September 29, 2011

Social Media Discuss Tech Changes

PEJ New Media Index September 19-23, 2011

From iPhones and Netflix to Facebook and Google+, the talk in social media last week was about new developments in technology.

For the week of September 19-23, blogs and Twitter were eager for new products and angry about changes to old ones, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In particular, commentators were excited about the upcoming version of the iPhone and the expansion of the new social networking site Google+. But they were mostly unhappy about changes to sites they had become accustomed to, particularly Netflix and Facebook.

The top subject last week, Apple’s iPhone, has been of particular interest to bloggers for some time now. Rumors about new versions of the device have been among the most discussed subjects on blogs in seven out of the last eight weeks.

The No. 2 subject on blogs was the entertainment site Netflix. In July, the company announced a price hike for its popular service. Last week, the company declared it was going to split into two parts-one for the DVD rental service and another for online streaming to be called Qwikster. Bloggers railed at the price increases and last week the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, tried to explain why the changes were necessary. His letter, however, did little to quell objections.

Google+, Google’s social media site, was the third-biggest story on both blogs and Twitter. The site announced that it had become an open beta for anyone to use, and the young service received mostly favorable comparisons to the industry giant Facebook.

On Twitter, meanwhile, the No. 1 subject involved changes to Facebook itself including the addition of new features and a remodeling of the profile page. In this instance, however, the overriding reaction was negative as tweets roundly complained about the changes to the service so many people had become used to.

iPhone Rumors

For the past two months, bloggers have anticipated the newest Apple iPhone, though the device has yet to be released or even formally announced. Every online rumor has generated a boomlet of speculation about what form the new device will take. Would Apple issue an updated version of the iPhone 4 or a brand new advanced product and call it iPhone 5?

This past week, there more rumors to sort out, each dissected in detail.

The New York Times tech blog, Bits, chronicled some of the discussion.

“As the excitement for Apple’s latest product revs up, chatter about the phone is starting to fly around the Web at warp speeds,” wrote Nick Bilton. “On Thursday the technology blog Boy Genius Report posted images of a new iPhone case from the site of a company called Case-Mate. The images were visible on the company’s site for a short period of time before they were replaced with a curiously cryptic page.”

Even small bits of information drew scrutiny.

The tech blog Engadget posted a screenshot from AT&Ts internal inventory system which listed “iPhone 4S White” as a product. And an offhand statement by Apple board member Al Gore at a conference in South Africa that “the new iPhones would be out next month” led to further speculation.

“Shapshak [the editor who witnessed Gore's quote] says that the statement was definitely plural, although it wasn’t clear whether that meant two different models,” dissected Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web. “It is certainly possible that this implies that there are two new iPhones in the pipeline. Many rumors recently have been focused on the fact that there are two models being developed-a cheaper, although cosmetically similar, version of the iPhone 4 and a new, redesigned iPhone 5.”

“Consider, if you will, this theory,” forwarded Mike Perlman at Techno Buffalo. “The smartphone world will not see an iPhone 5 in the year 2011. But we will see an iPhone 4G. Yes, an iPhone 4G-it makes all the sense in the world!”

“One thing’s for sure: Apple has done a spectacular job of keeping almost everyone in the dark,” summarized Buster Heine at Cult of Mac. “Regardless of what they’ve decided to do with the design, or what they’re going to call their next phone, we just hope it gets here quick.”

Netflix Splits

On September 18, Reed Hastings, the Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, posted an apology note to customers over how the company announced its new business model. Netflix split the DVD rental part of their business from its online streaming portion-and raised fees.

Many in social media predicted these changes would harm the company.

“With this split of services, Netflix just might have placed itself in the perfect position to lose even more customers,” forecasted Stephanie Sutton at Interpret LLC Blog. “Whereas with the previous price increases many customers did not alter or delete their subscriptions, this might change now that the services have been split in two with two different bills.”

“I truly believe this is THE worst thing they could have done,” added Chuck Conry at Zombies Don’t Run. “People generally hate change (as you’ve seen by the stink over the recent Facebook changes), but Netflix could have saved a lot of face without going on and making things a whole lot worse for themselves. Now they want you to pay for two separate things.”

Some bloggers put it in more personal terms about how the changes would impact their membership.

“Dear Netflix, It’s not me it’s you,” began Tom Q. at alt-tag.com in a letter announcing his break-up with the company. “I cancelled my account just before the 60% price increase kicked in…I purchase products because they provide value to me. If the value doesn’t match the price, I don’t buy. I’m not cutting costs, I no longer see the value of your separated services.”

“The delusion Hastings expresses in his press release is that the mistake was in communication,” argued Surely You’re Not Serious. “The ‘key thing’ is a 60% price increase, plain and simple!! The ‘key thing’ is that you are raising prices for nothing! Splitting up services for nothing. Making my membership more complicated for nothing!”

Although a distinct minority, some bloggers defended the company.

“I still don’t quite get the anger people have with the price increases and the company splitting,” countered Joe Dull. “Some people who were getting an INCREDIBLE deal, to me, are now just getting a good deal.”

Facebook Changes

As it frequently does, last week Facebook announced changes to its layout and key functions. The site revealed it would be overhauling user profiles, adding new apps for playing music and video, and adding a timeline function that would stream information about the user going back to birth.

On Twitter, most focused on the new layout of the profile page, which now categorizes recent posts to emphasize things most interesting to the user and features a live feed of current activity called a “ticker.”

And once Facebook began rolling out some of the new features, the reaction on Twitter was overwhelmingly negative.

“FB knows what’s important to me? Obviously not!” tweeted Joyce Barrass.

“Gimme back ‘most recent’ layout, new FB no good!” demanded @karenevans01.

“Reckon Google+ are loving this: how many people will drop Facebook over these changes?” asked James Kelly.

In a kind of echo chamber of social media to legacy to social, a number of users linked to news articles about the disappointment expressed online.

Josh Halliday of the Guardian posted a blog entry tracking some of the expressions. The Associated Press began its reporting on the topic by writing, “Facebook is at it again. The social network is tweaking the home pages of its 750 million users, much to the chagrin of some very vocal folks.”

“they just need to stop trying so hard to be hip,” advised Sean McBride.*

“Whaddaya know. FB is making changes, and people don’t like them, so far,” wrote Tim Bartle. “The net is conservative, but we’ll come around.”

Google+ Becomes an Open Beta

If the discussion in social media was upset by changes at Facebook, it was intrigued by the prospect of Google entering the field of social networking. Google announced that its new social media site, Google+, was now open to anyone to join. It also detailed more than 90 improvements made to the site in the 90 days it had been in a field trial phase.

Bloggers who tested Google+ had mostly positive reviews.

“Google + is a rich and scenic romp through all areas of interest…I am deeply entranced by the many articles and full page posts that these wunderkind contribute day after day,” shared Elaine at Trool Social Media. “Google+ has now captured my heart with its ease of access to fabulous articles, incredible people, the simple management of my circles and it has opened a whole new area of learning for me.”

“So far, the number one positive feedback I’m hearing is that G+ has excellent privacy features,” noted Jeniffer Thompson. “My favorite feature is the search functionality. It’s kind of like Twitter meets Facebook in the way that you can do a search for a specific keyword and you’ll get results for anyone who has posted publicly on that topic.”

Many compared Google+ favorably to Facebook.

“In my opinion…Google+ is far superior to facebook,” determined The Practical Geek at Your World of Tek. “Google+ Has got it right from the off, with friend circles and such other things. Facebook is getting updated so many times a month now, that its hard to follow where it’s going and is chaging too often. There is also way too much on the website too. Google + is far superior.”

“If anything, Google+ fills a niche that wasn’t filled before by providing a service where people can interact with others on a deep level (past 140 characters) and even ‘meet’ them via Hangouts,” suggested Carter Gibson at Plus Headlines. “Just look at all the functionality of Google+ and how connected it is (and will be) to the rest of our online use. If Google+ flops, Google flops, and Google isn’t going to flop.”

Not everyone bought into Google+, however, as some saw the developing site a result of hype.

“Everyone is going to have their own opinion about the relevancy of Google+, but the bottom line is this: Google+ isn’t sticky,” concluded Andrew Dumont.They’ve had every possible thing in their favor…Yet, interaction steadily declines…Google+ doesn’t get much of my time. Why would it? Twitter and Facebook are serving me just fine, and Google+ doesn’t offer me anything innovative.”

The Rest of the Week’s News

Elsewhere on blogs, the economy and the presidential campaign drew attention.

Various columns relating to the economy made up the fourth-largest subject last week. They included a post by Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business, who asked if capitalism is doomed and suggested that “advanced economies will need to invest in human capital, skills and social safety nets to increase productivity and enable workers to compete, be flexible and thrive in a globalized economy.”

Two other blog posts also resonated including one on the Los Angeles Times website by Andrew Malcolm criticizing President Obama’s handling of the jobs crisis and another by entrepreneur Mark Cuban saying that the most patriotic thing a person can do is to become wealthy and pay taxes to help others.

The presidential campaign was the No. 5 subject. Bloggers linked to several reports including one on the left-leaning site Mother Jones which accused Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania of changing rules related to the Electoral College. Others highlighted a TMZ report that Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt is offering up to $1 million for anyone who can prove that Republican candidate Rick Perry has had an illicit sexual liaison.

On Twitter, the controversial execution of Troy Davis for a 1989 murder of a police officer in Georgia was the second-biggest topic. Many people protested the execution, claiming that Davis was innocent and that the evidence against him was inconclusive and falsified.

The fourth and fifth-biggest subjects were both focused on the music industry. Pop singer Justin Bieber was No. 4 as Tweets highlighted several pages including a YouTube video of the star performing at the Georgia Hall of Fame Awards. And word that the new album by singer Demi Lovato had reached the top spot on iTunes in its first week was the No. 5 subject.

YouTube

On YouTube, a deadly plane crash at an air show in Reno, Nevada, dominated the most-viewed news clips. The top three videos featured amateur footage of the September 16 air show tragedy that killed nine people and injured dozens of others.

The top two videos, uploaded by different sources, included the same 40 seconds of dramatic footage. From a distance, they showed 74-year-old pilot Jimmy Leeward slamming his vintage World War II fighter plane into a box seat area in front of the grandstand leaving a trail of debris and stunning spectators.

The No. 3 video was different video footage, uploaded by the Associated Press, showing the Reno air show crash from another angle and the aftermath as people tended to the victims and ambulances rushed to the scene.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of September 17 – 23, 2011

1. Amateur video posted by Russia Today of the deadly plane crash on September 16 at the Reno Air Races in Nevada
2. Same amateur video of the deadly plane crash at the Reno Air Races in Nevada posted by another YouTube user
3. Different amateur video footage of the Reno air show crash
4. Portuguese-language video of student interviews about being the victims of bullying
5. Italian-language video showing Italian Senator Roberto Castelli saying he is a poor politician only earning 145,000 euros a year

About the New Media Index

The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the news agenda of social media, with a focus on blogs, Twitter and YouTube. These platforms are an important part of today’s news information narrative and shape the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. Through this New Media Index PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compares with the narrative in the traditional press.

A detailed description of the NMI methodology, which was modified in August 2011, is available here.

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from online postings.