Snapchat has become a major source of confusion, insecurity and concern for most people over the tender age of 26. The app combines the communicative function of Facebook with the instant photo-sharing capacity of Instagram with a scandalous twist: users can only view content for a few brief seconds before it vanishes “forever” into the cyberspace abyss.
In a time when parents are becoming increasingly concerned with their kids’ online activity, an app that leaves no paper trail is the perfect alternative to Snapchat’s more public counterparts. The Snapchat phenomena is almost exclusively millennial, primarily because non-millennials have a hard time understanding and trusting it. This is precisely the reason for its success.
Facebook once owned this millennial exclusivity. Upon its inception, Zuckerberg only allowed fellow college students to sign up. Millennials who were in college when Facebook launched have now entered the next phase of life – adulthood – and as such, the platform is flooded with images of weddings and newborn babies. Everybody has a boss or grandparent pestering them with friend requests. Facebook is no longer a safe space to post those pictures of your buddy passed out on a tractor at the prom after-party.
The millennials of 2015 needed a new platform, a more private place to share their defamatory moments. The idea came to now 26-year-old Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat, after a series of failed ideas in the app development world. A friend stormed into Spiegel’s dorm room one night, desperately regretting a photo he had sent, wishing there was some sort of app that would allow the user to send “disappearing photos.” The duo immediately began the hunt for a developer to turn this idea into a reality.
The tale told by J.J. Calao in an in-depth article for Forbes titled “The Inside Story of Snapchat” is familiar to anyone who watched The Social Network, complete with an Ivy-league college kid, big dreams, dropping out of college to pursue the dream and a legal battle over intellectual property as they booted their way to the top of the app food chain.
Snapchat’s ephemerality is its claim to fame, but it’s not completely foolproof. Tutorials exist that teach users to screenshot snaps without the sender knowing. Forbes published an article that describes how to resurrect old Snapchat images and Buzzfeed published an article that gave directions for saving Snapchat videos, both of which are summarized in an article for Salon written by Mary Elizabeth Williams, titled “The Dark Side of Snapchat.” Everyone alive during the Facebook boom has heard the fable ending with What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet, forever. With Snapchat, millennials have been tricked into thinking their images won’t follow them, when really, it’s not all that hard to dig them up once they’re “gone.”
However, this information has proven to be of little importance to Snapchat users. “The app recently surpassed Instagram and Tumblr as the fastest growing social app, according to market research by Global Web Index, with rumours of its size growing from 30 million active users a year ago to 100 million six months ago to nearly 200 million today,” says tech writer Will Oremus in an article for Slate titled “Is Snapchat Really Confusing Or Am I Just Old?” Calao states that Snapchat users send more photos and videos every single day than Facebook and Instagram users combined, at around 400 million.
A clear pattern emerged since Snapchat’s pioneer days. With user numbers approaching 1000, “App usage peaked between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. – school hours,” Calao explains. It turned out that Spiegel’s niece had shared the app with her Orange County high school friends, who used the App “on their school-distributed iPads, since Facebook was banned. It gave them all the ability to pass virtual notes during class – except, even better, the evidence vanished.” From there, usage skyrocketed over the Christmas holidays when kids unwrapped brand-new smartphones.
The Snapchat interface lacks the intrusive monetizing features of Facebook, which has helped turn Snapchat into one of the greatest app success stories of all time. Snapchat’s monetization strategies are fewer and much less invasive than its competitors, which pleases users but also prevents the company from hitting Facebook-level profits despite its estimated worth of $10 billion.
Snapchat Discover is the company’s first stab at monetizing. The feature gives major publications an opportunity to share content – magazine articles, videos, sometimes even big budget TV commercials – with the coveted millennial demographic. The great flaw here is that, like YouTube, this content is engaging but easily skipped. Few people, millennial or otherwise, will ever take the time to watch a whole advertisement unless they don’t have a choice, Oremus explains in “Snapchat Isn’t Selling Out.” Certain major brands use the Story feature of the app, which allows users to display a series of snaps taken in the past 24 hours, but it’s unclear whether these brands must pay to participate.
The reason that Baby Boomers are so befuddled by Snapchat is likely due to the app’s instant nature. Unlike Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Vine, there are no delete or edit options once the user hits send. Perhaps that is the major source of apprehension for adults. Perhaps it is the fact that, despite its claims, Snapchat photos can be downloaded and saved, whether the user knows it or not. Perhaps the interface simply isn’t intuitive enough. But one thing’s for sure, if there ever comes a time when your grandma starts sending out snaps, you can bet millennials will jump right off that bandwagon in search of a new platform, just for them.
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