Category: Mobile

Is Snapchat the Platform of the Future?

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.

Use Airplane Mode Often & Live in the Moment

I accidentally discovered that “Airplane Mode” is the most useful feature on my mobile device.

As my Galaxy Nexus from December of 2011 (I know, I know… it’s a relic) aged, the battery started sucking more than it already did. In order to combat this, I started to put it on airplane mode on the subway, in meetings, at lunch and dinner to conserve the battery while still allowing it to function as my watch. In doing so, I made an important discovery.

When I put my phone on airplane mode, I stop worrying about it.

I stop experiencing phone-schizophrenia. Symptoms include:

  • compulsively grabbing the device, and turning it on to see if anything new came
  • feeling phantom vibrations (yeah, you know you feel them too)
  • hearing the ringtone when no one was calling
  • and ignoring friends and loved ones

As a result I started to pay more attention to the people around me, and it’s wonderful.


One thing is clear in my new world of airplane mode socialization. Most people lack self-control when it comes to their devices. Even people who complain about how everyone has their face buried in their phones.

The more I attention I pay to the people around me the more I notice how many phones are just sitting on bars or tables. Their owners casually and compulsively checking them without even realizing that they are doing it. Now that I’m more aware of it, I notice when I do it. I never used to notice.

The bottom-line

Kill your signal from time-to-time. If you’re spending time with someone you care about, you’ll have an even better time if you’re devoting your full attention.


Trust me, the world won’t end. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t all in constant contact with one another. I promise your texts, emails, and tweets will wait. That’s the beauty of asynchronous communication; it doesn’t require an instant response.

And don’t worry about that missed call, they’ll leave a message. I promise you their phone will be on when you call later.

Defeating Snapchat’s Privacy in 4 Easy Steps

Snapchat doesn’t fulfill on it’s promise. It can’t, and it won’t. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future.

Self-destructing pictures only work if another copy can’t be made.

The obvious problem: screen shots

They kind of solved the easy problem of screen-shots by logging and notifying the sender if one of the receivers takes a screen shot.

It doesn’t eliminate the threat that a photo can be stored, but it does mitigate the risk a fair amount.

Now onto the less obvious, and much larger problem…


How to secretly copy a Snapchat pic

  1. Receive a Snapchat photo
  2. Take out a second phone/camera
  3. Open the Snapchat photo
  4. Take a picture of the screen with the second device
Not taken with Snapchat, but the principle is the same.
Not taken with Snapchat, but the principle is the same.

Et voila… You now have an undetectable, savable and resendable copy of the previously private Snapchat.

We live in a world full of cameras my friends. Never forget it.

Unopened Snapchats

If a Snapchat photo is unopened, it still lives on Snapchat’s servers, and can be turned over to the authorities. Which has happened about a dozen times.  

Dishonesty in the product

Let’s be real. There are a limited number of use-cases for self-destructing photos. Sending unimportant photos to friends, and sending really, really private photos to friends.

Snapchat sucks. It cannot do what it promises, because what it promises is not achievable through software. Full stop.

There is no such thing as a private photo delivery system.

If you don’t want people seeing a particular photo, then don’t take it, and certainly don’t send it to someone. Once you do send a private photo, the only security that remains is the integrity and respect of the receiver.

Your phone isn’t a sex toy. 

Practice safe computing.

(image via Wikipedia)

Device Security: Fingerprints vs Passwords

Apple’s announcement and release of the iPhone 5s raised an interesting question that many have asked me:

“Which is safer, Touch ID or  a pin code?”

The answer is, it depends on what you’re protecting yourself from.


Pin codes 

They are a nuisance

Far too many people don’t use them, because they are annoying. A device that is devoid of security is already defeated.

Pin peeping

Someone can easily observe a user inputting a pin, and thus defeat the security.

Police prevention

It takes a massive amount of legal proceedings for the police to compel a person to turn over their password.


Police & fingerprints

The police can compel you to turn over your fingerprints. There isn’t enough legal precedent to ensure protection from the authorities.

Deep sleepers

If you’re a deep sleeper, someone could access your device with your fingerprint, and defeat your security while you’re dreaming.

Effortless security

The way Touch ID is setup, using your fingerprint as a password is effortless after initial setup.

Safe print storage?

The way Touch ID is architected, your fingerprint data should be secure. Even if it isn’t, the device isn’t storing your prints, it’s storing a mathematical translation of your prints. So, if someone defeats Apple’s security and accesses your print data, it’s not actually your print, it’s a looooooooooong string of seemingly random characters.

Other fingerprint enabled devices, I cannot speak for at this time.

That being said, I wouldn’t worry about this because we leave our fingerprints everywhere. If someone is motivated and wants to steal your prints and do bad things, it’s pretty much impossibly to prevent (hair follicles too).

The bottom-line

If you think you’ll be invoking your right to remain silent in the near-future… Go with a pin… And please don’t hurt anyone.

If you don’t trust the people under your roof… Go with a pin…  And maybe a lock on your door.

Your safest option would be to enable fingerprint security, and have a pin… But Apple doesn’t allow it. Two layers of security would be better than one.

That being said, pick one. Pin or print, it doesn’t matter. If you’re committed to security laziness, at least protect your device with a print. No security is a terrible idea.

Practice safe computing.

(Image via Apple)