Archive for the ‘Apps’ Category

Snapchat Discover Making Moves

Every reporter, every news company wants its products to be viewed by as many people as possible. Social media has made it easier for stories to be shared quicker and wider, and earlier this year Snapchat entered the news game with the Discover feature. Prior to Discover, Snapchat was a social media platform that couldn’t have been farther away from the news game — the purpose was the send funny pictures that lasted a maximum of 10 seconds.

CNN, Cosmopolitan, People, The Daily Mail, Vice, National Geographic, ESPN, Yahoo News, Food Network, Comedy Central and Warner Music were the original publishers to sign on. In the seven months since it was launched, iHeart Radio and Buzzfeed have been added, and Warner Music and Yahoo News have been removed. The simple addition and deletion of some publishers show that the app has gone through development and advancement, with the hopes of more success in the Discover feature. It has also been moved to the main story page, instead of hidden in a small button.

It is one thing for Snapchat to be showing interest in news and the desire to make the news feature more popular with its users, but outside publishers are also benefits from being in business with Snapchat. CNN, The Daily Mail and National Geographic have staff members that only work on Snapchat and Vox is looking to hire specific Snapchat staffers in order to get on the Discover feature.

Snapchat as a social media platform for news is unique because there is a specific audience that is being reached and that audience generally isn’t going to the app just for news. The publishers that are part of the Discover feature are tasked with creating content that will work on Snapchat, be of interest to young users and be visually appealing on a smartphone.

Snapchat’s advancement of the app and news organizations desire to be a part of its growth shows the trend of news heading going digital and the importance of social media. The news organizations that have decided to sign on have shown they are willing to worth with news trends and be ahead of the rest of the industry. Discover may not have reached the perfect formula for reaching the users it wants yet, but if more news organizations are willing to be a part of it, it success should only grow.

Taylor Barker, a member of the Ithaca College chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is the student representative for SPJ Digital. Barker is also an editorial intern for The Miss Information. You can follow her on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s unless otherwise indicated, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Snapchat Live, Citizen Journalism

You know what social media I purposefully held out on?  Snapchat.

I’d seen one too many of my peers get burned by that pesky little instant-messaging system –– either by sending the right snap to the wrong person, or getting that ugly selfie screen-shotted (I’m sure that’s a verb by now, right?).

No way, I scolded myself. Sending unattractive pictures of my face in different discrete locations is not the kind of social media I want to engage in.

And here we are.  I’ve succumbed to the inevitability of Snapchat, much to the delight of my closest Millennial friends.

Though I still haven’t figured out all the quirks and mechanics of the app itself, (like what really happens when you swipe left instead of right?), I’ve embraced Snapchat as a tool for news, like the nosey little journalist I am.

Not only is my favorite news organization, National Geographic, highlighted in Snapchat’s Discover section every morning, but there’s now a new feature I can’t stop clicking on: Snapchat Live.

Live is essentially a city spotlight, where one city from –– get this –– around the entire world is selected every few days.  Snaps sent with the city’s geotag (a marker identifying the city, swipe right a few times to see yours) are collected and sorted into a story by Snapchat support gurus.  The result is a curated, 100-some-second photo-story told from a handful of the city’s denizens, from almost every location (and angle) possible.

As a wanderlust soul stuck in suburban Ohio, I can’t help but smile and laugh along with those Snappers (a new term for Snapchat users, perhaps?) waving and yelling “Hello, from Cairo!” on my tiny little screen.  In the past few weeks, I’ve been transported to São Paulo, Brazil, and a dazzling city in the United Arab Emirates.  I’ve been taken on intimate boat rides, shown the pyramids of Giza from a lofty rooftop, and seen the sun set on different continents –– without having left my bedroom.

The world is truly a wonderfully small world, after all.

Now, I’ve seen many of these breathtaking sites from textbook stock photos and glossy banners in magazines.  But there’s something about this utterly raw, perfectly imperfect footage on Snapchat Live that keeps me coming back for more.

It’s real.  It isn’t some doctored postcard sent to seem luxurious, remote, or exclusive to us relatively affluent Americans.  Snapchat Live showcases young people, like me, using social media as a tool, a guide, to make our world feel more like a community instead of divided countries.  And I admire this emerging form of citizen journalism, for all of its genuine humanness, if you will.

Because when I’m driving around Columbus, I see more of Fifth Avenue traffic and corn-shucking at my local farmer’s market, a crowded movie theater parking lot and an even more crowded Jeni’s ice cream stand than I do the picturesque skyline of downtown plastered onto every travelogue in history.  And that’s the kind of story I want to tell, to show to others: the bright, beautiful, undiscovered world in which I live.

Snapchat Live is also being used to capture historic moments and live entertainment events happening around the world; I watched the U.S. Open of Surfing this afternoon.  So, don’t be like me –– see what Snapchat is all about today.  I believe it’s redefining citizen journalism in the 21st century as we know it.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Environmental Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Can Apple take a bite out of Facebook?

Apple CEO Tim Cook, as seen in 2009, is leading competition against Facebook for new content consumption. (Photo: igrec/Flickr under CC)

Apple CEO Tim Cook, as seen in 2009, is leading competition against Facebook for new content consumption. (Photo: igrec/Flickr under CC)

At its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco today, Apple unveiled a new app for content from various publishers and news organizations. The app, which is to launch with iOS 9 when it launches later in the year, is to replace its newsstand app, which, according to a report from Mashable, did not fare well with users.

Yet, the most significant takeaway from the app was the method publishers have for content, as it is similar to Facebook’s Instant Articles initiative, introduced last month. Publishers are able to advertise on the app and keep the profits from the ads, while posting new content on Apple’s server. Initial organizations taking part include ESPN, The Guardian and The New York Times, and, according to a report from The Guardian, can be tailored to your location.

While it is still early days for both Apple’s news app, and indeed Facebook’s Instant Articles, as a report from Business Insider noted by the Nieman Lab indicates, as new tests begin on the initiative, one thing is clear. The competition is on for content and to host it in many new ways as possible. This has stretched beyond social media, and has become a new way to compete for content, giving new initiative for publishers.

Whether Apple can take a bite out of Facebook’s content plans remains to be seen, but today’s announcement makes one thing clear. Apple is ready to take on the social network, and it’s not going down without a fight.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is a contributing blogger for Net Worked, and serves as Community Coordinator for SPJ. Veeneman also is Deputy Editor, Media Editor and a writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. Veeneman also contributes to The News Hub web site. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s unless otherwise indicated, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Stop ignoring Instagram

BarsChristmas arrived early for Instagram. The photo- and video-sharing service announced this week that it reached a major milestone: 300 million monthly active members.

Not quite the audience of Facebook (over 1.4 billion), or Twitter (500 million tweets daily), but enough that journalists really ought to pay it more attention.

They don’t, or many of them don’t anyway, because Instagram still strikes senior scribes as a young people’s playground decorated with abundant square-shaped images of provocative selfies, tilted shots of half-eaten meals, and too many — way too many — artfully cropped portraits of people’s feet. Moreover, square images are rather confining for news photographers who prefer to see the world through a 4:3 aspect ratio.

After breaking down that huge membership number into digestible bits, one can understand the bias. In 2013, Instagram’s own research showed that 80 percent of users were under age 24, and over half of that group had yet to finish college. Among all teens, 30 percent consider Instagram more important in their social media lives than Facebook or Twitter.

But social media platforms age like the people who use them and, one hopes, mature. Between June 2012 and June 2013, Instagram’s member base doubled despite near saturation of the youth market. Growth in urban areas outpaced that of suburban ones. And the increase in the number of users who make at least $50,000 annually exceeded the increase among those who didn’t.

Besides, 300 million is a very big number — big like an oversized sofa in an undersized apartment. And journalists who just figured out Facebook or who just joined Twitter and cringe at the idea of trying to bend their minds around yet another hulking piece of technology must understand this.

They need to get over it and focus on one important point: By being the social hub for such large number of people who journalists and media owners still struggle to reach, Instagram serves well as a site for tracking the trends, comparing the perspectives, and monitoring the moods of a valuable demographic.

So, try these tips for optimal use of Instagram:

Follow the hashtags — Like Twitter, Instagram makes use of hashtags (words or unspaced phrases with a # prefix) that turn simple terms into searchable metadata. Users can compile lists from tags such as #Ferguson and #Ebola to sift for relevant content. And like Twitter, hashtag results appear in real time, so the newest content appears in the stream first.

Depending on the frequency of posts, new content displaces old content quickly at the top of a feed, and Instagram’s search is not robust. For better searching, try using a service such as Gramfeed.

Explore communities — Large groups of Instagram users sharing similar interests often form communities around those interests, marked by single hashtags. Among the most popular communities are #ThingsOrganizedNeatly, #FollowMeTo, #Silhouettes, and Throwback Thursday (#tbt), which consists of users’ old photos posted on, well, Thursdays. (Note: Hashtags are not case-sensitive, but using upper case to show where the smushed words begin displays social courtesy.)

Check location settings — Instagram has a location service that lets users attach location tags, or geotags, to their photos. This is valuable during breaking news events; users can zoom in on the mapping feature to see who else has shot photos or video nearby and verify their locations.

iPhones, iPads under attack from China?

WireLurker logoApple Inc. made its powerful brand name on the strength of intuitive technology that for years seemed immune to routine hacking. Now, a malware campaign afflicting China threatens to dampen that distinction and harm those here who rely on any one of an estimated 800 million iPads, iPhones and 64-bit Macs.

The WireLurker malware reportedly flourishes in China on pirated software. Once installed it burrows into the operating system and waits for peripherals to connect, whereby it records the information passed between the devices. Much of that information consists of serial numbers, phone numbers and iTune store identification information.

Then WireLurker installs benign-looking apps that sift for other identifiers including texting history, address books and other private files to pinpoint potential targets. WireLurker also imports regular updates from an attacker’s command servers, thus remaining on guard against counterattacks.

Security company Palo Alto Networks alerted Apple users on this side of the Pacific in a recently released white paper.

Although WireLurker poses no immediate threat here as yet, it represents a comprehensive approach to malware distribution not seen before with Apple products, Palo Alto Networks says.

To reduce the risk of infection, users of Apple devices are advised to take a few precautions:

  • Avoid downloads from any location other than iTunes or the Mac App Store. To ensure this, in the System Preferences panel, click on the check box next to “Allow apps downloaded from Mac App Store (or Mac App Store and identified developers)”
  • Avoid connecting or pairing your Mac or portables with other unsecured devices, whether they are Mac- or PC-based.
  • Keep the operating systems updated on all devices. The updates also plug holes in system security.
  • Keep all antivirus and anti-malware programs updated as well.

Keep in mind as well: The people most at risk are those who ignore every pop-up security warning Apple throws at them.

Palo Alto Networks is providing a tool to detect WireLurker infection on Mac and advises that removing WireLurker and the damage it causes will require expert attention.

Cautionary tale evident in latest Snapchat snafu

Snapchat logo

Snapchat’s logo

Our society is chock full of rules, some of which deserve to be broken.

But before breaking one, try reading the fine print.

That salient detail might have helped those who were victimized by a security breach that leaked 200,000 images and videos, some possibly lurid and potentially embarrassing, that belonged to users of the photo messaging application Snapchat.

For those of you unaware, Snapchat is a mobile app with a programmable timer to limit availability of the photos and recorded videos its 100 million monthly users send to each other. Recipients have just a few seconds to view shared content before it disappears forever — in theory, anyway.

The appeal of an app such as this is obvious. Some photos — snapshots of a goofy face or what you ate for lunch — deserve only a few seconds of our time, whereas incriminating photos — sexy selfies and the like — we hope will last only a few seconds.

Friday, Snapchat acknowledged that some of its content stored by a third-party application turned up on a fake photo website. The third-party application, Snapsaved, apologized and took full responsibility, saying a misconfiguration of its servers left the app’s archives vulnerable to hacking. Initially, media reports had blamed Snapchat for letting the photos leak.

The site that published the photos,, has since disappeared. What happened to its content remains uncertain. (Snapsaved’s site has been unresponsive since the breach was discovered.)

The current worry is that many of those 200,000 photos were provocative and incriminating — and now they may be everywhere. But Snapchat insists that less than a third of its content is too mature for the app’s youngest subscribers, ages 13 to 18. The other content, Snapchat says, is disposable, unmemorable.

It would be easy at this point to heap shame and insults on Snapsaved and curse it for not being more careful. But Snapsaved provided a service made possible only by Snapchat users breaking the rules they promised to uphold: In its terms-of-use policies, Snapchat prohibits users from culling and distributing content.

Of course, nobody reads terms-of-use policies, in part because the legalese used to craft them borders on unreadable. And where there are rules, there are rule breakers. Nevertheless, believe it or not, terms of use exist to protect customers’ rights, too.

This is why real blame for the photo leak rests with the Snapchat users who ignored the terms and in the process put people’s reputations —  perhaps even their own — at risk.

What can Instagram’s new app do for journalism?

Instagram unveiled its new app, Hyperlapse, a couple of weeks ago. But does it have any benefits for journalism? (Photo: Zenspa1/Flickr under CC license)

Instagram unveiled its new app, Hyperlapse, a couple of weeks ago. But does it have any benefits for journalism?
(Photo: Zenspa1/Flickr under CC license)

This past August, Instagram unveiled its new Hyperlapse app, designed to create time lapse clips from videos. This week, it got its first outing in journalism, as it was used during coverage of New York Fashion Week.

Journalists from publications including The Wall Street Journal and Lucky used the app to create time lapse videos of catwalks during events. Outside of New York Fashion Week, the LA Times used it to capture visitors with the NHL Stanley Cup.

With this usage, can there be benefits for journalism when it comes to Hyperlapse? Not many examples of it being used emerge, but some in the industry, including Catherine Cloutier, a data journalist with the Boston Globe and a co-organizer of the Online News Association’s chapter in Boston, are saying there are benefits.

I imagine it would be an easier and more user-friendly way to do a time-lapse video, which newsrooms use to show dramatic change over a span of time,” Cloutier said, in an email to SPJ Digital.

Have you used Hyperlapse? What benefits do you see Hyperlapse having in journalism? Let us know what you think in our comments section, post on our Facebook page or tweet us.

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Special Projects Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman.

Snapchat snafu serves as an important reminder

Snapchat logoToday, many Snapchat users are no doubt gnawing their nails over the clothing-sparse selfies and booze-infused party pics they shared on assumptions of privacy. They’re wondering whether insulting memes and embarrassing explanations will result.

They’re probably kicking themselves over believing Snapchat was different from other social sites, and kicking themselves again for ignoring the reality of digital secrecy — that there really is no such thing.

On Thursday, Snapchat, the mobile messaging service that distinguished itself by guaranteeing all of its clients’ sharing was time-limited and disposable, agreed to settle Federal Communications Commission charges that it could not deliver on that guarantee. The settlement comes despite insinuations and accusations that the guarantee lacked legitimacy from the start.

As punishment, Snapchat must restate its privacy goals and live up to them while under federal surveillance for the next 10 years. No monetary penalty was announced, but in our fast-moving digital world the surveillance period is tantamount to living with a parole officer for two lifetimes, and trying to sneak past the guard could invite a fatal smack in the wallet.

Snapchat apologized in brief on its blog, alleging that some of the FTC’s charges were addressed well before Thursday’s announcement and concluding its mea culpa by saying, “We are devoted to promoting user privacy and giving Snapchatters control over how and with whom they communicate. That’s something we’ve always taken seriously and always will.”

But promises are made to be broken, and a tech startup’s erstwhile intent lacks armor against those who merely feign concern for anyone’s social well-being. The Snapchat snafu thus serves as yet another piquant reminder that a person’s secrets are best protected by their owners and not by anyone who’s capable of putting a dollar value on indiscretion.

And so, the reminders go out again, to journalists and non-journalists alike:

  • Don’t trust your privacy to anything digital.
  • Don’t consider any kind of social networking to be a secret conversation. Your first clue? It has the word “social” is its name.
  • Don’t talk to people online in ways you wouldn’t talk to them in person.
  • Don’t share digital data unsecured or unencoded.
  • Don’t think Snapchat’s apology amounts to an epilogue on this story.


David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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