Week 11 of the first year Journalism Technologies class at the University of Huddersfield was all about direct messaging, a form of communication that seems even more pervasive than the major social networks. Which certainly helps explain why so many have become dominant players, not least Facebook’s own Messenger and WhatsApp, which it memorably bought for an absolute fortune almost four years ago. And when better to look back than in the week when texting turned 25.
Snapchat has been the focus of a lot of scrutiny this year, after turning out repeated overtures from Facebook and going through an IPO. Early highs have been followed by a few months of downbeat news, with reports of less interaction with power celebrity users and a possible dwindling of interest in its key under-25 demographic, mainly because of the way in which Facebook has ruthlessly copied many of Snapchat’s central features for its own Instagram platform. There’s no evidence of it in my seminar groups – Snapchat remains almost unanimously used, and in many cases by far the most popular app around.
With references to the Uses and Gratifications Theory and the 2016 paper by Vaterlaus et al on why teenagers in particular actually use Snapchat, posing this question to students drew some interesting responses. But if there was one theme above the others, it was that Snapchat was the best way to communicate with a select group of maybe four or five friends, often in a group chat, and often using just text. In a sense not much different from WhatsApp or Messenger, and students said they quite regularly have the same friends in chats on those platforms too. All very confusing if you’re my age and older but then, Snapchat’s still not really for us.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged AOL, Brian Acton, Evan Spiegel, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Jan Koum, MSN, SMS, Snapchat, Uses and Gratifications Theory, WhatsApp
Journalism Technologies moved on this week to direct messaging, encompassing everything from texting to an area of much less familiarity to men in their 30s like me: Snapchat. In the lecture, I noted some notable similarities and differences between the developments of these particular technologies, compared with those looked at in previous weeks. As is so often the case, universities were involved: whether M.I.T. as with the Compatible Time Sharing System back in the 1960s, or Stanford (alma mater of Google and, at a push, Apple) through Evan Spiegel’s Snapchat.
One interesting difference comes with texting. Never a big deal in America, this was initially conceived by a Finnish engineer, while the first SMS was sent between two British engineers in 1992. The Finns helped popularise it though, thanks to all those almost-indestructible Nokia handsets which were everywhere from 1999 onwards, when users began to be able to text friends on different networks. Even though Twitter was initially designed as a form of public text messaging, some in the office hadn’t even heard of texting when the idea was first mooted there in the mid-2000s.
Even now, the world’s biggest messaging platform, WhatsApp, is not an especially significant player in the US. Only 7% of American internet users have the app, while that figure is a third in Europe and significantly higher in Africa and the Middle East. That last point, its penetration in areas which in many cases missed out on the desktop computer revolution almost completely, helps explain why Facebook paid such big money for it back in 2014.
This week’s theory was UGT: Uses and Gratifications Theory. It’s a body of scholarship which examines why we use particular forms of media, and what we get out of it when we do. A classic example is a 1949 study of newspaper readers, deprived of their daily read by a strike, who told interviewers that it was the ritual of reading the paper they missed, rather than the actual content of the articles. An interesting 2016 study by Vaterlaus et al applied UGT to Snapchat, asking students at an American university why they liked it so much. Something well worth presenting to my own first year students, I thought, especially as many acknowledged in the workshops that it was at least rivalling, if not surpassing, Facebook and Twitter as their social platform of choice.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Compatible Time-Sharing System, Evan Spiegel, JM Vaterlaus, Journalism Technologies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Matti Makkonen, Nokia, SMS, Snapchat, Stanford University, Twitter, Uses and Gratifications Theory, WhatsApp