Best Android social networking apps of 2011

by Kristen Nicole

It’s been a big year for social networking and mobile, as the two find more ways to work together. As I researched this piece, digging through news alerts from throughout the year, I realized how important 2011 was for Android’s take on social networking. With the launch of Google+ and LinkedIn in the Android Market, as well as major updates from Facebook and Twitter, none of the apps on this list are a surprise, but they all took important steps towards solidifying their presence on Android’s platform. It’s validation of Android as a mobile operating system as social networks lean on Android to connect users around the world.

Google+

Google+ was a breakthrough launch this year because it’s the first comprehensible social initiative to come from Google’s camp. While their numbers are bloated (thanks to a semi-automatic user count), Google’s efforts to compete with Facebook have never been clearer. Android’s an integral aspect of Google+’s success, adding a deeply incorporated outlet for social sharing, status updates and location-based recommendations from a central app. Google+ took social networking a step towards the future with group-oriented sharing right out of the gate, hoping to kick start its service with a new take on privacy. Because Google+ is part of the Google family, it’s also connected to a number of other apps like Gmail and Picassa. And to show how serious Google is about the Google+ network, the company even applied its design theme to most of its other Apps.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn took its time preparing for an Android launch, spending months testing its app in beta. With a professional take on social networking, LinkedIn is an effective and efficient app centered around the user. Tour through your connections, read profiles and connect with others. You’ll receive messages from contacts, and you can also update your status from the app. Most useful for last-minute searches before an interview or conference, the LinkedIn app for Android has proven popular even in its mobile form. LinkedIn also keeps its business acumen by connecting with other services like QuickOffice. The network’s also heavily invested in mobile, having acquired CardMunch to better integrate features like digital business cards.

Facebook Messenger

Facebook may be developing its own smartphone, but this global network already has a rivaled status on the Android Market. And the launch of Facebook Messenger on Android, which hit iOS on the same day, demonstrates the network’s dedication to existing platforms. Messenger’s launch was a welcome sign from Facebook, letting you send and receive real-time messages with individuals and groups. It’s a clear play against Google+, which emphasized private messaging, though one downside is its separate status as an app in the Android Market. Nevertheless, Facebook Messenger was a necessary launch for the social network, extending message delivery via SMS, Facebook Chat and the Messages tab. Media- and location-sharing are also included, offering a centralized location for keeping up with friends.

Twitter

Twitter’s always been closely associated with mobile devices, having been designed around the simplicity of the character-limited SMS. But similar to Facebook, Twitter’s Android strategy didn’t really come into focus until 2011. Twitter added some much-needed features as part of its widespread overhaul, including push notifications and options for message delivery. Twitter also added support for multiple accounts, and polished their home screen widget. In fact, Twitter’s been taking over more and more of its mobile ecosystem through a series of acquisitions and updates, most of which took place for the iPhone. However, Twitter’s most recent buy, Whisper Systems, indicates an ongoing desire for Android integration. It’s all paying off for Twitter as its platform became central to a range of worldwide events this year, heralding the death of Osama Bin Laden, connecting loved ones during a string of global earthquakes and other disasters, and staging one of the biggest political coups to hit Egypt.

Foursquare

Foursquare pushed through a notable update early in the year, layering in more socially-driven features to drive in-app activity. All in the name of enabling social change, Foursquare widened its platform to provide more brand awareness and promotions for things like fund raisers or local events. Foursquare also added Tips as a way to leverage its network for social recommendations, really putting its data to work. Foursquare also managed to maintain its poster child status for check-in apps, paving the way for similar services like Gowalla (which also has a meaty presence on Android). And while it was Gowalla that was chosen as Facebook’s latest acquisition, it’s Foursquare that gets to live on as an independent Android app, riding into 2012.

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