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The universe in an app: Will youth create a trend within the trend?

The days of simple, single-use apps may be over. Or not, depending on the user, his or her context and a whole lot of other factors. But there is a bit of a trend among messaging apps. Not all apps – particularly the No. 1 messaging app, Facebook’s WhatsApp with 600+ million users – are part of it, though, so where you are in the world has been a driver of this trend so far.

(CC licensed)

(CC licensed)

The trend, according to the New York Times, is to offer messaging app users with just about everything but the kitchen sink: not just text, chat and photo-sharing, but shopping, games and so much more. The world’s No. 2 messaging app, WeChat by China-based Tencent, has a Yik Yak component (live chat for up to 500 people), a payment systems like Apple Pay or Snapchat’s Snapcash, hotel check-in with digital room key, appointment scheduling, prescription tracking, train ticket purchasing, Call a Chicken (for ordering food delivered to your house, presumably if you live in China) and more, the Times reports. Because Japan-based Line is built on, steeped in, providing and promoting pop culture, it’s a platform and offline world event organizer, not just an app, Fast Company’s description indicates. It’s hard to tell if the formula will work here in the West, but it does seem to be part of this trend everybody’s talking about. And Facebook Messenger seems to be moving in that direction, since CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Messenger is being opened up to app developers who want to “piggyback their own apps on top” of it, the Times reported, allowing Messenger to offer the rainbows of functions WeChat and Line offer. [See NetworkWorld.com for more about the announcement.]

Kids will probably customize the trend

Our multitasking kids may like the multi-functionality, but I have a theory: They won’t only be users or consumers of multi-functional apps, they’ll be customizers of them. It just may be a trend within a trend: young users developing their own piggybacking apps for the app platforms of their choice, kind of like game mods or Snapchat geofilters (or remember how, in the last decade, younger users loved “pimping” their MySpace profiles, as they called adding their own design elements and apps that enhanced their profile visitors’ experience?).

Besides, as our children have shown us, multitasking can happen among apps – and even devices – not just in apps. For example, one might use Snapchat mostly for super-spontaneous visual socializing, Instagram for visually marking a moment or 3 or 10 in a particular place, and Pinterest or Facebook for saving and sharing a whole album of vacation memories, etc., in a spectrum of apps for a spectrum of use cases just in the photo-sharing corner of social media (share your examples in Comments below!).

But back to the “trend”: That other Facebook messenger isn’t following suit – yet, anyway. WhatsApp “keeps it simple,” the Times reports. “The app is slowly rolling out voice calling features to Android users, but does little else besides chat, video and photo sharing, and audio messages,” it adds, editorializing that it’s “that simplicity and focus on messaging with no texting charges (or ads) [that] has made it the most popular messaging app in the world.”

So this trend – like most developments in user-driven media – depends on the users. We tend to vote with our deletes, downloads (of apps we don’t like and alternatives, respectively) diversifying uses. We’re a diverse population, and device and app use is as individual as the user. So I may be untrendy, but I lean this way: “Grafting on more features just because these apps have our attention could get annoying – especially if the features don’t work well or make the overall experience cluttered and confusing,” wrote the Times’s reporter Molly Wood. What do you think? And, even more importantly if we’re speaking as parents, what does each of your kids think? Because there could well be as many answers as there are kids.

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