Why I’m Rooting for Snapchat

Why I’m Rooting for Snapchat

Shane BarnhillThursday,31 July 2014

The Snap:

Snapchat is on a roll. The company’s valuation is at an all-time high, user growth is soaring, and the app’s latest features have been a hit with users. It seems that everyone–investors, Snapchatters, and the press–has been in love with Snapchat for a long time.

But not me.

The Download:

Snapchat has always been the one app that I’ve loved to hate. Take your average Facebook hater’s disdain for The Social Network, multiply it times a thousand, and the result is (or was) my general feeling about Snapchat. But it’s not because I’m a worried parent who is afraid of disappearing photos (as a parent, I worry about plenty of other, more important things). No, I dislike Snapchat for several other reasons, such as:

1. The company turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook and a $4 billion offer from Google. Sure, this looks like a good idea now, given reports of a new $10 billion valuation, but it reeked of hubris at the time, and it’s when I really started rooting for Snapchat to fail. There are few things more enjoyable than watching overconfidence meet cold comeuppance, and part of me still wants to see Snapchat crash and burn overnight (Tip: If you ever get offered $3 billion for anything you build, you take the offer, regardless of your rate of traction among highly-valued 18-29 year old users). Although it looks like Snapchat may have made the right call, let’s face it: they made an overconfident gamble and got lucky.

2. Speaking of overconfidence: Snapchat’s CEO and co-founder, Evan Spiegel, seems like a genuine asshole.

3. The app’s user interface is terrible. I get that it’s designed to be minimal, but it just feels unorganized. I don’t know how heavy users tolerate it.

4. My friends skew non-techie and older than Snapchat’s target age demographic. Consequently, only a very small subset of my friends use Snapchat, which greatly reduces its fun and utility.

But despite the points above–especially Spiegel and company’s jackassery–I find myself fascinated with Snapchat at the moment, due to two relatively new features.

The first is Our Story, which combines snaps into a public “community perspective” of a shared experience in a single (general) location. While the feature debuted at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, its real coming out party came at the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany. Although many Snapchatters were confused by feature’s availability at the World Cup, it provided a compelling, “wow I feel like I’m there” look at the World Cup’s party atmosphere and post-game celebrations/disappointments.

Geofilters are the second compelling new release from Snapchat (see video below). Similar to Our Story, location is the key ingredient for Geofilters, which offer special stickers tied to locations. “All you need to do to activate them is swipe right from the preview screen after you take a photo, and you’ll receive a text or graphic sticker overlaid on your pic,” writes Josh Constine of TechCrunch. While Geofilters have focused on select locations in Los Angeles and New York since launching, Snapchat did take the time to taunt Facebook with one that can only be unlocked at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park (it features Snapchat’s iconic ghost mocking and pointing at the user).

The interesting thing is that these features are a slight turn away from Snapchat’s ephemeral bread and butter. “All this is a reminder that what makes Snapchat successful may be different from what made it popular,” writes Elliott Williams of The Atlantic. Instead, Snapchat is betting that location-based storytelling–which isn’t exactly a new or innovative concept–will appeal to young Snapchatters who want to plant their “I was there” flags in the same app that they use for private, disappearing notes with close friends.

Of course, custom stickers for venues and featured group stories for big events represent a ton of revenue potential for Snapchat. Brands are going to trip all over each other with offers to pay for these types of still-ephemeral exposure. But what gets me excited about these revenue options is how they differ from Facebook.

By providing Snapchatters with opportunities to brand their own snaps (with stickers) or contribute their snaps to collective stories, Snapchat is taking a far different approach than Facebook, which harvests user inputs (posts, check-ins, Likes, etc.) and then uses them to generate ads. By contrast, Geofilters and Our Stories are more akin to Foursquare check-ins that have been posted to Twitter; location is not only being voluntarily revealed, but it’s also trumpeted loudly by users to ensure that it’s not overlooked by others. These features are explicit requests by users for inclusion in temporary, branded experiences.

Sure, Snapchat could alter its course and use location-based data to take the tried-and-true approach of stuffing ads down the throats of Snapchatters in the future, but the company seems intent on charting its own course with revenue streams that are decidedly different than Facebook.

And in my book, “different than Facebook” is a cause worth rooting for.

(BTW, I’m “shanebarnhill” on Snapchat. Send a snap my way to say hi.)

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Hat Tips:

Bloomberg, Business Insider, The New Yorker, TechCrunch, Gawker, Snapchat, The Verge, The AtlanticImage Credit: Flickr*

 

*Original image converted to black and white



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