Anant Jain

Thoughts on the “new” Snapchat


As you may know, Snap Inc. announced a new version of Snapchat today. To be fair, it’s not that big a change, but to sum up:

  • Social: Chats and Stories from your friends will be on the left side of the camera. Earlier, the stories used to be on the right. Also, this friend list would be ordered not by most recent conversation first, but by whom you’re most likely to interact with at the moment.
  • Media: Stories from publishers, creators, and the community will be on the right side of the camera. While the Stories here are personalized algorithmically, the curators review and approve everything that gets promoted on the page.

So you see, your Social is, umm, separated from Media now

Snapchat’s strengths

  • Smaller, private spaces: I’ve argued before that teenagers, and for that matter, everyone, yearns for smaller private spaces where they can share whatever they want with their closest friends — without any reservations of judgement from their parents, grandmas or uncles. Snapchat gives them this out of the box. It didn’t bootstrap off another network, and it is intentionally designed from the ground up to be a network of you and your closest friends.
  • Private by default: All Snapchat accounts are private by default (yes, you can make stories public like Instagram). All Instagram accounts are public by default (yes, you can make it private) The power of default has a significant role to play in how people think about and use a particular network. This is even more true for the people who are not very tech savvy. I used to love the Instagram network, until Facebook decided to make it Facebook v2 by making my entire “friend” list follow me there as well. This means that until I invest a lot of time hiding my story from everyone but my closest friends (and of course no one has time for that), I’ll just refrain from posting most of my true self there. Which brings us to authenticity.
  • Authentic: As far as authenticity goes, I would say that inauthenticity pervades all aspects of our lives, including real-life interactions, which we can assume to be most authentic, yet at some level inauthentic (almost everyone changes themselves a bit depending on who they’re talking to). On this spectrum, the Snapchat experience is a lot more authentic and closer to real-life interactions than Instagram/Facebook.
  • Time spent in app: The amount of time I spend in an app is more correlated with the depth of my relationships with other nodes on that network, and not just with my audience size. The tight knit and private nature of the Snapchat network is going to keep it more attractive to me since my deepest, most genuine connections are there.

Given these, it’s good to see Snapchat playing to their strengths by positioning themselves well as the private space for you and your closest friends, and not a place where ads and other media are mixed up in the same bag (like Instagram or Facebook). This hopefully gives the users a much better experience.

Snapchat’s problems

I’m not arguing here if Snapchat is better than Instagram, or vice versa. Instagram probably will win (or rather, has won) the majority of the market, and will have an order of magnitude, if not more, users, engagement and revenue. While this change is highly pro-consumer, it doesn’t address the company’s inherent revenue problems in the short-term. If anything, I can only see users (like me) completely ignoring the right “Media” section of the app altogether, leading to fewer impressions/consumption of Sponsored content/Subscriptions leading to further lower revenue for the company.

Hard to say, but I at least like it when the founders make an active call to shoot for the long term, without worrying too much about what’s going to happen in the following few quarters. I’m overall happy that at least someone is trying to fight a super-aggregator like Facebook, even thought their chances are really slim.