By TJ Begg
Snapchat launched in 2011 as an app that lets users send disappearing pictures to each other to communicate. Users would take a photo in the app and then choose an amount of time between one and ten seconds for the recipient to view the image. In a market flooded with different messaging apps and direct messages, Snapchat changed the game twofold by putting the image at the center of discussion and by going against the permanence of the internet. For the first time, users were able to ensure that their messages would go away, without trace, automatically.
In 2013, Facebook unsuccessfully attempted to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion. Since then, there have been numerous occasions in which Facebook has blatantly stolen Snapchat’s features and applied them to Instagram, Whatsapp, or Facebook itself. Most recently, Facebook announced plans to add a streak feature to its messenger app - something that is eerily similar to Snapchat’s analogous feature.
Snapchat blew up over the next few years, eventually finding success in adding unique features to remain innovative. Snapchat grew to allow its users to write and draw on their pictures, send videos or text only messages, and post pictures or videos to their “story,” a visual status update that would be available to each user’s friendlist for 24 hours before being deleted.
Snapchat ranks 15th in the most active users on social network sites worldwide as of September 2017 (via Statista)
Snapchat’s more innovative changes came in the implementation of the Discover tab, Snap Map, and later Context Cards. These features added new channels of communications and highlighted the app’s ability to keep up with teens and young adults.
In September 2016, Snapchat rebranded itself as Snap Inc., a camera company that was trying to get into the wearable tech market. The move was successful in helping the company establish itself as something more than just than an app. However, its accompanied release of Spectacles - glasses that enabled wearers to record what they were seeing to share with others - was a huge failure.
Snap Inc.’s Spectacles via spectacles.com
Snap has had another setback in a poor performance in Q3, but it is poised to turn the tides back in their favour.
In a recent blog post, Snap announced an update and a reaffirmation of its status as a communication app - rather than a social media channel. Snapchat’s plans to rearrange its interface by separating branded content from content made by friends is an attempt to clarify this.
“While blurring the lines between professional content creators and your friends has been an interesting Internet experiment, it has also produced some strange side-effects (such as fake news) and made us feel like we have to perform for our friends rather than just express ourselves.”
This update was posted alongside an op-ed featured on Axios in which Evan Spiegal, co-founder of Snap Inc., emphasises the fact there are no likes, comments, or shares in the app. The idea of Snapchat is not to compete against others, but rather to share life with close friends “free from judgement”.
As Snapchat continues to evolve and define itself as a communication app and not social media, it will be interesting to see how Facebook responds in its clones. Instagram is centered around engagement, so it is unlikely that it will follow the path of genuinity and rawness that Snapchat seems to be pushing. Given previous evidence, I think that it is more likely that Whatsapp steps up to mirror this approach.
With more and more social media - or communication - apps gaining marketshare, it is going to be interesting to see how consumers change their video statuses and interactions on the apps. Will Snap stories become more personal while Instagram stories turn more public? Is the demand for sharing personal videos high enough to sustain multiple pathways for so long, or is Snapchat doomed to fail with this much continual pressure from Facebook?
This is certainly one topic that won’t “disappear” anytime soon.