Facebook StoriesIt seems like all the major social platforms are working day and night to copy each other’s features. Lately, it seems they all have their sights set on the newly-public Snapchat, who launched their stories feature ages ago. Instagram soon followed,  and this week the mighty Facebook is launching a story feature.

Stories are not a new concept – users can now post images, videos, and more to a “story” as opposed to their news feed. These are intended to be ephemeral, lasting a few hours or a day, and then the disappear. Users can send these to all their friends, or like Snapchat and Instagram, direct them a specific user.

Facebook will allow drawing, stickers, and more to be added to photos. Facebook’s spin on the story will include a feature they are calling “masks,” which is a lift of Snapchat’s filters feature. Snapchat’s filters are fun but they have some pretty serious science behind them. Here are a few examples of masks Facebook will ship:

Facebook Masks

As you can see, they will be heavily advertiser focused. In the example above, you can see an Aliens move tie-in, Minions, and Guardians of the Galaxy. These IPs all have new movies coming out this summer. After all, Facebook is an advertising company, first and foremost.

Here’s what I thought when I saw this news this morning. If every platform and tool has an ephemeral stories feature, then none of them do. My time is limited, and now I have to think about what platform I should or need to post my stories on. None of them? All of them? Where do I reach the most amount of people?

For example, for some reason, I have a huge following on Snapchat. Literally tens of thousands. I post stories there and they do well with many views. Now, with Facebook launching stories, will that audience erode? Do I have to post the same content on Facebook where I reach less people, or do I focus my limited energies on the platforms where I already have brand value?

And that’s me as an individual. This is going to add a whole new layer of complexity for brands, institutions, and companies. They will need to decide where it makes sense for them to spend their time and resources to reach their key audiences as well. The Verge says this:

Where to post your daily story now becomes a daily concern for a certain subset of youngish, social media-savvy people. Facebook says stories belong everywhere that people are talking online, but what if the format is a fad? And what if forcing it on users across its entire family of app leads to a general fatigue with the idea? The company says each of its apps has a distinctive audience, and I believe it. But there’s also plenty of overlap. There’s a risk here that Facebook’s mania for stories will be interpreted as overkill by its users, and the feature will ultimately fade into the background. (This happened with live video!)

This stories war has the potential to also create confusion among users. If Facebook puts a large amount of attention and advertising around the Stories feature, will that slowly decrease the amount of news feed posts people and brands are doing? Will brands want to spend money to promote their posts to news feeds if the traffic isn’t there to see it?

Personally, I’m all for stories if it stops people posting freebooted videos and “inspirational” quotes on their news feeds.

Or: My Kingdom for an Instagram API

It’s been interesting to watch Instagram scale and become one of the most used social networks over the last few years. Their app is great, the features they’ve added like video have been well-integrated into the platform, and the spin-off apps, like Hyperlapse, have become tools that are very useful in their own right.

As a regular user, Instagram is fun and easy to use and share. Does it need to be vigilant and promote good content? Yes, otherwise I fear they’ll go the way of Facebook where it’s just people sharing dumb images with silly motivational sayings and crap content created to drive clicks and likes.

As a user who also manages a brand on Instagram, it’s a pain to use. Here’s why.

First, there’s no easy way to switch between my personal Instagram account and brand account, other than logging out and logging back in. While not a big deal, it’s best to be posting regular content as a brand page and I’m constantly switching back and forth. The app should let me switch easily and quickly.

While we’re at it, it should also remember the connected social networks to each account. I’m hesitant to also share my brand Instagram post on Twitter using the built-in tools of Instagram because I’m scared to death a photo of my lunch, kids, or collection of Lego minifigs would be shared on my University’s Twitter feed. Oops.

Instagram needs better statistics and reporting for brands. Twitter and Facebook have built very nice analytics tools, but Instagram has not. If they want brands to spend more time on their platform, and promote their posts by purchasing ads, they need to give actionable data. The best way at this point to get Instagram analytics is to go to a place like Iconosquare, where you can get data but only for a few days then you need to move to a paid plan.

The other challenge Instagram faces is that life would be easier for brands if they had an API where we could post images and videos using it. Most times, I upload my content to Dropbox, open my phone, save the image, email myself the copy to go with my post, copy the text for the post, finally open Instragram, and then I post. There has to be a better way.

Instagram’s API is robust. You can easily pull media, user information, likes, friends, and more. What it lacks, at least to the public, is a way to POST media to it.

But if you’re building an app that pulls Instagram data, be aware:

Apps created on or after Nov 17, 2015 will start in Sandbox Mode and function on newly updated API rate-limits and behaviors. Prior to going Live, and being able to be used by people other than the developers of the app, these apps will have to go through a new review process.

So for now, we’re stuck with no easy API. There are ways to fake it though. People have sniffed out the calls Instagram’s app makes to the API, so they see how to POST data, but they get denied.

For the last few months, I found a little free Mac app called Gramblr that would post to Instagram on the sly. If I had to guess, it sent Instagram headers pretending to be an Android or iOS application. Gramblr recently update from a small stand-alone app to a new app that you manage from the browser, locally it seems.

Today I updated to the new version and posted this photo. Using Gramblr’s new web-based interface, it was super easy. Adding a photo was drag-and-drop, and you can add filters and resize as needed. Adding my caption was a simple cut and paste action.

Here are a few Gramblr screenshots:

So far, Gramblr worked great and looks interesting. Two things make me nervous.

Unless they have clear approval from Instagram, this app could be shutdown without warning, leaving users stuck in the cold.

Secondly, Gramblr has created “coins” you can spend to put your Instagram posts in front of other Gramblr users, where they can like it and gain more “coins,” virtual currency that can be used to promote your post to more people. It’s a bit of a closed-loop network of users that like each other’s photos. Why did they make this? They explain:

We wanted to create something for our users to do together, and we thought creating a little “game of likes” would be quite fun. It’s a nice way to see and like other people’s pictures, and being able to expect the same in return if you want to! We think it could become an easier way for some people to get noticed and get followers too.

To be honest, it feels a bit spammy. Our posts do pretty well, and I don’t know how much an addition 25 or 50 likes on any of our photos really help or hurt. Here are some more details:

The rules:
  • When you post your picture to the Ratings section, it requires coins, and you then get a guaranteed amount of likes on Instagram.
  • We will always make sure to show your qualifying pictures to the people who live nearest to you or who share the same interests.
  • Currently, the only way to get coins is to like other Instagram pictures through Gramblr.
  • You can get thousands of coins a day by enabling the auto-like feature!
  • Automatic likes from others will not be counted in your Gramblr rating, but they will increase your Instagram likes!

When I look at the photos I can like, most are garbage. Badly design ads, image macros of life-affirming quotes, and the like. I did see one University’s photo pop up though, so at least some other schools are jumping into this.

tL/DR; Instagram could make life easier for brands if they offered better analytic data and had an API that would allow brands to post content more easily.

Hyperlapse App IconOn Tuesday, August 26, Instagram, owned by Facebook, released a new app called Hyperlapse, an app for taking long videos, compressing them and stabilizing the resulting video.

It’s really some pretty interesting technology, and it immediately got me thinking about ways to use this in higher ed. Events, campus visits, scenery, there are so many opportunities to use to create interesting, engaging videos. Best of all – you don’t have to have all sorts of fancy equipment, just your phone and the app. It really does a nice job of smoothing out the video and giving the user all sorts of speed options.

Here’s a quick example I took today with my phone, just walking around the statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and a new plaza we created on campus over the summer. You can see a non-square version on this Facebook post.

Intagram lowers the resolution a bit, but straight out of the camera you can see it’s full size. You can use this link if you’d like to download the video that came directly out of my iPhone 5 with no editing or color correction.

I’m starting to see some other schools jump on using this app as well. Here’s a video the University of Toledo posted today.