Apple Lays Out Its Social Media Aspirations

Apple tried to make it in social media years ago, and it doesn’t plan to revive that fantasy any time soon, says CEO Tim Cook. Cook does, however, offer his thoughts on Google, Facebook and Twitter – and he doesn’t hold back when it comes to Apple’s take on customer privacy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook unequivocally tells PBS’ Charlie Rose that the company has no plans to be in the social media business. “We have no plans to be in the social networking area,” he tells Rose without hesitation.

The question arose over the course of a two-part interview when Rose asked Cook: “Who is your competition?” To which Cook replied: “Google, clearly.”

When Rose prodded Cook further, he essentially balked at the notion that there may be others with an extended period of silence. While many in the technology space consider Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon to be the strongest and most important platforms in existence today, Cook seems to take a different view.

"When I think competitor, I would think of Google," he says, declining to name the other two as an actual threat. "I don’t consider Facebook a competitor. I consider Facebook a partner. We’re not in the social networking business," he adds.

"We partner with both Facebook and Twitter, and we have integrated both of them into the operating system. So we work closely with both of them so that our customers can get access in a different and unique way to their services. And we like both companies," says Cook.

That strongly worded confirmation clarifies Apple’s aspirations, or lack thereof, in social media but also puts one recent and anonymously sourced report into even greater uncertainty.

If Apple plans to acquire the struggling mobile social network Path, as was reported by Pando last week, it would almost certainly be an acqui-hire. Path co-founder and CEO Dave Morin worked in product marketing at Apple for two years before he left in 2006 to take a job at Facebook for the next three-and-a-half years, so it wouldn’t be completely random or surprising if he returned to the company with at least some of his team in tow.

Morin declined to comment on the reported acquisition by Apple during an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt the following day, but that’s pretty much par for the course in these situations. Rumors of an acquisition by Apple, whether true or not, are virtually guaranteed to drive up the perceived value of Path until the other shoe drops.

During Cook’s interview with Rose he reserved his most pointed criticism for the companies (including those he considers partners, apparently) that collect and sell data on their users.

"We’ve taken a very different view of this than a lot of other companies have. Our view is when we design a new service we try not to collect data. So we’re not reading your email, we’re not reading your iMessage. If the government laid a subpoena on us to get your iMessages, we can’t provide it. It’s encrypted and we don’t have the key. So the door is closed," he tells Rose.

'You're Not Our Product'

Days after the interview aired, Cook penned a letter on Apple’s site that lays out the company’s commitment to privacy in greater detail. “A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy,” he writes.

"Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you," Cook adds.

Apple’s business is “based on selling these,” he tells Rose, pointing to a pair of new iPhones on the table during their interview. “Our business is not based on having information about you. You’re not our product… So we run a very different company. I think everyone has to ask how do companies make their money. Follow the money, and if they’re making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data I think you have a right to be worried and you should really understand what’s happening to that data. And the companies, I think, should be very transparent about it.”

Apple Pay, the company’s new mobile payments system slated to launch next month, is another example where Apple is determined to stay above the fray, he says. Apple doesn’t want information about the purchases its customers will make with Apple Pay because “we’re not in that business,” Cook says.

"One very small part of our business does serve advertisers, and that’s iAd," Cook writes in his letter about user privacy. "We built an advertising network because some app developers depend on that business model, and we want to support them as well as a free iTunes Radio service. iAd sticks to the same privacy policy that applies to every other Apple product. It doesn’t get data from Health and HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, your call history, or any iCloud service like Contacts or Mail, and you can always just opt out altogether."

Back in the hot seat with Rose, Cook says he’s “offended” by the troubling revelations made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as he reaffirmed his belief in peoples’ right to privacy. Apple never worked with a government agency from any country to create a backdoor to its servers, as was reported in the press, Cook tells Rose.

"None of that is true, zero. We would never allow that to happen. They would have to cart us out in a box before we would do that," Cook exclaims.

While Cook understands that it can be difficult to balance the needs of national security with individuals’ right to privacy, he believes the U.S. government failed to find the right balance by erring too much on the “collect everything side.” “I think it’s a careful line to walk. You want to make sure you’re protecting the American people, but there’s no reason to collection information on you or 99.9 percent of other people,” he tells Rose.

What’s Next For Apple?

Very few of those products will see the light of day, and Apple has always liked it that way. “A lot of what leads to innovation is curiosity. It’s curiosity to begin pulling a string and you see where it takes you,” says Cook.

"Most companies begin to do larger and larger portfolios because it’s so easy to add. It’s hard to edit. It’s hard to stay focused. And yet, we know we’ll only do our best work if we stay focused," Cook says. "The hardest decisions we make are all the things not to work on frankly, because there’s lots of things we’d like to work on that we have interest in but we know we can’t do everything great."

Part one and part two of Rose’s interview with Cook are now available in their entirety online.


Is Social Media Reviving or Killing Our Classrooms?

Social media can wreak havoc when students become distracted in the middle of class. Some educators have gone so far as to ban social media in the classroom, but others says that learning to control social media is part of the learning process and the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Remember the days when back to school meant a trip to the store for new pencils, paper and maybe a spiral notebook or two? Today’s students, particularly those in the higher grades and college level, have little time or interest in those analog commodities — they’re carrying laptops, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets.

Putting technology in the hands and laps of students opens a vast pool of opportunity and knowledge, but it can also be distracting. Especially when students are using those devices to check Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or any one of the hundreds of social platforms that beg for their attention right in the middle of class.

Some administrators and educators have taken things to the extreme by outright banning the use of mobile devices in the classroom. Meanwhile, others believe that classrooms are the perfect environment to break bad habits and encourage students to embrace these tools for productive means.

"The biggest challenge I face as an educator is that students use social media as a toy instead of a tool," Kathleen Stansberry, assistant professor of public relations and social media at Cleveland State University, writes in response to questions from "It is often assumed that millennials are social media experts because they grew up with interactive media. They may know how to use the technology behind sites like Facebook and Twitter, but they don’t understand the strategy that goes into using social media to accomplish professional, personal, or organizational goals."

Social Media is a ‘Constant Temptation’

Stansberry says she allows students to use mobile devices during class time because the “constant temptation” they face from social media sites won’t end after graduation. “I believe learning to control social media use in professional situations is part of the learning process,” she adds.

"As with any disruptive technology, social media must be assimilated into our lives — and during the process, there will be negative impacts. Technology in the classroom results in bullying, distraction, and cheating… and also engagement, deep and authentic learning, and global interactions," Jane Owen, professor emeritus of educational leadership at Midwestern State University in Texas, writes in an email response to "As an administrator, I would never let the negatives overrule the positives."

Teachers have to educate students to be disciplined and responsible in their use of technology, Owen adds. “Why should the next generation have to power down when they come to school and thus receive their educations in a 60s’ style classroom because educators can’t figure out a way to successfully harness technology?”

Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist and professor at California State University, Los Angeles, says the impacts of social media in the classroom are mostly negative. “It has devolved into a tool of distracted students looking at photographs of ex-girlfriends’ or ex-boyfriends’ vacation photos during a lecture. How do we know that? The fact that they are smiling at their laptop during a rather plodding lecture on reliability and validity of diagnostic classification,” she writes.

Virtually Impossible to Police

"Now only the most disciplined and focused students can focus on the task at hand, and not get lost in the mindless ravines of Instagram and Facebook. In that way, social media may be a great tool for separating the men from the boys," Durvasula adds. "It is all but impossible to police unless I put a mirror in the back of the room, and now I as the faculty member am distracted playing policewoman instead of focusing on the matter at hand - our curriculum."

Durvasula says she plans to ban the use of laptops and other mobile devices in her classroom because she’s found that most of her students lack the discipline or the intellect to manage having such a distracting tool in front of them. “I have never had a social media trolling student in one of my classes perform better than average, which speaks volumes,” she adds.

The challenges presented by social media in the classroom are even more difficult for those teaching in the lower grades. Gail Leicht, an eighth grade language arts teacher in New Jersey, says social media and more specifically the obsession with the self indirectly makes it more difficult for her to connect with her students.

"Eight years ago, when I started teaching, I could make a social reference and my students would get it," Leicht writes in response to questions from "But now, because kids are only interested in their small circle and anything that constantly reinforces what they already know and validates their own existences, they lack any sophistication or know-how or just basic awareness of the immediate and not-so-immediate world around them."

Reinforcing Students’ Obsession with Self

Leicht says her students no longer relate when she references Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bruce Springsteen. “I used to try to mention current events or make social references by way of examples or as a way to connect with the kids. Now it’s very difficult to find any topics on which I can do that,” she adds.

Scott Silverman, associate director of student affairs at University of California, Riverside, says there are four primary cons that arise from the use of social media in the classroom: distraction, academic dishonesty (or cheating), discerning fact from fiction and cyberbullying.

"I think that the cons can be effectively managed if the engagement strategies the teachers employ for social media use are well-thought-out," he writes. "A teacher could have his or her class contribute to a wiki study guide for the upcoming exam, or students can use social media to tweet with others and learn more about a current event."

Silvermans’ research for a doctoral dissertation on the effects of social media on college students’ experience concluded that the benefits of social media still outweigh the risks. “Student will be more engaged when they can use all of the tools at their disposal, including social media,” he adds.

Instilling good behavioral traits and educating students about the proper and more productive use of social media is paramount, says Cleveland State University’s assistant professor Stansberry. Her ongoing study on the impacts of social media indicates that students feel unprepared to use social media professionally because they aren’t learning about it in their college classes.

"Instead of banning social media in the classroom, educators can model responsible social media use and incorporate it into teaching styles," Stansberry says.


How to Make Sure Your Social Marketing Isn’t ‘Junk’

Your customers are growing tired of all the marketing being thrown their way on social media, says Forrester analyst Kim Celestre, who offers a list of five different ways brands can offer utility marketing.

MARINA DEL REY, CALIF. – Less than half of the audience here at ThinkLA’s Social Media breakfast raised their hands when they were asked if they find marketing useful in their personal lives.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from the hundreds of marketers, advertisers and other media professionals who filled this seaside banquet hall.

What many here know and fewer will readily admit is that most marketing is junk. That truth persists with little regard for differences in medium, format, audience or data.

As the old and oft-repeated saying goes: half of all the effort and money spent on advertising is wasted, they just don’t know which half.

Social media doesn’t change that scenario so much as it amplifies what out-of-control junk marketing looks like. Any marketing that fails to provide value to a consumer is junk and there’s a lot of it making the rounds on social media.

“The reality is most of us don’t listen because the message doesn’t pertain to us,” says Kim Celestre, senior analyst at Forrester. “The fact is, your audience is getting impatient with the marketing you’re putting out there.”

Affluent, always-connected consumers may be some of the most valuable targets for marketers, but they’re also especially good at ignoring advertising, she adds.

Celestre encourages brands to embrace “utility marketing” – marketing that their customers can use. “You need to demonstrate your brand promise and not just talk about it,” she says.

Social data can inform utility marketing strategies, but brands must also be sure to look beyond standalone programs, she says. Building a community that promotes utility requires detail and attention to every potential social medium.

As a quick takeaway, Celestre provides five ways brands can offer utility marketing:

  • Become a trusted agent and establish the brand as an intermediary between itself and other related brands.
  • Solve a customer’s problem and consider how your brand can help solve adjacent, but still relevant needs they may have.
  • Get out of the way by helping your customer skip steps during their research and purchase consideration process.
  • Automate mundane tasks and determine how your brand can provide immediate value.
  • Fulfill a need that the customer doesn’t even know they have.

Of course social media isn’t just for brands, not in the traditional sense at least.

On the publishing side, Mashable’s CMO Stacy Martinet is tasked with commanding every social media platform under the sun, in our pockets, on our wrists or online. “Social media is at the heart of all that we do,” she says.

Mashable has amassed 18 million followers across all of its social channels, which helps explain why she says we’re all in a “continual cycle of marketing” now.

“We only plan for the first mile because we don’t know what the second mile’s going to be,” she says. “You just know you’ve got to be prepared and you have to change the course… We have to be nimble and we have to be ready to fail often.”

The goal and the platform are the most important components of any successful marketing campaign, she says. Understanding that what works on Snapchat is going to be something completely than what works on LinkedIn may sound obvious, but it’s crucial to keep in mind as plans are implemented.

Martinet leaves the audience, more awake and lively at this point, with four ways to find a groove and purpose in a rapidly evolving social media landscape: Think about what will get them thinking. Be picky when picking platforms. Focus on useful data, not big data. And finally, believe her when she says the future is visual storytelling.


Who’s Really Using Tinder (and How Are They Using It)?

Is Tinder an app for dating, hook-ups, making friends or a game of good old fashioned judgment? The service might be popular because it delivers on all of those fronts.

There’s a good chance someone you know is using Tinder as you read this. He or she is swiping left or right, looking for someone, somewhere for something. Each of those variables contributes to the service’s serendipity, which makes it fun with just enough different and unexpected turns.

Chance encounters are the type of magic that Tinder is bringing to millions who use the app every day. The company is riding high on exponential growth, but has kept a low profile this summer amid the fallout from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by one its co-founders in June. Tinder was generating more than 10 million matches a day in February and passed 1 billion total matches in March.

Just ask around, don’t be shy, and you’ll quickly realize there’s a lot more people on Tinder than you think. You might also be surprised to learn that there’s a lot more to Tinder than one-night stands.

Tinder the Travel Guide

“Everybody is on Tinder,” the 50-year-old Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz told Huffington Post last week. “My married friends are on Tinder. Seriously, there is nobody who is not on Tinder at this point. It’s a video game. My married publicist who told me not to go on Tinder is on Tinder, and so is her husband.”

Celebrities, artists and athletes may fall outside the norm, but there is an entire community of Tinder users who are making the service their own for a variety of reasons and purposes.

Brian Penny, a writer who travels often for work, tells he uses Tinder to get a feel for a new city. “I’ll swipe right on every profile and see who chooses me. I can then throw out a quick question about the area to each one,” he says, adding that he’s made a few friends on the service but nothing beyond that. “I’m not the type of guy to have a fling.”

Others who shared their experiences with Tinder emphasize the simple, yet seemingly boundless potential of the service. They describe the app in straightforward terms and remark on how little effort is required.

Little Effort for Possible Big Reward

Lisa Amarao, a marketing and communications manager, tells that she had reservations about joining Tinder, especially because it pulls data from Facebook, a service that she uses professionally. “It freaked me out that it showed my mutual connections with possible matches. I got over that, obviously,” she writes in response to questions.

“I like that I can limit my search by age and location. The rest didn’t require much thinking. Yes. No. Match? Cool,” Amarao says. “I met a variety of people, most of them seemed nice and I’ve made a few new friends, but no real romantic connection with any. One of them I’ve referred to another single friend of mine.”

Amarao says she was using the app every few days but is on a break from Tinder now, as she spends time getting to know someone she met in the real world. No thanks to Tinder there, but she adds: “If things don’t pan out, I will definitely turn discovery back on.”

Sitting on Twitter, Killing Time

Other users like Will Kruisbrink, an account director at a public relations firm, have been on Tinder since the service launched almost two years ago. “It’s the hot-or-not for the mobile generation … My goals have always been to pass the time while sitting on the L or in a boring meeting,” he tells

“My experience has changed in that where I used to swipe everyone right just to get matches, now I’m highly selective. Also, I infer much more from women’s pictures now. Selfie? No way baby, swipe left,” he adds.

Tinder has never been a serious way for Kruisbrink to meet people, but he says he did connect once with a girl who broke up with him before. For him, Tinder isn’t so much an app for dating as it is a “judgment app.” Kruisbrink was using the app every day at one point, but has scaled back to about once a week now.

“Women always see way, way more matches than guys. It all depends on how picky you are. There is a way to game the algorithm though. The app will front load women that have already swiped right on you. That means of the first dozen or so people presented, you’ll see a greater number of matches,” he explains.

“One of the most interesting things about Tinder is its approach in increasing success in a marketplace driven by serendipity and random chance,” UsersThink CEO John Turner tells “Instead of trying to increase likelihood of matching you with higher relevancy results, their bet is on increasing the rate at which serendipity can occur by accelerating the rate of random encounters.”

It’s only a matter of time, Turner says, before this more direct and high-speed approach will to manifest itself in various startups aiming to be the Tinder for X in consumer and professional markets.


Foursquare Reinvents Itself, But Will the Overhaul Pay Off?

Foursquare CEO and co-founder Dennis Crowley has long lamented the need to make users do much more than what’s necessary. Foursquare has always asked a lot of its users, though, even if that’s because the scope and ambition for a personally curated social discovery app requires it.

Now, five years after Foursquare first launched with a combined structure for gamification and information about places, Crowley is finally getting his chance to reinvent the platform in a vein much closer to what he always envisioned.

Crowley has been working on bridging the divide between our mobile devices and the places or events we gather with friends in the real world since 2000 when he first conceived the idea for and later co-founded Dodgeball, an early location-based service built around SMS technology that was acquired by Google in 2005.

Foursquare’s overhaul began with the introduction of Swarm, the company’s new answer for check-ins, finding friends and making plans. Swarm removes these features from Foursquare’s namesake and relegates them to a separate and less broad application. The change is profound and jarring for many longtime Foursquare users, as evidenced by the app’s current two-star rating in Apple’s App Store.

With Foursquare 8.0 (released earlier this month), the new vision for Foursquare is coming into focus. But having spent a couple months with Swarm and the updated version of Foursquare over the past weeks, the results are even more perplexing.

'Oh, The Places You’ll Go’

Foursquare has always been a fun game for me of sorts, but its real-world implications provide the greatest value. As I collected badges, battled for mayorships and curated lists of my favorite places and the places I’d like to go, there’s no denying that at least some of my patterns were guided by Foursquare.

I’ve never been the type of user that checks in everywhere, but there was a time when I incessantly checked in at my dry cleaners because I was determined to maintain my mayorship there. At one point, I actually got a little upset when another user claimed to have stolen from me the mayorship of a great spot for sandwiches during closed hours.

Senseless distractions like those aside, I’ve continued to find value in Foursquare’s capability to help me explore and discover new places. The new app marks an evolutionary step in that direction, but too many instances where I used to have more control over how I made the app work for me in the past have been replaced by automation.

I miss that lack of control more than I thought I would.

Foursquare Lists Get Buried

For starters, where did my lists go? Lists are one of Foursquare’s simplest, but most effective features, but they are now buried almost to the point of meaninglessness. After searching for lists on the new app to no avail, I discovered many other users were venting their frustrations about the near absence of lists as well. I say near because lists are still around, but they’re just buried under saved places on the profile tab.

The poor menu placement is bad enough, but now I can’t even figure out how to create new lists or add places to my existing ones. On a recent road trip to California’s Mendocino coast, I resorted to using Foursquare on my laptop to get a better view and understanding of my lists. I found it too cumbersome to maneuver through my lists and the lists of others on the app.

This may be nitpicking, but lists are a great way to plan trips and more specifically map out plans as they’re unfolding. Changes of this kind may not be embraced by users like me, but I understand why Foursquare is splitting its business in two and what the company is trying to become.

Setting Sights on Local Search and Discovery

The check-in feature has probably run its course or at least hit its peak at this point with more than 6 billion check-ins on the books. The problem for Foursquare and fans of check-ins is that there’s really no money to be made there. By splintering that gamification feature off and packaging it into Swarm, Foursquare can now focus on the big prize: local search and discovery.

The company has always been competing against Yelp, Google and others in this field but has consistently been the third or alternative option among the masses. Despite its deep location database of more than 65 million venues, Foursquare has routinely been considered an app for check-ins first and foremost.

Browsing and discovering nearby places was an added bonus of sorts that now takes center stage in the new app. Indeed, even the tagline blaring across the top of Foursquare reads: “Find a place.”

Tastes and Tips

Because the new Foursquare represents such a dramatic change, you are given a brief preview of the new features once you update to the latest version. “Foursquare is always on the lookout for the spots you’ll like,” the company writes in the walk-through.

To help Foursquare in that goal, the app encourages you to create or select among thousands of specific tastes including things like “pour over coffee,” “bourbon,” “craft beer” or “hole in the wall places.” Once those tastes are added to your profile, Foursquare will automatically surface nearby places that might pique your interest.

I haven’t noticed any major improvements as a result of this, but Foursquare says more than 15 million tastes were adding to profiles in less than 24 hours of the app’s release.

As tastes gain momentum, Foursquare is also elevating the importance of tips. Automated discovery and recommendations are being pulled from more than 55 million tips in Foursquare’s database. The company’s partnerships with more than 50 media companies has already provided more than 15,000 of those tips.

Making It Your Own

“There’s no reason why we should all get the same recommendations when looking for a place to eat, drink or shop,” the company writes in a blog post announcing the all-new Foursquare. “Getting a one-size-fits-all list of places may have been innovative in 2006, but it feels downright antiquated now. Our tastes are all different, so why should we all see the same results?”

A carousel menu running below the search box organizes places in a daily rundown of sorts, beginning with breakfast, followed by brunch, lunch, coffee, dinner, dessert, nightlife, shopping, fun and sights. You can still search for specific venues or specialties and refine the results based on distance, price and a range of features like outdoor seating, ambiance and other categories.

A banner reading “What’s good here” appears when you select the here tab, which searches for the venues closest to your current location. And finally, tips get their own tab as well with tips for nearby places organized by the people you follow and your growing accumulation of tastes.

The app, which pushes its most advertiser-friendly features to the forefront, marks a new beginning for the five-year-old startup as it tries once again to make a pitch for more ad revenue. But by reasoning with the needs of advertisers and at times removing or downplaying other core features, Foursquare is risking alienation among its most loyal users.

“I really loved Foursquare. Now it seems like they’re trying to get me to quit,” writes one reviewer in the App Store. The early reviews are mostly negative and they’re piling up, giving the app an average rating of two-and-a-half stars.

In many cases, the delineation between Foursquare and Swarm is too wide. Although the apps are certainly related and still play nice with one another by linking back and forth, the process feels broken. The experiences many like me enjoyed on Foursquare have been replaced with something less fun and, even more importantly, less addicting.

My check-ins have dropped off considerably since Swarm was released and somehow Foursquare just feels more like a digital guide that belongs in my travel folder of apps now. An automated tool for local search and discovery isn’t the kind of app I see myself using daily. But a custom, curated social discovery platform that reminded me of the places I enjoy and others I still want to visit is something I will miss sincerely.

Foursquare and Swarm still have two of the 20 coveted spots on my phone’s home screen, but I’m already thinking about others that might be a better fit for my starting lineup.


Apple Gets Serious About Social, Adds Familiar Functions to iMessage

Apple’s most popular app will be getting its biggest overhaul to date when the company releases iOS 8 in the fall. iMessage users will soon be able to capture, send and set a self-destructing timer for audio and video messages without leaving the app.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Apple has been flattering competitors for years. The company has famously copied, redesigned and reimagined many more products and services than it has ever invented.

Now Apple is taking a renewed interest in social media, as it prepares to introduce many of today’s most popular messaging features in the next version of iOS. Maybe Apple can finally crack the code for social by doing what it does best: Mimicking other companies’ technologies, incorporating them into its products and improving the user experience.

"Very flattering to see Apple ‘borrow’ numerous WhatsApp features into iMessage in iOS 8 #innovation," WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum tweeted within hours of Apple’s opening keynote at its annual developers conference last month. Never mind that many of WhatsApp’s features were borrowed from other apps and services that came before it.

Competing at an app level is probably not worth Apple’s time. And if it wanted to compete on an app level it would buy one of these.

Koum may not see the irony in that because the lines between theft and flattery in business are defined by timing and perception. By the same token, only he knows what was on his mind when he wrote this as his second tweet ever in September 2011: “Is imitation still the sincerest form of flattery?”

One Company’s Thief is Another Company’s Genius

Apple is introducing so many changes and new features to iMessage that practically every messaging app on the planet could claim it’s being copied to some extent or another. Self-destructing messages, location sharing, in-line audio and video messages, new swipe gestures and a major overhaul of group messaging are all on the menu for the next version of iMessage.

Calls, texts, video and photos are tasks that oftentimes require multiple apps for many users, says Doug Schumacher, co-founder of social media content strategy tool Zuum. “There’s still plenty of room for innovation, and Apple’s history of simplifying user experiences by minimizing things like buttons would seem well-suited to the task,” he adds.

The evolution of messaging, social and mobile are inherent functionalities that became a natural extension for Apple with iMessage, says Altimeter Group principal analyst Brian Solis. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily Apple’s intention to do anything in social. I think it’s just making iOS 8 and iMessage a much more comprehensive platform that people can use without having to go to disparate apps,” he says.

ios 8 imessage 1In iOS 8, iMessage adds location-sharing among many other features found in competing (but standalone) mobile apps.
By integrating features enjoyed by users of WhatsApp, Snapchat and others into iMessage, Apple is enhancing value for new and future iOS users without brazenly competing against those startups, says Solis.

"Competing at an app level is probably not worth Apple’s time. And if it wanted to compete on an app level it would buy one of these. I think this is much more of a functionality standpoint to strengthen the overall universe," he adds.

Making iMessage More Robust for the Masses

"Single use (apps) is just a reflection of today’s discombobulated digital society," says Solis, offering a day in the life scenario to help illustrate his point.

"Right in front of you as you’re walking on a beautiful afternoon is a mother duck and her little ducklings passing right before you in a nice single-file line. It’s a moment that used to be one you would just stop and say ‘ahh.’ But now it’s a moment that you have to capture and share. And in that moment you’ve got to make a decision: what app are you going to use? Is it Instagram, is it Facebook, is it Twitter, is it Vine, or is it a combination of all of these things?"

"It’s almost like a basket-of-remotes problem, you have 30 different remote controls in your living room to control every device and it’s overwhelming," Solis says. "So integration made sense, but single purpose makes sense when that’s where your friends are. I know it sounds completely counterintuitive, but all of this stuff seems to be."

That network effect among friends, colleagues and family remains as long as these single purpose, frictionless apps keep their sense of cool, says Solis. “They all in some way, shape or form run their course, but what Apple does is each time it absorbs the good natures of these apps and makes it its own, which strengthens the bigger platform as the next trend is rising up.”

Above all else, Apple needs to do what it’s always done: Create a better user experience, says Schumacher. “If Apple doesn’t make these changes, it’s likely Google and Android will. WhatsApp and Snapchat have risen quickly, but for most mobile apps I don’t think there are a lot of barriers to switching. That can work to Apple’s advantage.”


A Look Inside the YouTube Culture

The YouTube Nation of video creators, fans and businesses dedicated to the underworld of online video make VidCon a conference like no other. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki says the platform is being ‘redone in a way that’s never been done before.’

ANAHEIM, Calif. - VidCon was like a crash course in modern day pop culture. On the quad outside the main hall an army of screaming teenagers rushed from one YouTube star to the next. Some of the stars and their respective mobs were large enough to require security escorts.

But upstairs and at other pockets of this fifth-annual event, overlooking all those bursts of chaotic excitement, it was a completely different mood. More reserved perhaps, but especially older. Outside and on the lower levels of the venue, pre-teens outnumbered the adults by at least 20-fold.

Any viewer can show any creator their love by tipping them any dollar amount between $1 and $500, and all of this happens while staying on YouTube

"A lot of people prepared me for what I would see," YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki says in her keynote. But, "nothing actually prepares you for being here in real life."

Business Upstairs, Party Down Below

The nation of creators, fans and businesses dedicated to the underworld of online video make for a conference like no other. The excitement and energy was as palpable as it was deafening at times.

As VidCon’s co-creator John Green introduced Wojcicki to the stage, he reiterated a point his brother and VidCon co-creator Hank Green made earlier that day: “YouTube is the only social network that pays you money.”

It’s a simple, but important point of differentiation that set high expectations for Wojcicki’s first keynote just five months into her new role. YouTube is introducing new mechanics that help creators engage a bigger and more global audience, build more successful businesses and simplify the management and creation of video.

Taking the stage at VidCon in proper casual attire - a YouTube t-shirt and jeans - Wojcicki announced a series of updates and new features for creators and fans on YouTube. Her talk focused on three primary ways YouTube wants to address some of its challenges.

"The whole platform is being redone in a way that’s never been done before," she tells the audience.

Crowd-Source Translation and Funding

With more than a billion people coming to YouTube every month, as many as 60 percent of views usually come from outside the creator’s home country, she says. YouTube wants to bridge those language barriers with a new crowd-sourced translation effort it calls “fan subtitles.”

"Our goal is that every video uploaded to YouTube will be available in every language," says Wojcicki.

YouTube is also rolling out new interactive cards that directly link to creators’ crowd-funding campaigns and a virtual tip-jar it calls “fan funding.”

"Any viewer can show any creator their love by tipping them any dollar amount between $1 and $500, and all of this happens while staying on YouTube," Wojcicki says.

YouTube Management Finally Goes Mobile

"We are also developing a mobile app to access your analytics and channel management from anywhere on any device," she says. The new YouTube Creator Studio will enable creators and publishers to see metrics in real time, respond to comments and make quick edits.

Creators will also soon be able to shoot and upload their videos at up to 60 frames per second, allowing for a more smooth and crisp viewing experience. Finally, YouTube is beefing up its sound library with 7,500 new royalty-free songs and sound effects - fart sounds for comedic effect and all.

Wojcicki, who has a storied history as one of Google’s earliest employees, says she is focused on bringing more revenue to YouTube’s ecosystem and wants to help more people get to know YouTube’s creators and fans through large-scale promotions.

"It’s all of you that make the platform such an amazing and exciting place to be," she tells the audience of content creators. "It’s a little strange when I’m the one on stage… You guys are the real stars."

YouTube hasn’t always done right by its users, but with new blood at the helm there’s a sense and collective hope that things are changing for the better. Wojcicki decided to embrace those complaints, quite literally, as she ended her keynote with a shortened version of Barely Political’s satirical take on YouTube’s complaint desk. The full 8-minute video has already been viewed 3.7 million times over the last three days.


Are Social Media Giants Betraying Your Trust?

The leading social media companies are outraged over NSA surveillance, but would that spying even be possible if Facebook, Google and Twitter weren’t collecting data and selling it to online marketers? Social media companies unintentionally opened new windows for spies to creep into our lives, and their claims of innocence are insincere.

Revelations about the National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance of online activity has roused the ire of social media firms, but it also reveals the extent to which these companies are at least partially to blame. How much of this personal data would be available if these companies weren’t collecting and mining it for profit in the first place?

It should come as no surprise that the pools of data amassed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and others are being used for financial gain. While these powerful sharing and collaboration tools are free, they do carry a price, and advertising is the currency by which the money flows.

These massive, almost unavoidable and free platforms entice us to share as much as possible about ourselves in ways that inevitably push our privacy out the window. The trade-off is simple, albeit creepy at times. To make the creep factor even worse, your personal data isn’t used only by the social media company you sign up for. Your information is often sold to nameless data brokers not bound by any terms of service or privacy agreement.

We mostly have ourselves to blame for any victimization that occurs, but that still doesn’t necessarily shield these social companies and allow them to skirt all responsibilities to their users. Each of them is following the path of least resistance, simplifying the issue to government surveillance when it could just as easily focus on the inner workings of social advertising.

Indeed, our collective shock is primarily directed at the overreaches made by government agencies while the shadowy practices of data brokers that buy and sell that same personal data for targeted advertising go largely unchecked.

"The technology is interesting, and amazing, and new-fangled and crazy," says Seth Shafer, research analyst at SNL Kagan. "That battle has been going on for a long time between not wanting to be marketed to in certain ways but still wanting the benefits of the relationship."

Deflecting Criticism by Omission

Legal necessity requires social media companies to cooperate with the government, but their association with data brokers is entirely by choice and for profit. While almost every major technology company has taken President Barack Obama to task over the NSA’s incursion into our privacy, they’re saying little about the widening role of data brokers.

"When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government. The U.S. government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote after calling President Obama to express his frustration.

Facebook also joined with AOL, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo to highlight the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices. “We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight,” the group writes in a letter to Obama and members of Congress.

Companies like Facebook are deflecting criticism by playing up the anti-government surveillance card while at the same time somehow managing to avoid any fallout over the collection, sale and use of personal data for advertising.

Much of that work is taking place behind the scenes without oversight and the Federal Trade Commission wants to change that. Following an in-depth study of the industry, the consumer protection agency issued a report concluding that data brokers “operate with a fundamental lack of transparency.”

But to the chagrin of consumer-privacy advocates everywhere, most of their practices are legal. “Many data broker practices fall outside of any specific laws that require the industry to be more transparent, provide consumers with access to data, or take steps to ensure that the data that they maintain is accurate,” FTC Commissioner Julie Brill writes in a statement that accompanied the report.

There’s also the unfortunate and sometimes unfair categorizations that data brokers apply to consumers. Someone labeled a “biker enthusiast” by these firms may receive discounts on motorcycles, for example, but they could also be unfairly targeted by an insurance provider seeking signs of risky behavior.

The FTC is more bark than bite, however, so it shares the same burden as every American waiting for Congress to act. The commission hopes to reinvigorate discussion on Capitol Hill by encouraging Congress to consider legislation that would bring more transparency, consumer choice and controlled access to the data held by data brokers.

Ideas from the agency include a centralized portal, consumer access to data, opt-out mechanisms, data source disclosures, prominent notice and choice to consumers and further protection of sensitive health information. However, despite the FTC’s best intentions and long-term efforts to rein in these practices, it’s unclear if Congress will take up these measures in earnest.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) has led the charge in many respects, eventually introducing the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act in the Senate in February. A related bill in the House was last referred to subcommittee in April.

Where’s the Rest of the Privacy Outrage?

Meanwhile the giants in social media have been almost eerily silent on the issue, letting ad industry groups fight a battle that is partially of their own making and one that affects its users. Facebook, Twitter and others are all too happy to keep a safe distance, holding tight to every degree of separation. Even though they are uniquely positioned to demand changes from the data brokers they work with, they are effectively sitting this one out, while expressing outrage only at the government’s collection of the same data.

Shafer of SNL Kagan says every user’s data is fair game for use at any time by these companies because of the free utility they receive in return. However, he also understands why regulators and consumer privacy advocates are scrutinizing these practices.

"I think we have more of a sentimental attachment to the stuff we give up to Facebook and Google, which makes invasions of privacy seem more outrageous to us," he says.

Direct mail marketers know where people live and while Facebook doesn’t necessarily need to know your physical address, it does have pictures of you, your kids and your vacations.

"With a lot of markets, you eventually find your way to what has the least amount of friction and right now to me that seems to be Facebook-style advertising. As annoying as ads are, both Facebook and Twitter at times it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at an ad or a post from a friend or a news story. They’ve been pretty successful at blurring all those lines where it works," says Shafer.

"It lets them give you an ad that you’re likely to click on. It’s creepy, but when you think about other ways that you’re going to pay for your operations that give you this platform, so far it’s the least annoying," Shafer adds.


Snapchat Must Either Grow Up or Risk Disappearing

Snapchat had a rough May, and that’s even before taking into account the massive competitive threats it faces from Apple and Facebook. The company has a lot of growing up to do. And it better do it fast.

Los Angeles had an unseasonably warm winter followed by an even drier spring. This year’s fire season wasn’t much of one, insomuch as the fact it never really ended. Everyone who lives here knows these record-breaking heat waves fueled by the Santa Ana winds are just the beginning. Summer is coming.

Weather has a way of putting things in perspective. Snapchat may not see the connection yet, but for a company that calls the Venice neighborhood of this city home, the changing climate cannot be ignored. Even though the heat began to wane outside last month, Snapchat is still sweating.

The remainder of 2014 will be a defining one for Snapchat and certainly it’s most challenging thus far. How the company reacts to recent moves from Apple and Facebook, and overcomes its privacy issues with regulators and consumer advocates will be an important test.

Taking Hits on Privacy From the FTC and EFF

The company reached an agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to settle charges it had deceived consumers over the amount of data it collects on users and made false promises about the disappearance of messages sent through its app. Under the terms of the settlement, Snapchat is now “prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information.” Snapchat is also required to implement a privacy program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years.

"If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez writes in the agency’s announcement. "Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action."

Before the ink even dried on its settlement with the FTC, Snapchat was in hot water again, this time with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The non-profit committed to defending civil liberties in the digital age scored Snapchat at the bottom of the pack in its annual review of technology and communications firms titled “Who Has Your Back?

Snapchat earned recognition in only one of the six criteria measured by the organization. “This is particularly troubling because Snapchat collects extremely sensitive user data, including potentially compromising photographs of users. Given the large number of users and non-users whose photos end up on Snapchat, Snapchat should publicly commit to requiring a warrant before turning over the content of its users’ communications to law enforcement. We urge them to change course,” the EFF writes in the report.

Snapchat was also called out for declining to publicly oppose mass surveillance and for not keeping pace with industry competitors when it comes to “transparency around data requests, giving users notice when their data is sought by the government, or requiring a warrant for user content.”

How Snapchat Should Respond to Privacy Issues

Without an overwhelming faith in Snapchat’s adherence to privacy, the entire value proposition for its app will reverse dramatically. The company took at least one right step in that direction when it updated its privacy policy just days before reaching agreement with the FTC.

In it Snapchat reiterates that all messages are deleted from its servers once all recipients have viewed them, but it doesn’t hide from the fact that there are still ways to access and even save those messages after they are deleted:

"We cannot guarantee that deletion of any message always occurs within a particular timeframe. We also cannot prevent others from making copies of your messages (e.g., by taking a screenshot). If we are able to detect that the recipient has captured a screenshot of a snap that you send, we will attempt to notify."

"We take reasonable measures to help protect information about you from loss, theft, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction," the company adds. But here’s the real kicker, one sentence that does Snapchat no favors other than to protect itself from legal and future regulatory snafus: "You should not use Snapchat to send messages if you want to be certain that the recipient cannot keep a copy."

Theses updated privacy policies may appease bureaucrats, but Snapchat has a long way to go before it can say the same for users and consumer advocates who are already losing faith in the company. This, above all else, could be Snapchat’s ultimate demise. But are things really as bad as they appear?

Not according to a recent report from Sandvine. The networking equipment provider concludes: “Snapchat has become the leading third-party messaging service by volume, generating more traffic each day than competing services such as WhatsApp” in North America. That’s a lot of snaps.

To maintain that lead, Snapchat needs to take a more public and clear stance on the privacy of those snaps. Every resource at its disposal should be put toward the development of Snapchat’s core feature. Are these disappearing messages just an act?

If there are any specific technological hurdles to rectifying this issue, Snapchat needs to come out and say it. Explain to users how hard it is to ensure that snaps only live for 10 seconds. Otherwise, users will continue to question Snapchat’s true commitment and intent. Why can’t Snapchat stand behind its promises?

Leaked Emails Fuel the Fire

Just as things seemed to cool down for Snapchat, a series of damning and misogynistic emails penned by co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel five years ago were obtained and published by Valleywag.

Much of what he wrote during his fraternity days at Stanford University doesn’t bear worth repeating; just suffice to say that Spiegel says he is “mortified and embarrassed” over the “idiotic emails.” He concluded his brief, prepared statement with an apology, adding that he was a “jerk” to have written the emails and that “they in no way reflect who I am today or my views towards women.”

While some are giving Spiegel a pass, especially those within the Silicon Valley echo chamber, others are chastising the 24-year-old for not being more forthright in his apology. Many executives have come back from much worse, but consider how differently things have played out recently for other men of privilege caught making discriminatory comments in private conversations.

In the ultimate twist of irony, perhaps this breach of Spiegel’s privacy will embolden him to make Snapchat the most private and secure messaging platform of all. That wouldn’t necessarily insulate him from this controversy, but it would give him a cause and a personal story to bring it all full circle. America loves a comeback and this could be his.

As if Snapchat didn’t have enough problems to deal with, all of which it brought on itself; the company is quickly approaching its most competitive threat yet. And it’s coming from two of the most powerful companies in the world — Apple and Facebook. The latter hasn’t made any formal announcements, but according to the Financial Times, it is developing a video-messaging app known internally as “Slingshot” to rival Snapchat.

Rumors and unannounced products are one worry for Snapchat, but the threat from Apple is real and coming this fall. During the company’s annual developer’s conference, Apple announced plans to incorporate Snapchat’s core feature directly into its messages app. When iOS 8 is released, users will be able to send video, photo or audio messages that self-destruct.

At that point, what will keep iOS users from consolidating all of their ephemeral messaging behavior within Apple’s most popular app? It all comes down to trust, user experience and privacy.

If Snapchat stands any chance of deflecting this colossal threat from Apple (and possibly Facebook), it has to completely change the script and grow up fast. Unseemly emails and privacy concerns are problems that Snapchat can’t afford to have at a time when it must gear up for battle with the heavyweights to its north.

How many more heat waves can Snapchat sustain? By the time winter arrives, we should know the answer. If it’s still licking its wounds then, Spiegel and company may deeply regret their decision to not sell to Facebook, Google and others that were circling around with multi-billion dollar offers late last year.