Lots of coverage about Facebook Poke, which many have pointed out is a feature for feature clone of Snapchat. Some have pointed out that Poke was written in 12 days as evidence of the lightweight nature of Snapchat, and others have noted that Poke was at the top of the app charts within 24 hours as evidence of Snapchat’s peril. It’s not surprising that Poke got so much lift since it was promoted by the Facebook app, which has tremendous daily active usage. Here is what I saw every time I checked FB on my iphone, and I’m sure that you saw the same:
I think that the people focusing on features and concluding that Snapchat is in peril are missing the importance of the culture of the community of Snapchat users.
Flickr and Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest and Fantasti.cc are all photosharing services, and while there are some feature differences, any one of their engineering teams could create feature parity with the others in a couple of dev cycles. But what they can’t create is the culture of the other services. Each service’s users learned “what we do around here” from earlier users, by observing and eventually replicating the behavior that is rewarded. This can be posting photos of desirable products, beautiful photos taken by the user, candid photos of the user, or pornography.
Culture in a community, like culture in an organization, is best built organically and is spread like sourdough bread. Early users model culture for new users. That is why the “mean time to penis” on Chat Roulette was about 2 minutes. that was the behavior that a new user saw. You don’t see that sort of behavior on Airtime by design because it used technology to stamp it out, and so people didn’t see it and emulate it.
Snapchat built its usecase of authentic, frequent communication through photos in just this way. Old users “taught” new users what sorts of messages to send by sending them to each other. That is why Snapchat isn’t a sexting app. Although it could have been, it wasn’t how early users used the service, and newer users learned that from experience.
The question for Poke will be, how do you build culture when you bring in so many new users all at once? Who will model behavior for them? Just like at a startup, if there are no founders or early employees to model behavior and “how we do things around here”, you can quickly get different and undesirable behaviors emerging.