Social media continues to evolve at a furious pace, and Snapchat sits at the intersection of an ongoing debate about the nature of social. Must networks be long-term repositories of messages and media, or can some be vehicles for sharing information for a short time?
Snapchat contrasts with other networks because “snaps” (the photo messages sent over the network) disappear shortly after they’re sent. This is fundamentally different from networks like Twitter where you build up a body of personalized content that others can view indefinitely unless you manually delete something.
We’ll examine the appeal of Snapchat and pose the question of whether the startup can translate a large teenage audience into an actual profit.
Like Google and many other tech startups, Snapchat has a Stanford connection. Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy developed the photo message application when they were at Stanford. The app was initially released in September 2011.
Snapchat allows users to send photos, videos, text and drawings to a designated list of recipients for a specified amount of time (typically just a few seconds) before the messages disappear. Last October, Snapchat released a new feature called Snapchat Stories that allows you to create a narrative by stringing together a series of snaps.
Greedy or grinning?
Snapchat has proven especially popular with teenagers. The company says that users send some 400 million snaps per day. That’s a larger number than the daily uploads of Facebook photos.
And then there is the acquisition interest. There have been rumors of a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook, as well as interest from Chinese internet company Tencent. Snapchat hasn’t been acquired but has raised quite a bit of capital, including a recent round of $50 million in funding, according to TechCrunch.
Many Silicon Valley observers were shocked that Snapchat has turned down acquisition offers, especially since the network has yet to turn a profit. Still, Snapchat is a potential gold mine for advertisers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. We’ve become good at ignoring intrusive advertisements, but Snapchat users must quickly pay attention to messages before they’re deleted, so ad impressions could be impactful if they’re relevant to the demographic.
Crazy like a ghost
Snapchat might not be crazy for holding out. It will just have to contend with the rapid and inevitable shifts in the digital habits of youngsters, the Chronicle story concludes. Formidable foes like Facebook, Twitter or Google might decide to create their own ephemeral networks. In fact, Google and Yahoo are already investing heavily in features that encourage photo interaction, as CNNMoney points out.
Or, the challenge could come from overseas. WeChat, a free mobile-focused app run by Tencent, is among the Asian messaging apps that are exploding in popularity in China and beyond, All Things D reports. WeChat’s strategy to make money involves in-app purchases including an in-app social game network.
So what are your thoughts about Snapchat and who do you think are its biggest competitors? Are you in the camp that thinks Snapchat is just dumb, or do you think there’s a profitable niche for ephemeral social networks?