Social networks race to release new tools

I feel like I’m on the end of a Ford production line the way that social networking sites have been queuing up to deliver updates at or during the Web 2.0 conference.

Four giants (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Foursquare) each announced new features or upcoming changes to their networking platforms on Wednesday and Thursday.

BlackBerry joins the Facebook Messenger party

Facebook Messenger has been available on the iPhone and Android for a while but now BlackBerry users will be able to see who is currently online and chat with them via the Facebook Messenger app. This BlackBerry-friendly announcement is also tied to an update for all of the Facebook Messenger applications that are geared to make chatting with friends online faster and easier.

The Facebook  Messenger app was created as a separate entity from the standard Facebook app so that users could go right to chatting rather than navigate through the multiple options and pings that come on the full Facebook application.

The Messenger app is an extension of Facebook messages, this means that all correspondence with a person — including your texts, chats, emails and messages — will be logged in the application and follow a cohesive thread. 

People you are trying to reach do not have to have the application in order for this to work. if they do not have the application or are not on it when you send a message then it will appear in their Fac

ebook messages or you can get it sent to them as a text.

When you go to pick a contact to start a conversation with, there are color indicators that show if they are online (just like many are familiar with on instant messaging systems) so you have a better idea if they will respond immediately. 

The application also imports all your other phone contacts and allows you the option to pick with phone number you want to SMS someone. This integration allows you to create a group of people (on and on Facebook) to send the same message to — a great perk so you can save time figuring out the best mode of communication.

There are also options to include location and photos so that groups can share an organize for events or map directions for one another easily.

This new update is not only adding to the dearth of Blackberry applications it is also allowing smartphone users, yet another option on how they want to reach their friends at any time, any place.

Google+ loosens its rules and adds more fun

It has been less than 90 days since people received invites to join Google+ and now the circle-centric social site is open to anyone — including people that wish to use pseudonyms rather than their legal name.

The Google+ official blog claims that the slew of changes, that officially released on Thursday, bring the number of updates for the network to100.

A few days ago, Google reported that more than 40 million people had already signed up for Google+ but did not show how active those account were since the initial buzz of the new network has dimmed greatly since the invite-only launch. 

Hangouts, which use live video so that multiple people can chat online, will now be available over the phone.

All you have to do is access Google+ over your phone and find an active Hangout group then click the button “join” and you will be able to jump in to the video chat.

This services is supported by Android devices 2.3 and greater — iOS is coming soon.

Another new Hangout option now is to broadcast to larger audiences such as school organizations, church groups and more. 

Once a Hangout is created then you can choose the option “On Air” and anyone on Google+ can watch the broadcast in real time.

This broadcasting addition is something that really separates Google+ from the competition and brings a whole new spin on those who love to watch and download video or podcasts into a more social environment. Personally, I can’t wait to see if any public figures take a handle on this to really reach out to the public and interact with huge audiences.

WIthin Hangouts, screensharing, sketchpad and viewing/sharing GoogleDocs are also now testable with feedback sections for Google+ to adjust.

Searching capabilities have also been elevated to meet the Google name on the network so that when you type into the searchbar, relevant people and posts will be suggested.

And, for what I find to be the most expansive of the new features, anyone can join. and this doesn’t just mean you Aunt or your neighbor who never asked for an invite — but also personalities and entities that aren’t legal names can be a part of your network. 

I watched closely as public figures such as San Francisco-based blogger Violet Blue staged campaigns against Google+ for limiting the definition of a person’s identity since lots of authors, bloggers and other public figures didn’t want to or can’t safely have their audiences follow their legal names but that didn’t make them any less real.

Google+ is also previewing more features that will be rolling out “very soon” such as improved SMS support so people can update group messages via text, including a user’s name in a post to grab their attention to an added message or article (much like Facebook will highlight people you mention in wall posts.)

LinkedIn connects with your alma mater

Just as the company announced the new Talent Pipeline Tool for the recruiters on LinkedIn (that will roll out in early 2012), it is also featuring a new way to view fellow alumni. This new Classmates feature lets users see an interactive diagram showing where alumni work, in what industry and in what cities. 

This tool only allows people who have listed that they attended a college to see the breakdown of alumni data.

Information per school can be organized based on graduation dat ranges or can be specified as “show alumni with no graduation year listed.”

Just like with other people connects, the people that pop up will denote the level of connection that the fellow alums are with you and can thus be used as a way to connect with more school mates or network with people who work at companies you are interested in.

Foursquare adds two services to better your vacation

Two new website applications are working with Foursquare to bring more of a visual and organized spin to your vacations (past and future.) 

The first site is Plan your next Trip, which was the grand prize winner of Foursquare’s recent global hackathon, and allows users to build their travel itinerary with suggestions of other nearby popular spots.

This service uses the Foursquare application programing interface to map out a timeline and travel route using the hot spots where Foursquare users have checked in a great deal.

This could be most beneficial to travelers with one or two extra days in an unfamiliar city. The service currently does not require a log in or even a Foursquare account but is a great use of Foursquare technology.

The second service is deeply integrated into the data from your Foursquare account. TripsQ uses your check-ins to create a map of the places you went on past trips and show amazing visual maps and graphs of where you spent your time, how much carbon emissions were expended for you business or pleasure escape, and the distance you traveled over any given time.

This is a great tool for the serial traveler that wants to sum up their past year or can be a great business tool to show executives or co-workers the toll of all the travel in your job. 

I have to admit that I am an information graphic junky, and any tool that integrates these visual elements well wins me over pretty quick. 

But this tool is only helpful for those who leave the city they live in — since I signed up in San Francisco and have yet to leave, I sadly have no data to graph just yet.

What this means for social network users

This clearly means that social networks aren’t going to rest our the software that they have developed and user suggestions and comments are more heard than ever. 

Essentially I suggest using all these shiny new tools and if there is something you want or wish, get loud about it and the power of social media could take care of the rest.

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