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Think Big. Move Fast.

When we invested in Snapchat a year ago it had a few hundred thousand installs, but incredible retention and frequency of usage. Evan and Bobby painted a compelling story of how ephemeral messaging created a more real and authentic mode of communication, one where you weren’t “performing” for the every present audience in most social media, from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter. We believed in their vision but the growth that Snapchat has seen has exceeded anyones wildest predictions. No wonder they won the Crunchie for Fastest Rising Startup of 2012.

A lot of people still don’t understand the core use case for Snapchat. Mostly people who don’t use the product much I suspect. I recently read a couple of blog posts that capture it pretty well. Leah Culver says:

“To write it off as just a sexting app is to underestimate the power of it’s simplicity. I’ve been sending snaps to friends for a couple weeks and there’s something very liberating about taking a quick photo. It can be a crappy photo. It can be silly. I don’t need to spend 15 minutes setting up the perfect shot or scrolling though filter options.

Snapchat is just a simple way to communicate with someone else. On the communication spectrum from lightest (texting?) to heaviest (email?) it’s probably even lighter than texting. Crazy.

I love that there’s no comments. As far as I can tell, the only way to reply is to send another snapchat. I usually just post whatever I happen to be doing at the moment. It’s like Twitter without having to bother to actually write anything. Here’s me! Eating a sandwich!”

She captures the advantage of the incredibly lightweight nature of the interaction, and the low “performance anxiety” pressure very well.

Snapchat first caught on among college students and highschool students, and here is some commentary from a Yale student that also helps illustrate the appeal of Snapchat who says that about two thirds of his friends are using Snapchat, up from zero six months ago:

“Snapchat’s time limits make snaps more engaging. Since snaps disappear seconds after they are opened, users feel comfortable sending spontaneous and personal messages that they would not want ingrained into digital histories. Sending a headshot to a friend via text feels forced, but sending a warm gaze or a silly face via Snapchat is natural. Snapchat pictures tend to be candid and unprepared, which makes the messages feel more personal, more real. Additionally, since every message has a time limit, users are present when opening snaps. Snapchat attracts its users’ full attention since they have only a few seconds to capture the details of each message. This engagement makes the experience more satisfying – it feels like a real conversation. Interestingly, Snapchat maintains the feeling of a one-on-one conversation even when messaging groups.

Here’s the secret sauce to Snapchat’s viral growth: its group messaging functionality. When a user sends a snap to multiple friends, the recipients receive a snap indistinguishable from an individualized message. In effect, mass snaps feel personalized. This is the holy grail of messaging platforms: evoking strong emotion with minimal friction. Consider this emotion/friction matrix:

High Emotion Low Emotion
High Friction Handwritten Letter Morse Code
Low Friction Mass SnapChat Mass Texting (MMS)

The virality of a messaging platform equals its emotion-friction ratio, and the Snapchat paradigm maximizes this virality coefficient. A Snapchat of a funny face will evoke a visceral reaction in the recipient before they have time to consider the meaning behind the message. Conversely, when someone receives an MMS, the first thing they see is the recipient list. Users immediately dissect mass text messages before experiencing them. To solve this problem, Snapchat is intentionally ambiguous. Since the meaning behind a snap is opaque, Snapchat alleviates senders’ social inhibitions. This is revolutionary: by altering the social dynamics of digital messaging, Snapchat created an atmosphere in which people share more openly.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your “texting ratio” after you send three or four texts without a response? Snapchat has no messaging history; it relieves insecurities about message imbalances. Problem solved.

Have you ever sent someone a joke via text then feel insecure after not receiving an immediate response? You read and re-read your message, thinking “How did (s)he interpret my text? Was my joke funny?” In Snapchat, you can’t read your sent messages, so there’s no past correspondence to dwell upon. Problem solved.

Snapchat improves the messaging experience because it minimizes the inhibitions of texting.”

This idea of full attention plus intimacy is another big appeal. If you didn’t “get” Snapchat before, hopefully this helps you understand the appeal.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/alexanderasimov Al Atacador

    Simple idea and yet very engaging!

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  • Squeege

    Here’s me… eating a sandwich ALONE! Because I am way too cool to actually go and get a sandwich with my friend I am sending this picture to. Snapchat is a fun little way to get some points across or be safe with pictures but honestly its a waste of time and yet another form of social media that is destroying the fun of actually going outside or being with people. Fun program but if you live your life around it, twitter, fb, etc… please put down the phone and go outside with friends!

  • http://www.donfelicio.com/ Felix Lepoutre

    wish this comment would disappear after 5 seconds.

  • Adam Barger

    It seems like maybe SnapChat is more popular with younger crowds because they tend to have more insecurities. But isn’t it really an app for sexting? I mean no matter what… isn’t that the catalyst behind it’s adoption? It seems like there will always be a market for an app that helps you communicate with friends that your parents can’t find out about.

  • Sean

    Isn’t this just voice/picture/video messaging that’s been around forever? The only difference is auto deletion… But the doesn’t help with security (if that is your main reason for using the app) because people can still copy the content without snap chat knowing.

  • sanuly

    I’m in my mid 30’s so I’m clearly not the target demographic of snapchat. But you know what, I think I’m finally starting to get this dagnabbit app! I consider myself to be a reasonably IT savvy / tolerant person and am into a lot of offbeat platforms including twitter, pinterest, reddit, instagram, vines etc.

    My sister whom I love dearly along with most of my cousins live in different countries. Now for some reason I find them all up in facebook (which I hate for some reason) and whatsapp’s business. Probably has something to do with the Low friction the author is talking about. But talk about twitter, pinterest etc… they immediately clam up saying they just ‘don’t get it’.

    Even with whatsapp, I really try desperately to be in touch with my sister. But all the Hi’s, how are yous and good mornings aren’t cutting it. The funny forwards we send make it even more impersonal. There is an inconvenience barrier one must cross in these: Send something compelling and with the time difference, they might not be in the mood to receive it. When the timing is just right, you don’t feel like you have anything ‘useful’ to convey.

    I’m going to try snapchat (I deleted it earlier) and send simple pictures of me eating ramen unshaven, opening a package i just got from amazon, writing i miss you in the dust on my car… Something which people stop doing on instagram after a while where it becomes a chore to come on without makeup or filters. What do I have to lose. All other means of keeping regular touch with my family besides making international phone calls have failed anyway.

  • CJL

    Nope, still don’t “get” it. Still seems like its only point is for nude pics. Maybe I just lack the imagination to “get” it?

  • holly

    i’ve only had males ask me if I use snap chat. to which I say I don’t and they are highly disappointed. so i’m going to write it off as a sexting App, that’s the appeal.

  • Lyle

    i still don’t understand. you can do the same thing with text. you don’t have to write anything accompanying the photo. snap and send. the only reason i see for using snapchat it is the photo can’t be saved by the recipient. this could be used for illicit photos, i suppose that would make sense, but as for anything else, it really doesn’t. if it isn’t worth taking a picture of and sending to someone, why do it? as stupid and idiotic as our culture has become