By Shriya Roy
In the past few months, the tech world has proven to be a saviour, enabling not just remote working, but also prompt delivery of good and services as a majority of people stay at home. Not surprisingly, tech firms have taken advantage of this, rolling out one new feature after another to keep users hooked and entertained. There’s been a remarkable boom in updates, services and upgrades.
Social media giant Facebook has been at the forefront of this, launching a new feature almost every week. Interestingly, it has cashed in on the things that people have been missing sorely. One of its most recent features, for instance, focuses on college students who have had a rough year so far. For them, Facebook has introduced the ‘Facebook Campus’ feature, which is a college student-only social network. It offers the students a private space to connect with classmates, join groups, discover campus events and get updates from their college’s administration. The new platform, which is inbuilt within a dedicated section of the Facebook app, however, requires a school email address (.edu) to join. “We wanted to create a product where it would be easy for classmates to meet each other, foster new relationships and easily start conversations,” Charmaine Hung, product manager, Facebook Campus, said. “We think Campus is more relevant than ever right now. With Covid-19, we see that many students aren’t returning to their campus in the fall. Classes are being held online and students are trying to react to this new normal,” she added.
Another feature that the tech giant has added to its kitty has been the co-viewing experience in Facebook Messenger called ‘Watch Together’. This feature allows friends and family to watch videos together over Messenger. It works with all Facebook video content, including original programmes, user uploads, creator content, livestreams and music videos. To use the feature, users have to first be in a Messenger video call or a Messenger Room. From there, they can start a co-watching session.
The pandemic has also encouraged a number of streaming services and OTTs, including Hulu, Plex and Amazon Video, to adopt co-viewing features or permit third-party apps that enable co-watching like Netflix Party. The co-watching space has, in fact, gained a lot of traction due to the restrictions in place and with people being unable to hang out together.
Instagram, too, has released its ‘Reels’ feature worldwide to give people something more to spend time on. Apart from that, the platform has also introduced a new ‘co-watching’ feature for those missing out on regular social interaction. This new feature helps users connect via video chat with the option of scrolling through their Instagram feed while still being connected via video link. They can also share what they see.
Snapchat, on the other hand, has invested to provide some cheer to its users in these sombre times. It has introduced a special lens and AR game experience on its app. The new lens, developed in association with the World Health Organization, gives users more easily digestible information on how to stay safe using augmented reality. The AR game, on the other hand, busts some common myths around coronavirus and helps users learn pertinent facts.
WhatsApp, too, has increased the number of people (from four to eight) who can join the video call feature. Payment app Google Pay also introduced a new feature during the lockdown to help users find essential things. ‘Nearby Stores’ was launched to helps users see which stores, providing essential goods, are open in their vicinity.
Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, which heavily depend on people meeting physically, also adapted to make things as easy as possible for users. Video dating became the go-to thing for all these apps, becoming the topmost feature.
Music streaming platforms, too, have stepped up their game to keep people engaged and entertained through innovative initiatives. Apps like Spotify and Gaana, for instance, have incorporated features to run donation campaigns within their user interface to help those in need in these trying times.
All these platforms have not only cashed in on the fact that people are staying home, but have also provided the much needed support in these tough times.