Snapchat's under fire from Facebook, with The Social Network copying many of Snapchat's core features and either releasing them to everyone or within specific markets where Snapchat hasn't yet gained significant traction. And given that Facebook has more users and more resources, you'd expect that those efforts will eventually start to hurt Snapchat, particularly after it goes public and the pressure mounts for them to keep bringing in more users (as we've seen with Twitter).
That's potentially a big problem, right? But thus far, Snapchat's been able to remain competitive with the bigger players by releasing more innovative, interesting products and options, delivering entirely new experiences that are so cool that people can't help but tell their friends about them.
But the question is, can Snapchat continue to innovate fast enough to stay one-step ahead of Facebook and keep users coming back to their app despite them being able to access similar - if not better - tools on networks like Facebook and Instagram, where they also have larger, established friend networks?
Right now, I wouldn't bet against the yellow ghost - while Facebook recently announced their new camera option, which includes Snapchat style image filters and will live within Facebook itself, Snapchat launched Spectacles, their first hardware play which has subsequently generated a heap of hype, particularly due to the company's creative marketing strategy - which, thus far, has involved a giant yellow vending machine being dropped off at random locations around the US (they opened their first official Spectacles store in NYC this week).
But another area where Facebook can comfortably beat out Snapchat is in advertising. Facebook has the most advanced ad targeting options around, and coupled with their aforementioned reach, that'll make it hard for Snap Inc. to compete. And on top of that, Snapchat's not known as being particularly advertiser friendly.
So how can Snapchat translate their ability to come up with cool new, hype-generating innovations into the commercial arena?
Check this out:
There's been no notification about this, Snapchat - typically - isn't making a big noise about it, but the ability to recognize real world objects and use them as a trigger for in-app content is a big deal.
This is actually something they inadvertently flagged a while back (and which we reported on at the time), with a patent filed in January 2015 outlining the process for image recognition-triggered ads that could be used to deliver custom, targeted ad content.
"For example, a photograph including an object recognized as a restaurant may result in the user being presented with photo filters that overlay a menu of the restaurant on the photograph. Or a photograph including an object recognized as a food type may result in the user being presented with photo filters that let the user view information e.g., calories, fat content, cost or other information associated with the food type."
In addition to providing contextual info, this could also enable businesses to offer discounts and promotions based on the content of an image - for example, here, a person who's taken a Snap of a cup of coffee is offered a discount coupon based on that snap.
The patent actually goes into further detail than just the outline, with a full rundown of how they could use a bidding system for images, creating a whole new advertising eco-system within Snapchat - essentially the same way that Google ads are triggered by keywords, but using images instead.
The potential of this is significant, but until now it's purely been speculation, we've seen no indication that Snapchat's advanced this process. The above example shows that they most definitely have evolved the process - they now have a working, live system that can recognize at least one object in the wild. For all we know, there may even be more.
Snapchat still has a way to go to fully prove themselves as a real contender for the established social media players, particularly in the advertising sense. But image-recognition-triggered ads could be a major step - and with Snap reportedly looking to announce an IPO early next year, expect them to make an official announcement on this front to boost their brand value ahead of listing.
There are major possibilities with this application, and it fits perfectly into Snap Inc.'s mission to improve the way people live via the camera.
It's only a single, and relatively simple, example, but it signals much bigger things.
When Snapchat announced the removal of auto-advance from Stories last month, along with the demotion of Discovery on the main page, we speculated that the app likely had a plan to remove the revenue opportunities lost as a result of those changes with something bigger and more impressive. Image recognition-triggered ads could be just that.