Social media for dummies (Take note, because virtual sharing is here to stay)

I still have friends who resist all social media but they are now firmly in the minority.

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(Warning: you may not understand a word of what follows, and it may help to have a teenager to hand.)

If you have neither caught the buzz about Buzzfeed this week, nor tweeted your opinion of Sir Roy’s bad monkey joke; if you haven’t liked anything on Facebook or endorsed anyone on Linked In, then you are on the outside of a world that may seem as mysterious as the Freemasons.

I still have friends who resist all social media but they are now firmly in the minority. Even some who swore they would never are now on Twitter. The current ‘consensus’ is that Facebook is starting to wane, especially among teens. They are embracing not just Twitter, but Instagram (now owned by Facebook) and Snapchat, the site that helps you send images of yourself with squiggly writing over them that will disappear into the ether within seconds. Well, that’s the theory. Where teens lead on social media, we follow.

You may have caught recent headlines about  Buzzfeed, which has tripled in size in a year. It brought us ‘listicles’ -  articles divided up by linked bullet point headlines, often featuring pictures of cute kittens. Its founder Jonah Peretti was on the Today show earlier this week,explaining the internet to John Humphreys. It felt like a Sex Pistols-Bill Grundy moment (Google it!).

Then there’s the Instagram photo-sharing site, increasingly the preferred way of teens (and celebrities) letting others get a self-edited glimpse of their lives. Facebook recognized this, which is why it bought Instagram for $1bn last year. And, Instagram itself hasn’t stood still, introducing a 15-second video share service. Why? Perhaps because Twitter has its own new six-second video clip product, Vine.

Still with me? Then take note of Snapchat, the site that boomed on the back of teens allegedly ‘sexting’ each other – sending intimate photos of themselves that will disappear in seconds.

Like it or not, what Twitter, Instagram and now Snapchat have is that they are even simpler to use than Facebook, without the complexity of the latter’s privacy policies. Does this simplicity matter? Does keeping up with change? Look to Bebo and MySpace (who?) as a warning. No 13 year-old will stay on Facebook if their only friend is aunty Sarah.

Some of you reading will feel smug that you haven’t plunged in. Some will hate the ‘over-sharing’ – wow, you had sushi! Others will wish they would all just go away, and we can go back to letters, phone calls, even face-to-face conversations. Well, they are not going to go away. They may evolve incredibly quickly but virtual sharing is here to stay. And, is it really any worse than sitting next to Aunty Mary to go through her photo albums?

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live

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