With hundreds of thousands of available apps in the virtual world, it is no surprise young people are glued to their smartphones. Users move from app to app, scrolling through Instagram, taking a selfie for Snapchat, watching a video on Facebook, writing “yaks” on YikYak and swiping at Tinder.
Popular social media apps serve a dual purpose for young people: as time-consuming entertainment and as a platform for opinions.
But which ones are on the rise and which are losing their hold? Here are my observations having just finished my first year of studies at Northeastern University in Boston:
YikYak is an app that allows users to post and view anonymous “yaks” within a 10-mile radius. Users respond to yaks by up-voting, down-voting or commenting. The app is popular around universities in the United States as a tool for conversation about campus activities. Most yaks are harmless posts. Sometimes they can stir controversy.
Amira Al Subaey, 18, is a student at Tufts University, in Somerville, Massachusetts, where students use YikYak to anonymously discuss social issues, which creates arguments and conflict. “At Tufts, YikYak often stirs racial tensions,” Ms Al Subaey said. She recounted one incident where a white male student posted a comedic and insensitive yak about getting a cornrows hairstyle – a culturally African-American hairstyle.
“YikYak breeds a lot of reckless aggression because there are no consequences. There’s no accountability,” she said. It is a space where people can voice their unpopular opinions, whereas on other platforms – Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – their profile is revealed.
Snapchat is probably the most popular app for communication and story sharing among young people. With only 10 seconds or less to view a Snapchat picture or video, the app promotes fast-paced visual communication. After the 10 seconds, the image or video “self-destructs”.
Snapchat allows you to share stories in real-time. It is about the now: no comments, no likes and no public follower count. It is an ephemeral interaction that happens then disappears.
If you want to share a picture or video with all of their Snapchat friends, you post it as their Snapchat Story and the content is posted for 24 hours before it “self destructs”.
Global Snapchat stories have broadened the scope of connection between people around the world. A user in Dubai can watch real, normal people celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. A user in New Delhi can watch the Academy Awards from the perspective of smartphones on the red carpet. Many celebrities have public Snapchat accounts and post stories of clips from their day. Users are interested in seeing uncut, unedited fragments of people’s lives.
The Instagram app, although not new to social media, is still trending in popularity. Instagram’s aesthetic is centred on edited images and videos, coupled with interesting captions. The app offers instant gratification through the number of “likes” a user receives on a post. Its popularity skyrocketed following its launch – it was bought-out by Facebook for US$1 billion in stocks and cash.
Instagram emphasises the power of a single image. Instead of posting an album of pictures to Facebook, many people opt to “Instagram” (verb) one photograph. Plethoras of editing apps have been created for the sole purpose of improving Instagram photos, such as VSCOcam, Whitagram and more.
Dating apps are popular in colleges. Tinder is the primary dating app, where users swipe left and right to find their matches. Other apps are trending upwards in popularity, such as Bumble, which is like Tinder but the female must make the first move by messaging first. At American colleges, these apps have made online dating normal.
Although Facebook continues to reign as the most popular platform worldwide with its 1.65 billion monthly users, it is no longer a young person’s preferred form of social media.
A young person’s Facebook newsfeed consists of mindlessly entertaining viral videos, politically charged articles and videos, photo albums of people having fun and the occasional status update by a distant relative. Facebook has turned into a platform for people’s angry opinions. It is the outlet for outrage and uninformed arguments over political and social issues. It doesn’t provide the fast, easy visual fix that Snapchat and Instagram offer.
Twitter is still alive, yet trending down in popularity among young people. It is still used for breaking news, celebrity gossip, funny stories and everything in between. Its appeal over the years has dwindled.
The future of Vine, the six-second video app, is a mysterious grey area. Its descent in popularity has been slow and steady but it still holds a prominence in the world of social media. Since its surge of popularity in 2013, it seems the novelty has worn off.
No one can predict the future popularity of apps or the ever-changing nature of social media. Young people are at the forefront of this culture.
The writer graduated from Abu Dhabi’s American Community School last year