5 tools to keep you up to date with the news

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Keeping track of news on twitterIt has never been more easy to be better informed. The social web has altered how we find and consume information, and also who is sharing it.

Think about how you came to find this post. What led you here? Maybe it appeared in your search results, perhaps in your Twitter feed or even an old fashioned email.

I’d argue that Twitter has been one of the catalysts for this. As an extremely simple, open platform which is based around short and easily digestible pieces of text it was built for sharing news.

However, there’s a challenge amongst all of this. How do you cut through the noise of all the conversation to find the information you want to read? How do you slow the flow to something your brain can keep pace with?

I wanted to share some tools that I’ve been using which have helped me:

Flipboard

An iOS app (and currently in beta for Android) which presents a beautiful, magazine style representation of links from various sources. You literally flip through pages of stories and photos from the places you want to keep an eye on.

One of the most useful features is the ability to read through only the links from your Twitter timeline. I find this extremely useful to keep track of the great things people have shared.

Reeder

Again, another iOS app, but this one allows you to read your Google Reader offline.

If you’ve not set up a Google Reader account, it’s definitely worth it. It’s based on RSS, which is a way of subscribing to content posted by almost every website.

I like Reeder because it has some great sharing features. You can instantly post out articles you like to Twitter or Facebook, which brings me to my next point:

Instapaper

Have you ever seen an article or post that you really wanted to read, but didn’t have time? Instapaper is a great way to save those articles for later reading.

One of its nicest features is the ability to remove ads and other formatting from articles so they’re presented in a clean, almost newspaper like format for easy reading.

Storify

This is a great tool for keeping track of Twitter conversations. Twitter’s speed is great for getting access to the latest news, but can be maddening when you try and keep track of what was shared by whom and with what comment.

Storify let’s you track all of that, and presents the results in an easy to share story format so you can share with others.

Last, but not least: your own blog

This has been perhaps the best tool for me in keeping track of the things I like. If I find an article or post which inspires me or prompts a comment I post it as a link post on my own blog.

It means I can keep track of my views on a particular topic by sharing them with people.

Image credit: faunng on flickr

Facebook announces full-screen photo viewer

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Today Facebook announced that they have made improvements to their photo viewer so that users will see the best photos possible.

Changes such as high-resolution photos and full screen viewing will means that high quality photos could be viewed up to 4 times bigger than previously.

Facebook photo viewer

In order to view photos full screen, users simply have to click on the arrows in the top right-hand corner of the photo to expand it to the maximum size, so photos which are large enough could fill the entire screen.

Facebook photos full screen

Obviously, this is big news for brands, who can now share really high quality images which could fill their fans’ screens, removing any other distractions. Brands with lots of visual content such as our client Park Bench are sure to enjoy these changes.

The changes also mean that Facebook will likely allow applications to upload larger images and potentially update the image presets offered by the Graph API.

Interestingly Facebook’s introduction of a full-screen photo viewer is also another indicator of its move away from side bar advertising. When images are viewed full-screen, they block out the adverts which usually appear on the right hand side.

This suggests that Facebook may be intending to take an approach more in line with Twitter’s sponsored stories.

What F8 and the changes to Facebook mean for brands and marketers

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The announcements at yesterday’s F8 conference included a few of the changes we expected to Facebook (the music service was a very poorly kept secret) and a few more radical changes that went further than we might have guessed. For brands and for social media agencies working with Facebook, now is the time to begin to digest and understand what this means about how people will use the social network in different ways and what this means for them.

Here are three initial trends that I see having an impact on brands and organisations that use Facebook and suggestions about how to capitalise on them:

1. The Timeline becomes the centre of the Facebook experience

To date, Facebook has worked by showing the latest things people have said in a single long stream of activity. If you went away on holiday for a week or two, when you returned you would see the latest things people had Liked or commented on or said. Everything else that had happened would be buried. The introduction of the Timeline changes this. It replaces a users profile with a timeline of events (status updates, photos, things they have done in apps) and then this is shared in Newsfeeds. It allows others to explore updates from friends this week, or last week, or last month. And (perhaps critically) it means that only certain actions will be highlighted here.

The Timeline will no longer show actions like ‘Liking’ a brand page. Instead your friends will see that in their Ticker, a fast-moving set of updates of every action your friends do. This means it will be buried and and brands that rely on friends if friends seeing that somebody has Liked your page to drive traffic will need to think again. This should be nothing new anyway, we all know it’s really about creating an engaging Facebook page.

Secondarily it looks like only apps that use the new Open Graph will appear in Timelines and Newsfeeds. So whilst you can now post messages based on things people do in your apps (and only need to ask their permission once to do this), you may need to rewrite part of them for this to work.

2) A new vocabulary (and new area for creativity)

Let’s be honest, ‘Like’ is not the most versatile of words. I might not want to say that I ‘Liked’ a movie, but would rather say I ‘Watched’ it. And now I can [verb] any [noun]. This is a great development and is one brands should start to think really creatively about.

There is an opportunity for some brands to start to ‘own’ verbs by getting users to take actions on them. There is also a chance to be more creative in how people interact with content. Rather than ‘Liking’ items that you want to buy, how about a more emotive ‘Want’. Then maybe Facebook could gather together all your ‘Wants’ in one place as a gift list of things that you would like people to buy you from around the web. Could Facebook be the new place for your wedding gift list rather than having it tied to one store?

3) A shift from numbers to engagement

A real focus for Facebook to date has always seemed to be getting more and more Members; we were even told proudly yesterday that they now have 800 million members globally (about 12% of the global population). Whilst this drive won’t become less important the real impact of the changes announced at F8 is to make engagement as important. The introduction of music, movies, news and the Timeline feature is really about social discovery (letting me find our even more things about my friends) and adding a social layer to my life.

Facebook is no longer somewhere I come to update my friends through a status. It is now a scrapbook of the things I do, the things I like, the places I’ve been and the people I know. I can explore this through shared interests, through music and film, through maps through photos. I can also record important events in my life (everything from a death in the family to breaking a leg!)

This is done to make Facebook more engaging, to make people spend more time using it and get greater reward from this investment. For brands this should be a positive trend. The best have known for some time that social media is about engagement. And with people spending more quality time on Facebook the brands that get Facebook right should find this means people spending more quality time with them.

Is Hugo Chávez really running his country by Twitter?

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Hugo Chavez world leader and twitter user

Courtesy of guapacho.net

The Guardian today wrote that Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, is using “Twitter as a tool to govern remotely while he undergoes cancer treatment in Cuba”.

This is the sort of headline that should have us social media agency types  delighted at how significant and revolutionary this is. Or should it?

As the host of  his own talk show, Chávez is no stranger to amplifying his voice via the media, but this story in itself feels a bit over-hyped. Is he really “running the country”?

It looks like he is merely using Twitter to talk about things that are happening in the real world, from his own meetings and decisions to his reactions to Venezuela’s football matches.

This is not insignificant - the reality is that a world leader is using social media to give his citizens (and the rest of the world) an insight into his life, and bringing us closer to him. Not only that, he can demonstrate that even while hospitalised, he remains involved and relevant.

The truth of the matter is that Twitter makes a great hook for news stories, and the hype that surrounds it is displacing the reality, which is extraordinary enough as it is.

It’s more than significant to think that world leaders are tweeting about their lives, and we shouldn’t de-value that with exaggerated claims.This is something amazing in itself -  a real change in behaviour and an opportunity to see a side of people we could not before. We don’t need to over-hype that.

Can Google+ rival Facebook and Twitter? Some initial thoughts

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Google+ Google Plus icons for Circles Spark Hangouts

Google+'s features - Home, Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Photos and Huddle

It’s too early to tell whether or not Google+, the company’s challenger to Facebook, will find success. Google’s Documents and Apps have seen widespread use, yet other services have struggled, like Wave. Early feedback suggests that from a user perspective, Google+ is getting some things right, but is not yet a solid package or a true rival to Facebook or Twitter.

The plus

Its real USP is ‘Circles’, which is a way of quickly and easily managing those you follow and then targeting those groups with content. This is a fantastic addition to friend/follower management and is something Facebook users have needed for years. It’s also potentially one of its biggest problems: if Facebook reacts quickly and introduces better peer management and targeting, then Circles ceases to be a differentiator.

Beyond Circles, it’s also promoting group video chat (‘Hangouts’) and topic browsing (‘Sparks’). Personally, I like Sparks. It works for me in the same way Bing does, i.e “let me browse but yes, give me that initial spark”. Hangouts is a great feature for those who like video chats. But I’m not sure it’s enough to take audience from, say, Skype. Google has fantastic voice recognition facilities for its mobile services. It would have been great, for example,  to support Hangouts with automatic voice transcription for the hard of hearing or for business meetings.

…and the minus?

It’s therefore going to be an uphill climb. Google hasn’t done itself any favours with its staggered approach to release. It worked for Gmail because people were looking for a great, free e-mail service and its central features did not rely on who or how many people you knew. Google+, however, requires you to have friends who are also using Google+. I have 300 friends on Facebook who are constantly chatting with me and giving me content to explore. Why should I go to Google+ to interact with 20 people?

If they want to succeed, then from a user perspective they really need to offer more of what the other networks don’t have (and a killer could have been decent cloud storage and streaming) and they need to make it easy for users to aggregate. Something as simple as grabbing contact e-mails from your Facebook friends en masse would have instantly made this more interesting. Why not allow me to connect using Twitter and Facebook to pull in feeds from both? Google could have made Google+ something I want as my homepage, my one-stop shop to the internet. They could have reinvented the internet portal - something Microsoft has been trying for years with MSN but failing because of poor application.

The value for brands?

As for brands, I don’t think there’s anything in this for them in the short term. Longer term I think brand engagement will be in the form of specialised search and content advertising (eg through ‘Sparks’ or interspersed through the stream). There’s a lot of white space that would be perfect for advertising. On top of that, Engadget found references to game sharing in the background code, suggesting that there’s much more to come that users and brands can do.

Perhaps that’s the central benefit Google will try to sell? ‘Come to Google+. We have ads, but it’s not nearly as invasive or pervasive as on Facebook!’