Introduction

Social networks and other social apps can prosper and generate cash flow only if its users are constantly generating content, sharing media and involved in some activity. As a consequence, one of the most important metrics for our social networks is measuring their daily and monthly active users (respectively, DAU and MAU).

These are crucial issues even for Facebook, launched over 10 years ago and quickly risen as the top social network across the world. Today it must deal with several competitors and is relentlessly introducing new features or launching new products in order to remain attractive and useful for its users.

A recent story by Farhad Manjoo on The New York Times pointed out a simple truth: the real strength of Zuckerberg’s creature relies on its huge network. Indeed, large networks can make other people’s features better. At the same time, a large social network must be able to give to its user what they are asking for – even before they realize what they actually want. Therefore, when a few days ago he unveiled a vision of augmented reality, it meant that soon Facebook neutralize yet another rival (Snapchat) and will build a better product.

As explained in that story, first “Zuckerberg offered Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s co-founder, $3 billion to buy that app. Mr. Spiegel refused”. Thus Facebook copied its functions and in its recent F8 (Facebook annual developer conference) released several new effects similar to Snapchat’s filters. The final result? Now “billions of users will be introduced to Snapchat’s best features on Facebook’s own platform, eliminating, for a lot of them, any reason to switch”.

Facebook has effectively copied the most innovative format produced by Snapchat (“Stories”) and integrated it in his products: Messenger, Whatsapp, Instagram. Most likely this feature will become “the future of user entertainment for a variety of reasons” – quoting another important commentary published by Techcruch. A trend also corroborated by a new dataset released by Instagram and highlighted in a recent CNBC story:

“Facebook’s Instagram announced today that over 250 million people now use its Instagram “Stories” feature every day, up from 150 million announced in January. Today’s milestone catapults Instagram past the originator of the ‘Stories’ format — Snapchat, which reported 161 million daily active users ahead of its parent company Snap's IPO last month. It shows just how successfully Facebook can copy and scale an appealing format.”

However, the real “problem” is that Facebook is facing a general decrease of original content sharing. When users stop or reduce their production of original content and media, it becomes very difficult to profile them and gather data about their behavior. In turn, this makes harder to show them personalized news or other posts, so users tend to get a bit lazy and unwilling to engage in daily activities with their “friends” . Eventually some of them will stop using the platform altogether – thus exposing a lack of competitiveness and business know-how on the part of Facebook management itself.

Even if Facebook still represents a huge stage for our social media efforts (for example, photo uploads total 300 million per day), it is also true that there are about 83 million fake profiles and sometime people feel bombarded by multimedia offerings – often looking elsewhere for a simpler social experience.

“Ghost Data” project

In addition to this picture, it is worth noticing that Instagram now offers a very similar ‘Stories’ feature and is quickly becoming the platform of choice for users interested in this option (as confirmed by latest available data).

Our research experience also suggests that in the long term Instagram will become indeed the most widely used platform for sharing images and videos. Why? It is much more versatile and less heavy or chaotic than Facebook, Whatsapp (where most likely ‘Stories’ will be removed soon), Messenger or Snapchat.

When images and videos disappear after 24 hours (as is the case with Instagram), somehow we feel lighter and freer. Our picture posts tend to be more frequent and spontaneous, less planned or crammed. We like to share the simplest moments of our daily life: enjoying coffee at a bar, taking a stroll in a new city park, having a laugh with our co-workers, going to dinner with our lover or posting an creative street scene.

Such data could reveal precious info and stats for the platform itself, while also point to useful outcome in other fileds: business deals and research projects, government affairs and National security.

In this regard, we are working along with several entities to find appropriate ways to extract and (more importantly) make the most of such rich-data files. To start off on the right foot, this process requires an ad-hoc information recognition and analysis software.

For the first time, we are not dealing with “big data” that remain available online for a long time or even forever, such as tweets, news comments or Facebook posts and YouTube videos. These rich-data image and video files are displayed only for a limited time. A full-fledge research on this kind of data opens up a new frontier in data analysis studies: we can appropriately call it “Ghost Data” analysis.

The challenge here is to develop a complex system that enables an almost real-time monitoring of behavior, habits and interests users. Then we should identify meaningful relationships among users and build a database with their rich-data files. A process that can rely on our innovative technology, a unique software solution analyzing these continuous and conspicuous data flows.

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