Snapchat is an inspiring story of success. Created by a bunch of friends during their high school years, it has become a sky-high sensation in less than a year, both in terms of popularity and revenue. In just about two years after its then modest release, the app was already enjoying the attention of the industry giants like Facebook, with its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, a man with a very similar story of turning an innovation into a multi-billion dollar franchise, offering three billion dollars to buy it and getting turned down. Nevertheless, except for a phenomenal business savvy demonstrated by the founders of Snapchat, there are deeper causes for its emergence and tremendous success. The recent trends of online communication, as well as the existing ethics of online messaging, are at least in part responsible for the Snapchat’s status as one of the most frequently used mobile app of recent years.
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Snapchat was initially conceived Evan Spiegel and Reggie Brown, two students at Stanford, as a part of the project for their classes. After it has become clear for them that the idea is worth developing into a commercial product, they’ve contacted Bobby Murphy, who had previous experience in business, to help promote the project. The main idea at the time was to create an app that would emulate the conversation more closely than the available means, like social networks and chats. Thus, one of the primary ideas was to ensure the attention of the conversation partner by making images and messages disappear after short time, and for good. Interestingly enough, the initial idea was the possibility to utilize the feature for sexting, a type of online communication requiring substantial privacy.
However, despite the fact that the app has been quickly picked up by the millennials, who were the target group, it was almost never used for purposes involving sexual content. Instead, it had proven a popular means of informal communication, and a fresh step away from the traditional chatting techniques. While the entrepreneurial skills of the team should be recognized as one of the reasons for the rapid growth of the brand (only a year after Zuckerberg’s offer of $ 3 billion the company was worth three to five times as much), it is these innovations that should be given the biggest credit.
First, and the most often cited cause of the app’s popularity, is the nature of the communication it offers. In Spiegel’s own definition, it feels more like a conversation rather than exchanging sentences, because it emphasizes that the person on the other side is paying attention (Hamburger par. 3). While most of the modern means of texting have the features that denote the user’s participation, the Snapchat’s author thinks they are more likely to have negative effects nowadays.
For example, the notification of the typing activity, while confirming the participation, can at the same time discourage other participants to type their messages. The online status that is intended to signal availability does just that, without letting you know if the person is willing to talk to you, or if you have their attention. On the other hand, Snapchat’s features, like the “Here” button, which notify the sender if the receiver is actually viewing the message, provides more personal experience, that is lacking in most means of online communication.
The second cause for Snapchat’s popularity is the fleeting nature of the processed information. While most of the communication tools prioritize logging and preserving the content, Snapchat deletes it after a brief time (from several seconds to 24 hours). While this too can be attributed to the emulation of the oral communication, it has another important value: the users do not need to worry about the undesired content getting circulated around the Web. Except for the obvious privacy benefits, it adds to the lightness and informality of the communication. In fact, the survey designed to find out the ways Snapchat users are utilizing this feature has showed that very few care about the privacy and security and the feature is mostly used to send “stupid faces” without the need to worry dealing with the consequences later, like before going to a job interview (Roesner, Gill, and Kohno 4).
Finally, the two previous features combined with the introduction of the “stories” feature, which compiles all the snaps into a chronological succession of events, present the third cause of the Snapchat’s popularity. The stories challenge the current trend of creating a “perfect” online profile by selecting only the most favorable content. Gradually more users are frustrated with the artificial nature of the online communication. The Snapchat’s holistic and easy-going approach instead allows its users the opportunity to “be themselves” and see the surroundings adhere to the same behavior.
The online messaging has become popular to the point where it raised concerns if it can be preferred to the real face-to-face communication. However, once its aspects like the selective nature, the striving for perfection, and the disconnection of conversation partners have become apparent, it has lost its previous popularity. Thus, the emergence of Snapchat to fill in the emotional gap can be viewed as a solution for the current negative causes of the decline in online messaging.
Hamburger, Ellis. Real Talk: The New Snapchat Brilliantly Mixes Video and Texting. 2014.
Roesner, Franziska, Brian Gill, and Tadayoshi Kohno 2014. Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages. PDF file. 2016.