Snapchat seems to be attracting more interest recently with more users of and more questions about the mobile sharing app which allows you to send images and text (‘Snaps’) to contacts with an ‘auto-destruct’ after a few seconds. In April, CEO Evan Spiegel announced that 150m photos were shared each day, and the app has come under investigation as to whether the images actually do auto-destruct. There is also a perception that the app is a fad among teens, and the auto-destruct nature of the communication makes it suitable for mere frippery or even for sexting.
But the rise of Snapchat is much more interesting than that; it presents a real innovation in communication tools.
Social media tools typically allow communication (in text or visually) that is then stored forever. You can get lost in a sea of your own memories and in the messages and updates for others. This can be confusing in itself – the nature of memories tends to eschew this kind of cataloguing of detail. But also it reflects more the nature of written communications - things that are logged and recorded; filed and searchable. And this is at odds with the nature of much of the things that we communicate on social media.
Much of what we want to say to contacts in social media is ‘of the moment’ – it is a greeting or a friendly hello, a piece of information or advice. It is not content that the recipient will need after they have read it, and it is certainly not content that needs to be stored, catalogued and searchable. It reflects more much of our spoken communication – passing a message on in the now. And to date social media tools have been poor at meeting this need.
What Snapchat offers is a tool for communication as ephemera – content and messaging that has a shelf-life and doesn’t need to live on after that.
So much of the way we interact as human beings is like this that I would expect to see a real rise in tools that operate in a similar way to Snapchat; tools that don’t require everything we say in social media to be forever.
Of course, there is much that is wrong with Snapchat – the concerns of bullying, sexting and whether those photos are really deleted are all real. But the essence of the app – the ephemeral nature of communication is also very real. And it has the opportunity to develop and to change the way we communicate through digital devices, and the way brands communicate with us. What would you say if you could pass on a message that genuinely lived just in the now?