyone should know about. On top of that the launch of the Facebook Messenger app for iPhone and Android could be a communications industry game-changer (goodbye texting charges?) So let’s dive in, shall we?
Facebook made changes to both the chat feature and news feed. I wasn’t a big fan of the last update that was made to Facebook chat, along with many others, where Facebook chose to display which of my friends were available, however the list ended there. The only way to message a friend that was offline consisted of looking up their profile and clicking the “message” button. Not quite user friendly.
The update to Facebook chat uses an algorithm to seemingly put the user’s top friends in the chat stream, whether they are online or offline. Additionally, as you can see from the screen shot to the left, Facebook chat now offers a button to extend the chat feature to “more online friends”. It makes more sense to organize friends by the frequency of my interaction with them rather than said friend’s availability. Like most Facebook users of my generation, I’ve accumulated a lot of friends that I don’t necessarily keep in contact with, their specific availability to chat was of small interest to me. I chat on Facebook with only my closest group of friends, much like the AIM of olden days. This change probably came in the wake of the launch of Skype for Facebook and the addition of Facebook messenger. Skype allows you call and leave a visual voicemail for your friend, this would have been a frustrating process with the old chat.
Secondly, Facebook reorganized how stories are viewed in the news feed. Previous updates have seen Facebook stories grouped when the same links we’re shared by multiple friends. This still remains but the newest addition to the news feed is that now stories are grouped by topics. For example, last Thursday (8/11) the new In-N-Out burger opened on West 7th in Fort Worth. My Facebook combined both stories from news organizations and a friend’s photo album and tagged it with a link to In-N-Out burger. Additionally, Facebook was able to group topics with similar titles. For instance, my news feed grouped stories containing both TCU and Texas Christian University as one topic. This could mean great opportunities for businesses. They would be able to gain recognition on Facebook simply by being mentioned in a status, and as demonstrated by the TCU example it doesn’t have to be exact. This greatly improves the old method of mentioning which required the Facebook user to “Like” a page and then @ tag said page to mention it in a post.
The most discussed Facebook story from last week was the debut of the Facebook Messenger application for both iPhone and Android. Shown below, the application acts similarly to the chat function from the current iPhone and Android Facebook applications, which sends notifications to users when a message has been sent to them. Since this is the same function I currently get from Facebook for Android I didn’t really find any extra benefit there.
What may make this app stand out for others, is it’s feature to notify Facebook users of a chat via SMS when offline. Discussions surrounding this app say that it could impact cell phone texting plans in the future. For those users who didn’t already receive chat notifications on their smartphone, I could see the impact on their texting needs.
Additional features that also extend the capabilities of chat, past the basic Facebook app, are group conversations, multimedia and maps. Group conversations is pretty self-explanatory, with this application you can now create a conversation that involves a group of friends. Facebook Messenger also allows for the user to integrate photos into the conversation. Photos can be sent from storage, camerat or taken from a Bing search. The map feature, in all honesty, scared us a little bit upon testing. This allows the user to view the location of the person/people in the chat conversation, down to street level. Helpful for directions, however perhaps a little too Skynet for everyone’s taste.
Overall, the upgrades to both the news feed and chat are for the better. However, I am a bit on the fence with regards to Facebook Messenger. I ran into a few annoying complications. For instance, since I have both Facebook for Android and the Facebook Messenger app installed I am receiving double the notifications on my phone, unnecessary and aggravating. Moreover, not all of my message threads come through both notifications, sometimes I will only receive half of a given conversation (this may be an issue connected to using Facebook mobile and online simultaneously). Given this is version 1.1, I’ll cut them some slack but for me to be an advocate and consistent user these little mishaps need to be adjusted.