Snapchat Was Just Forced to Copycat Instagram

A story of impulse, habit, and the battle for your camera.

Instagram is putting the heat on Snapchat. And I love it.

I quit Snapchat stories a few months back. I was tired of all the sleazy featured stories that were always plastered all over that page, so I decided to jump ship and try Instagram stories instead. I, like many, had rolled my eyes when Instagram first copied Snapchat like this, but I was surprised to find that Instagram’s story tools have gotten good. Really good. Instagram has better captioning tools. They’re more flexible, more interesting, and allow for more creativity. They’re fun!

But more importantly, Instagram stories are better because you can post pictures or videos from your phone’s camera roll. This allows for even more creativity. I can post time-lapses or photos that I’ve edited in other apps. The stories I see from my church and local businesses are amazing. These people are putting a lot of time into creating incredible, professional looking stories.

Why doesn’t this happen on Snapchat? The answer is found in this app update that popped up in my feed about two weeks ago:

Snapchat used to have this weird white box around any post that you didn’t take directly with Snapchat’s camera. It was awkward. The idea was to force people to use the Snapchat camera.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When something cool happens in front of you, what do you do? More than likely, you pull out your phone. Then what? Do you launch the stock camera app, Snapchat, Instagram, or something else? I think many, many, people would answer that they open Snapchat.

Snapchat wants to be your camera app. They want everything you capture on your phone to go through Snapchat first. And they want you to share every moment – as long as you captured it in their app.

I’m sure Instagram wants this too – but they’ve decided to take a different approach. Instagram has decided to let you post whatever you want to your story, whenever you want. Instagram is aiming for quality over quantity. Maximum engagement looks like this: Take lots of pictures, caption them quickly, and post them to your story. Curation is different: Take lots of pictures (using your full-quality stock camera app), and then post the best on your story.

There is no way I’m going to document my entire life using both Snapchat and Instagram. That’s why this battle is important. And Snapchat was just forced to give up some ground. Instagram copied Snapchat, that much is for sure. But I honestly think Instagram is doing the majority of the innovating in this space now. I guess copycatting can go both ways.

5 Apps from my Friends that You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

As part of my epic quest to bring you Apps to Make Your Life Better, this week I reached out on Facebook and Ghacklabs to ask you for great apps. Here’s the catch – I asked for really obscure apps that most people haven’t heard of. Here’s what I got! (These descriptions were all written by those who submitted, although some were edited by me)

Opinion – Record & edit podcasts on your iPhone

One app that I love to use is called Opinion. It allows you to create a podcast from your iPhone, without any hassle of complex software or cutting/mixing/etc. I use it to record the Building Task Pigeon podcast. I was looking for a solution that would allow me to quickly and easily record and upload a podcast to platforms such as iTunes, without having to download the file to my computer, edit it and then submit it. It really has saved me a ton of time, and I enjoy using it as a way of sharing short and interesting stories on what I am doing with Task Pigeon.
Submitted by Paul Towers

Reverb – Buy and Sell Gear

Reverb.com is the best place on the internet to buy and sell musical gear. There are thousands of listings, but the Reverb app very well designed. The filters are very specific and allow me to easily narrow my search to find exactly what I want. Reverb has tons of listings, but the app makes it easy to find whatever I’m looking for.
Submitted by Ryan Foster and Daniel LaRoche

Cachebot Geocaching

If you’ve never been geocaching, you’re in for a treat. People hide “caches” all over the world and post the coordinates online, and then you go find them, signing the log book and swapping trinkets. The official Geocaching app won’t let you view advanced caches without paying, so using Cachebot is a good alternative.
Submitted by Austin Adams

Moji Edit – Your Custom Emoji Avatar Face

This app allows you to express your personality and identity literally. It was founded by two twins. You can create a custom representation of yourself in the app, changing the look and outfit, and then send stickers to your friends.
Submitted by Luke Fitzpatrick

Clipper – Clipboard Manager

This app is a clipboard that saves the last 20 text clips you copied into your phone’s memory buffer. This app is available on Android; if you’re on iOS, Clips is a similar app.
Submitted by Alex Yong


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

Blogging with Bob Lee

When I started writing again this year, the biggest goal I had for my blog was to build a community. I’ve been trying to connect with both readers and other bloggers with similar interests. Through this search, I met Bob Lee. Bob is an iOS Developer, and he’s sharing his journey learning Swift on the iOS Geek Community on Medium and the training course he’s working to release, The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. Bob has really worked hard to create a community around his blog, and he was kind enough to let me interview him and ask him a few questions:


Me: Who are you and what do you do?

Bob: First of all I am from Korea. I went to middle school in Malaysia, and high school in Vietnam. I studied chemical engineering in the States. In high school, I had no idea what coding was. My first year in college, I took a course in C. C is hard! I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class. After spending some time in school, I decided to come back to Korea, not sure what I wanted to do. I dabbled in web development and iOS development. Web development is very broad and competitive, but I realized iOS is more stable. All iOS developers are on the same path.

Me: What made you want to start blogging?

Bob: When I came back to Korea, I thought about freelancing. But I’ve always wanted to teach people. So I started making YouTube tutorials and blogging about iOS development.

Me: Through what channels do you interact with your readers?

Bob: Medium is where everything really starts. This is where people find my other social media. I engage with people a lot on my personal email list. Right now I’m making a course called The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. I started reaching out to people, just telling them that I was making the course and asking, “If you are interested, please contact me.” It started as slow progress, but I got to interact with those people who responded one by one. Lots of people just want a huge email list. I wanted to build a great relationship with each person. Every two weeks I send an email sharing updates on making the course. Taking the community slow helped me build relationships. I never try to sell anything; I’ve sold my authenticity over selling products.

Me: How do you pick topics that your readers find interesting?

Bob: I only talk about iOS; I want people to come back and see the same content. Not stuff about me personally, not other tech stuff. I knew I had to pick one thing. Swift is my first language. I write on the programming topics I struggle the most with. That’s how I’m confident that I’m providing value to people. I’m not a genius, I’m going through the same process as everyone else. This thing will be hard for other people, because I struggle with it.

Me: What’s your advice to build community in blogging?

Bob: Here’s what I want people to know: Sharing your story is the most important part. Many of the things I write about are really technical; I have to convince people why they should be interested in this. I always use “I,” not “you.” People are actually interested in other people’s stories. Why did I have this problem, how did I solve it? The story comes first.


I’m going to take a page out of Bob’s book here and reach out to all of you reading this. If you ever have any feedback about the blog, an app you’re interested in me writing about, or just want to say Hello, drop me a line! You can email me directly at staringatphones@icloud.com or tweet to me @NickFoster56. I’m looking forward to meeting you! ••

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Link: More Tools, Better Connections

Jason Snell, writing on Six Colors:

Because it turns out that while some fraction of my listenership follows me on Twitter, nearly 100% of my podcast listeners listen to my podcast. It was an important lesson—that as fun as interacting with people on social media can be, they represent a small subsection of the total audience.

Jason tells an interesting story in this piece about trying to contact a contest winner for one of his podcasts. Having no way to contact them directly, he tweeted out their name and waited for them to contact him. And waited. Nothing. Finally he announced the name on the show, and got a response almost immediately.

This is a fascinating story to me because it perfectly sums up the fact that we have an unbelievable number of tools to communicate. Texting, FaceTime, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, the list just keeps going. A lot of people (myself included), have all of these services. Some I use a lot, and some I don’t. But I like having all of them, because a service I don’t use a lot may be a new friend’s favorite way to communicate. And if using their favorite tool means I get to connect with them, then that’s a win for me. ••

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Link: My Interview on The Sweet Setup

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Image credit: The Sweet Setup

http://thesweetsetup.com/nick-fosters-mac-ios-setup/

My interview on The Sweet Setup runs today!  One of the things TSS does is interview someone each week and ask them about what devices and apps they use to be productive every day.  This week that someone is me!

If you’re not familiar with The Sweet Setup, you should go check out the rest of their site (after you read my interview of course).  In addition to these interviews, they also do great app roundups.  Big thanks to Jeffrey Abbott for working with me on the interview, I had a lot of fun with it!  ••

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Link: Ghacklabs’ Startup Quotes

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Image Credit: Ghacklabs

http://blog.ghacklabs.com/startup-goals/

A new friend of mine, Luke Fitzpatrick, recently posted a cool piece on his blog over at Ghacklabs.  He asked many different people, most of them founders of startups, what their goals were for 2017.  Luke was kind enough to include my goals for Staring at Phones in his list.  Go check it out!  ••

The Decline of Facebook

Facebook is still a huge name these days, but doesn’t it seem like the hype has died down a bit?  I mean, lots of people still use it, but it seems like I’m hearing more and more people say they’ve pretty much given up on it.  Today, the biggest name in social media is, without a doubt, Instagram, with Snapchat and Twitter also hot.  So what happened to Facebook anyway?

What’s happened to Facebook has happened to technology before.  Take email, for instance.  Remember when email was a fun, exciting way to talk to friends?  Now it’s a chore.  What happened?  Well, when people first started using email, not everyone had it.  That made everyone who did have it special.  So you enjoyed using it because it was new and cool.  It also meant that nothing truly important happened over email, because not everyone had it, so it wasn’t reliable.  But then that started to change.  Pretty soon, just about everyone had email.  That was good news at first: now we could all use email for “important” things, like planning get togethers with friends.  This wasn’t what posed the problem.  The problem occurred when other people, people like our employers and advertisers, realized that everyone was using email.  Now I’m not trying to knock employers here.  It’s their job to figure out new communications technologies and use them.  But it does kinda take the fun out of it, you know?  Now that we were getting emails about things that really were important, things that we needed to know, we had to really buckle down and be diligent about it.  Now we couldn’t just check email every day because it was fun, but because we had to.  And like a reverse Tom Sawyer, that sucked all the fun out of email.  It didn’t happen quickly.  But sooner or later we all realized that email was a chore.  Not that it can’t be fun sometimes.  But mostly, it’s something we check because we have to.

The same thing happened to Facebook.  It started out cool and new and fun, and then everyone expected you to have Facebook.  And they expected you to check it.  And that took a little of the fun out of it.  And in this way, Facebook is a victim of its own success.

I have never used Facebook, which honestly has made all of this far more interesting to watch, from the outside.  I know people still use Facebook a lot, and they still enjoy using it, but it just doesn’t seem to get as much enthusiasm as I remember it once getting.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Facebook is going away any time soon (I’ve been saying all this stuff for years and it’s still here), and it does still seem to be the go-to place for lots of people to post about their lives.  And it’s also a go-to place for people to go find out about their friends’ lives.  And that – that real, human element – will keep people coming back, in a way no app update ever will.

So again, I don’t think Facebook is dead in the water, not for a while yet, but I definitely think we went over peak Facebook quite a while ago.  Here’s the last bit of irony, though: remember what I said up at the top about Instagram?  Facebook owns Instagram (though it did cost them a cool $1 billion).  I don’t think a lot of people know this.  So, next time you read some crazy guy’s article about how Facebook is dead (no, no, I mean other than mine), just remember this: Even if Facebook the website dies, Facebook the company bank account still has quite a while to go.  ••

Twitter Moments: Still on the Fence

A few weeks ago, Twitter added a new section to their app and website.  Called “Moments,” it’s designed to be a place to keep up with things happening in the world.  Moments includes everything from political news to entertainment to internet trends.  The idea is that Twitter pulls together interesting tweets on a topic.  It’s meant to be a way of sorting through all the noise on Twitter and discovering good content.  If it’s coverage of a live event, you can “follow” it, and tweets will show up in your timeline just for the duration of the event.  Sounds cool.  However, my experience has been mixed.

Let’s start with the good.  After the attacks on Paris last weekend, Twitter had a moment showing the responses to that.  It was cool, and I genuinely feel like it helped inform me about what happened.  So after using Moments last weekend, I decided that I liked it and I would try to keep up with it.  And that’s where my interest began to wane.  When there isn’t a major breaking news story going on, Twitter Moments are kind of… boring.

At least the ones meant to be serious news are.  There are plenty of other silly ones – usually under the “Fun” tab – that are still, well fun.  Things like the trending hashtag #IWouldSleepMoreBut (spoiler: college and Netflix are prime offenders).  And some of the news stories are interesting, even if they’re not groundbreaking.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Twitter Moments needs to decide what it wants to be.  I thought it was pretty good for breaking news, but the problem is there isn’t always news breaking.  When that’s the case, it can just be a fun distraction to kill a few minutes while waiting on the bus.  I think it’d be cool if they had a Breaking News section that was truly only for breaking news.  What I mean is that a lot of the time, this would just be empty.  And that’s ok.  What I want them to do is to differentiate between keeping up with stuff that’s happening and just goofing off.  What I don’t like is them having a breaking news section that sometimes has breaking news and other times just has lame filler.  ••

Snapcash: Not Sure I Understand

Last week, the smash hit photo messaging app Snapchat unveiled a new feature: Snapcash.  Snapchat has partnered with Square to add money sending features to Snapchat.  To use this feature, you must be 18 years old, and you must link your debit card to your Snapchat account.  If you’re already scratching your head, I don’t blame you; I was also confused when I first saw this.  In my opinion, there’s two main problems with this feature.

The first problem is Snapchat’s implementation.  I haven’t actually used Snapcash, but from what Snapchat said, it seems all you have to do to send money is type a dollar sign and then an amount, such as “$20,” in a message.  This must be done from the text-only messaging screen, photo captions don’t count.  To me, this seems to make it too easy to send money.  Imagine you’re talking to a friend, and you casually say something like, “Today I was at the store going to buy such and such, but it was $100, so I decided not to.”  As far as I can tell, you’ve just sent that person $100.  I think the send button changes color to indicate that you’re about to send money, but in my opinion there should be at least one other confirmation prompt.  What this actually reminds me of is Amazon.com’s one-click ordering.  It’s convenient, but you have to be very, very, careful.

The other problem I have with Snapcash is a more basic one: it just doesn’t make sense.  Messaging is great, and so is sending money, but I don’t see any overlap here.  I’ve never thought to myself, “You know, it’d be really great if I could send money over Snapchat!”  I commend Snapchat for trying to add features to their service, but I think they may be looking in the wrong place.  Then again, maybe I’m wrong.  Who knows?  This could be good after all.  For now, though, I’m just not sure I get it.  ••

What Comes After the Internet?

Last week I would have looked at that title and laughed.  Nothing comes after the internet, of course; the internet is the future.  Or is it?  Didn’t people say the same thing about TV, and radio?  I just finished reading From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet (which I highly recommend, by the way).  In the book, John Naughton (the author), while admitting that we can’t know for sure where the internet is going, tries to postulate where it’s going by looking at another enormous leap for technology: the printing press.  Turns out, there were doomsayers for the printing press too (they thought an avalanche of books would cheapen their quality), much the same way there are doomsayers for the internet today.  Looking back, we scoff at those who scoffed at the printing press.  Will future generations scoff at us for being afraid of the internet?  Or is the internet so special, so new, and so different that our fears are justified?

I can’t answer that question.  But I can answer the first part of it.  The internet is not different.  It’s just another medium, the same way printing, radio, and TV were before it.  This was the light bulb that hit me this week, the one that made me change my mind about this title.  I’d always thought that the internet would just continue to evolve, never ceasing, never being replaced.  However, the odds of that now seem rather low.  When television first came, it was thought to be the death of radio.  Radio didn’t die, but its heyday was over.  Ironically though, it seems television is also nearing a decline.  The internet is slowly (quickly?) taking over as our primary form of entertainment, but there’s no reason to believe it will last forever.  On the contrary, history indicates that almost everything will slowly become obsolete.

But what will replace the internet?  That’s the flip side of my epiphany: I haven’t the slightest idea.  This seems odd that we know change is so imminent, so sure, but we don’t even have a glimmer as to what it might look like.  I’m sure that, for now, the internet will keep improving (in much the same way television did).  However, at some point, something totally new is bound to come.

That’s what makes the future so exciting!  As I follow the tech world, every day I’m more and more aware of what an electrifying time we live in.  Everything is changing so fast, and we have no way of knowing where we’re going.  But maybe that’s the fun of it.  ••