Snapchat may be the next big platform on the web.
I still firmly believe that their mission of creating self-destroying photos is inherently impossible (for now), but that hasn’t stopped the app’s growth. And there’s still something special going on.
Youth as an indicator of future success
Farhad Manjoo wrote over at the WSJ, “[Snapchat] doesn’t make any money—its executives have barely even mentioned any desire to make money—but in the ad-supported tech industry, youth is the next best thing to revenue. For tech execs, youngsters are the canaries in the gold mine.”
He then went on to point out that historically youth technology use has not been a dramatic indicator of longterm tech trends. “Yet the vast majority of your most-used things weren’t initially popular among teens. The iPhone, the iPad, the iPod, the Google search engine, YouTube, Twitter, Gmail, Google Maps, Pinterest, LinkedIn, the Kindle, blogs, the personal computer, none of these were initially targeted to, or primarily used by, high-school or college-age kids. Indeed, many of the most popular tech products and services were burdened by factors that were actively off-putting to kids, such as high prices, an emphasis on productivity and a distinct lack of fun. Yet they succeeded anyway.”
While Manjoo is technically correct, I think he’s missing the bigger picture.
Youth find the ideas, adults find the platform
Instant messengers, Napster and Myspace were largely driven by youth culture, and while they all died, they were a signal of things to come. Also we cannot forget text messaging, which is still insanely popular with no signs of slowing down.
By my observation, youth have a tremendous capacity for zeroing in on good ideas.
AOL thrived among youth largely because of AIM. Instant messengers are everywhere today… It’s just not usually AOL’s product.
Text messaging always had potential, but it needed to break away from the laughably miserable T9 input system in order to catch on with adults and thrive. It did.
Napster was doomed due to legal problems, but from its ashes came Pandora, Grooveshark, Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, and tons of other products. Napster ultimately remade an entire industry.
And while MySpace is a punchline… Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and all manner of other services are built on its gaudy shoulders.
Kids aren’t the Internet’s canary, women are
Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, MySpace, Instagram, blogging, and texting. They all thrived early with women. That’s what a platform needs to succeed. Especially if it involves social interaction. If women are there, men will stay. The reverse doesn’t hold true.
And this is especially true when personal photo sharing is involved.
Snapchat claims that roughly 70% of its users are women (WSJ). If that’s true, they are in great shape. I have no doubt that more men will continue to show up if women are sharing private photos on the platform.
What’s special about Snapchat?
Snapchat is photo texting without the paper-trail. While the claim of privacy may be flawed, it’s a hell of a lot more private than any other social media platform or text messaging has ever been.
That’s the key to Snapchat.
I think Snapchat is the beginning of the equal and opposite reaction to all of the invasive tracking, surveillance, and inherent lack of privacy that is baked into our current popular web platforms… And I don’t just mean government or brand surveillance.
My guess is that teens are more concerned with maintaining their privacy from parents, siblings, friends, teachers, bosses, and ex significant others.
It must be tough to properly misbehave as a teen… And teens are supposed to be able to do some dumb shit and get away with it.
But we can all use a bit more privacy. A little more control over who views our digital bits (explicit or otherwise).
What does Snapchat need to do next?
They need to find a way to make some money. VC funding won’t last forever (but it can last a good long time if their user-base keeps growing).
They need to build some kind of infrastructure around their product. They have a solid product, but they need to make it into a platform, and do it without breaking the privacy that makes them special.
It will take serious creative thinking to build a more substantial platform around a something that’s supposed dissolve, all without killing their core product and alienating their user-base. It’s a bit of a paradox, but I bet it would be a fun problem to solve.
Either way the kids are right about this, there is something about Snapchat… But it may be a MySpace to some future Facebook.