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5 things to expect in social in 2014

Less will be the new more in a year that will be defined by single-purpose social apps for each of your singular desires.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The past 12 months have been defined by kids and their smartphones, a group that proved to have the power to make or break an app in a matter of weeks or months.

In 2013, youngsters didn't exactly abandon Facebook, but they did tire of it. Instead, they focused their energy on searching for parent-free hideouts and private social zones, as evidenced by the climactic ascendance of Instagram and messaging apps, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Kik in particular.

In 2014, smartphone-toting youngsters will continue to influence trends in social with the dominant theme being that less is the new more in a mobile world.

Here are five things you can expect in social in the year ahead:

1. Single-purpose is the new multipurpose
Social services that offer people everything under the sun will take a back seat to those that do one thing well. It's a trend that's been in the making since the surprise success of Instagram, which grew to 150 million active users this year under Facebook's care.

Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners explains this distillation of the social network down to a single element as a side effect of mobile. "On your phone, you have a home screen with 20 apps. By definition, you're getting more single-purpose behavior," he said.

You have, for instance, Snapchat or WhatsApp for messaging. Then there's Tinder for social dating, Wanelo and Poshmark for social shopping, and Wattpad for social story-telling.

"In each of these cases, they've taken an experience and ... focused on making it fun," Liew said. "Because if it's fun, people do it a lot, they do it multiple times a day in short spurts, and that's the behavior that fits with mobile best."

Similarly, the super narrow social network will become a big trend in 2014, Peter Pham, a partner at the LA startup hub Science, told CNET. "The bet we're making is on very vertical social networks."

Think dating sites for Mormons or networks for neighbors that make it easier for like-minded types to find each other. The social Web caters to large groups, but there's room to help people in smaller groups, Pham said.

These trends will force the all-in-one companies such as Google and Facebook to rethink how they do business, and could lead to even more heated competition as they fight to build or acquire the next big thing in social.

2. Temporary trumps permanent; anonymity makes a comeback

Whisper is where a growing number of young people go to confess their secrets anonymously. Screenshot/Jennifer Van Grove/CNET

Building on a promising 2013, applications and services that let people play in private will gain even more momentum. This category, of course, includes Snapchat, which now processes more than 400 million private photo and video messages, called "snaps," per day.

"The illusion of temporary is appealing," said Karen North, a USC professor who heads up the school's social media masters program, speaking specifically of Snapchat.

And just when you thought the anonymous Web was a thing of the past, a collection of up-and-coming apps are proving that young people don't want their digital identity linked to everything they see and do on the Internet. This includes Whisper, an app for anonymous public confessions, and Rando, a smartphone app for exchanging photos with strangers.

One-year-old Whisper, for instance, which has millions of users, 90 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24, is now processing 3 billion page views per month, CEO Michael Heyward told CNET. The average user opens the app 10 times per day, he said.

People are seeking out fun and anonymous opportunities -- minus the need to log in or create a profile -- as they recoil from the status quo of living so transparently online, North said.

3. Just swipe right for whatever your heart desires
As Tinder takes over the dating world, it's becoming increasingly obvious that we live in a swipe-right kind of world in which convenience trumps everything else. We no longer have time or energy to complete profiles, write lengthy responses, scan feeds -- or even think. We just want to click a button and be done with it.

Swipe right to like. Tinder

The barely-lift-a-finger craze is one we're already seeing mature with come-to-you apps and services like Uber, which will pick you up with a click of a button. It also delivered Christmas trees, ice cream, and kittens to your doorstep in 2013.

In the social realm, easier doesn't always equate to better, especially when it comes to selecting dates, but the design and function of mobile social apps will most certainly try to recreate Tinder's magic, swipe-right formula to keep you hooked.

Launched a little more than a year ago, Tinder has accumulated users who collectively swipe -- that is, say they like or don't like a would-be match -- more than 400 million times per day. Clearly, our fingers are doing the talking.

4. Video (finally) has a breakout year
Video won't kill the photo star, but Twitter's Vine, Facebook's Instagram, and Snapchat's ephemeral video messages will ensure that bite-sized videos captured on mobile phones will come into their own in 2014.

It all ties back to our desire for image-based self-expression. "Photos and video are key right now," North said. "The younger you are, the more you want to express yourself with photos instead of words," she added. And when a photo won't cut it, video, thanks to technological advancements over the past year, is now just as accessible.

"I think that it's part of all of us, that if something is happening and it's cool, you want to be a able to remember it, go back to it, or show it to people who aren't there," North said. "And with high-resolution cameras in our hands, we can now do that."

5. From zero to hero in record speed
Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and the occasional boost from Facebook, the rate at which hit social apps hit hundreds millions of users will only accelerate.

In 2013, messaging applications such as WhatsApp, Line, and Kik all proved that they could redefine what hockey-stick growth looks like. King candy-crushed its way to hundreds of millions active players, and Instagram made hitting 150 million active users look easy.

"To me it's shocking how fast one can come out of left field and have a base of 20 million, 30 million very active users," Pham said. "The difference is that the last two years everything social has moved to the mobile device ... and the age at which people are now getting mobile phones is dipping down to ... 11 and 12."

The best part of this zero-to-hero phenomenon is that 2014 will be full of social surprises no one could have predicted.