Ephemeral content: The rise of Snapchat
In the last few days a lot of people were shocked by this news: Facebook and Google offered $3 billion and $4 billion, respectively, to acquire Snapchat but Evan Spiegel, CEO of the company declined the offer.
I wasn’t so interested in Snapchat before but this news made me think: why Facebook and Google, that are not naive companies, are willing to offer a mountain of money to them? And more important why did they refuse?
Snapchat is a photo messaging application that gives the users the option to set a time limit for how long recipients can view their contents(1).After this time the contents will be deleted from recipient’s device and from Snapchat’s server. Matt McFarland in a recent article on the Washington Post listed five rational reasons on why Spiegel made the right move, but I feel that most of the analysis misses the point.
The real value of Snapchat is hidden inside its service and in the way the users employ it. The core of the idea is privacy and the time limit to view a comment; It isn’t just a service or a product, it’s a philosophy.
I will briefly describe the two keywords of Snapchat’s philosophy:
The recent scandal about NSA (2), due to Edward Snowden’s disclosures, made everyone aware of the fact that communications of billions of people are being intercepted by a government agency for security reasons and in future years privacy will be an increasing issue to deal with (3). Reports claim that authorities had direct access to the server of the major U.S. tech firms including Facebook, Google and Microsoft and in any case the transparency of those company has been debated for years, so the best solution is not to store users information at all, like Snapchat claims to do.Your privacy is also connected to what your acquaintances have seen, known and own about you so, to be sure, Snapchat deletes also the contents on your friends’ devices (4).
The icon of Snapchat is a ghost, a symbol of impermanence. We live in a permanent “now time” and the pictures of yesterday night are already old today, so why should I keep them and why should we see them twice? We perceive other’s pictures as casual content and in general we are casual viewer of everything. Temporary contents are good for the user of today and they will be ideal for the user of tomorrow where the amount of content will increase dramatically (5).
Collateral effects and potential
This mix of privacy and impermanence makes the service suitable for sexting and other provocative and almost illegal contents. This can be very bad if we think about a not adult user, but since the phenomenon exists the fact that the content is not archived makes it less dangerous and acute. A sort of damage-limitation.
In a world with ubiquitous cloud storages, where everything is archived in millions of hard disks I like the idea of an ephemeral content that lasts 60 seconds and after that will go in to oblivion. Like the name of that guy or girl that you met last night at the bar. Ah no, that was better to keep.
(1) The time limit can be anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds
(2) It was revealed that the NSA intercepts telephone and internet communications of over a billion people worldwide, seeking information on terrorism as well as foreign politics, economics and “commercial secrets”.
(3) I suggest for a deeper analysis about privacy in our close future the book: The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
(5) Snapchat claims that 350 million messages or snaps are being sent every day on the platform.