As I read Josh Constine’s piece on TechCrunch regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s discussion at Stanford about Snapchat, a sudden realization came to me: Facebook is the reason why a service like Snapchat exists.
And no matter how hard Facebook tries to be like Snapchat, they’ll never be able to replicate Snapchat’s service and/or success. Neither will companies like Google, Yahoo or Microsoft. Or any of the companies listed in this NSA PRISM slideshow.
The very crux and attraction of Snapchat’s service is this: you take a picture, you share it, and no one saves anything. Neither the user, nor the company. So far in, for the most part, Snapchat has done a great job of keeping their service attractive by making sure that the pictures users sent stays a secret from everyone else other than the sender and the recipients (this will exclude the recent security breach since in that case, (only) the usernames and phone numbers of the users were revealed, not the pictures — in other words, Snapchat is still sticking close to its core service of safeguarding the pictures).
People used to trust Facebook with their data — until around 2010, when Facebook realized that they either have to start generating revenues, or they’ll disappear as quickly as they had burst onto the social media scene.
So in 2010 (and around that time period, give or take a year or two), Facebook became more willing than ever to share their users’ data — without explicit notification to the users. In other words, they have willfully broken the trust users have placed upon them.
Users can never trust Facebook with private information again.
But those kinds of private information, which used to reside on Facebook servers, needed to find a new home. A home that would protect them better and one that wouldn’t consciously abuse their trust, like Facebook did.
That home, as we all know, is Snapchat. In Snapchat, they (the young teenagers demographic — one of the more, if not the most attractive of all demographics) saw a service that promised them the safety and security they needed to share those drunk pictures taken at 4 a.m. after a wild Saturday night out. No one’s going to see those pictures other than the recipients and hopefully, since each Snap can only last for 10 seconds, those people who received it will probably forget it by the following Monday. Quite contrarily, such a thing would have taken way more effort to delete off Facebook… with no guarantee that it’s actually being deleted forever. (There’s no guarantee that Snapchat deletes them off forever too, but we’re dealing with perceptions here: teenagers trust Snapchat way more than Facebook with their data after the security breaches and revelations. Facebook is essentially seen as the big brother devil by many teenagers today.)
Snapchat is the solution born out of the problem Facebook created for themselves.
But as Snapchat grows and scales for millions of users, someone will have to pay the bills eventually. And as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said before, Snapchat will introduce ads to generate revenue, putting them in the same position Facebook was in in 2010.
When the time comes, will Snapchat sing a different tune with regards to privacy?
Well, according to history, there’s no reason to believe why not.
When users realize they’re being exploited, they’ll simply migrate off Snapchat to whatever that’s cool and new at the time. Snapchat without the other demographics supporting it, will just die off quietly.
*Note: The reason why Facebook remains so profitable to this day even as teenagers stop using it as much, is because they have other demographics to support them. Grandmothers sharing pictures in just 3 clicks with their sons and daughters. Middle-aged workers using it to rant or complain about something after a hard day at work. Friends who have moved away using it to keep in touch with their old friends. These are the things that are currently keeping Facebook from sinking into the red. Snapchat, on the other hand, don’t really have much support from these other demographics. As I remarked to an investor the other day, a grandmother living overseas would really much rather Skype her grand-daughter than use Snapchat to communicate with her, where the faces would disappear in the span of ten seconds (and usually less).