Snapchat’s Secret Sauce

Snapchat’s Secret Sauce

It seems like every other day that someone announces another Snapchat clone. Facebook had Poke, then Slingshot. Both failed. Path redesigned their chat app to be more ephemeral in nature. Instagram launched Instagram Direct for private sharing and is even testing a new private photo sharing app called Bolt.

Why is everyone trying to be Snapchat and why is Snapchat still ahead of the game. I’d like to argue that Snapchat has a secret sauce. Here’s why:

1. Snaps are Super Expressive
You can share photos and videos with lots of apps, so what makes Snapchat so special? The answer is that a snap is not just a photo. By allowing users to add text, apply filters and draw on their photos and videos, Snapchat offers their users a way to be both highly creative and super expressive. Now when you combine this with the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, you create a way for users to share moments, big or small, in a way that is more natural than most other social networks.



Now if you compare Snapchat to some of it’s “competitors”, you’ll see that they haven’t perfected this perfect balance of expressiveness and ephemerality. Poke was just a pure clone of Snapchat with none of the coolness factor. Slingshot arguably comes close but requires an awkward sling to unlock mechanic. Bolt emphasises speed over creativity. Most other ephemeral apps are using the feature as a gimmick. And Instagram Direct just doesn’t allow users to be expressive enough. You can only do so much with Instagram’s selection of filters which is why people have started editing their photos in 3rd party apps like VSCO CAM.

Also, Instagram is just not a private social network. Like Twitter, you want as many people to see, like and comment on your photos while getting as many followers as possible. Instagram is one of the fasted growing and most exciting social networks at the moment. Why they want to be Snapchat instead of Instagram is something I just don’t get.

2. Snapchat has made smarter product decisions
You don’t often hear Snapchat announce new features but when they do, they are often well thought out, make the product better and receive overwhelmingly positive feedback. Some examples of such features include Snapchat Stories, Our Stories and Snapchat Chat. Snapchat Chat is particularly great and does an excellent job at keeping users in the app for longer.

If we look at (or pick on) Instagram, they’ve made a number of product announcements this year. Adding advanced photo editing features and redesigning the app to be more usable in emerging markets were great moves. Launching Instagram Direct, using Facebook Places instead of Foursquare for location data and even launching Bolt seem more misguided.

3. Snapchat is finding cool ways to monetise
Every social network faces the challenge of increasing the number of its users while making as much money as possible. This often involves making the service attractive to brands and by selling users to advertisers. Services have to get this just right because users don’t want to be spammed.

Snapchat is reportedly looking at alternative ways to monetise so that they don’t alienate their audience of “cool kids who use Snapchat”. Snapchat is doing their best to make the service more brand friendly while avoiding monetising through ads (because ads are lame). Some of their ideas include sponsored events (like EDC), sponsored geofilters and even a mobile payments service. If they can get this right, then Snapchat has an even brighter future than initially anticipated.


WhatsApp: WTF?

by Adam Skikne

Earlier this week, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. And while everyone may have their opinion of why Facebook acquired WhatsApp, what they have planned for WhatsApp, or whether or not it was a good or a bad deal for Facebook, no one can definitively know the answer to any of these questions for sure at this moment in time.

Sure, the internet is full of people with opinions and the best way to take an opinion is with a pinch of salt. Having said that, Facebook’s decision to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion could very well be the single worst decision in the history of business. Ever.

Here’s why:

1. 19 Billion Reasons

The great thing about WhatsApp is that it is incredibly simple and has focused on doing one thing particularly well. WhatsApp doesn’t collect your personal data and it doesn’t depend on advertising for revenue. WhatsApp is basically free for the first year and then charges you $1 a year thereafter.

So did Facebook acquire WhatsApp to collect more data? Did they acquire them to make money. The answer, at least at the moment, is ‘no’ on both accounts. In fact if every one of WhatsApp’s 450 million monthly users paid their $1 subscription, it would take WhatsApp just over 42.2 years to generate $19 billion dollars. This $19 billion would not be pure profit.

It would not be worth the same as $19 billion dollars is worth by today’s standards.

And we will probably not be using WhatsApp 42.2 years from now.

2.  WhatsApp doesn’t automatically give Facebook Access to Millions of “Poor” People in Emerging Markets

Ok, so for many, WhatsApp is the default SMS or messaging app, especially for “poorer” people in emerging markets. But is Facebook’s play really spending $19 billion dollars to get WhatsApp on “poor” people’s smartphones just so that they can get them to use Facebook? That sounds stupid.

But if Facebook acquired WhatsApp to target the next billion people who will be accessing the internet for the first time in emerging markets, they have a big problem. WeChat.

WeChat offers the same functionality as WhatsApp as well as a completely mobile social network that can potentially replace Facebook for many users. And in a recent article by Quartz, while WeChat has 150 million users less than WhatsApp, each WeChat user is worth an estimated $95 each – making WeChat worth around $30 billion.

Not only are WeChat users worth more than WhatsApp users, WeChat is looking to aggressively expand into Western markets. WhatsApp will not only have to fight off WeChat’s superior offering in these markets but they will also struggle to gain traction in China (where WeChat comes from) because of WeChat’s head start and the fact that Facebook is pretty much banned in China.

3. Facebook Fails

I think Facebook has a lot of potential as a company. They have an enormous user base, all our data, tons of money and some super smart people. But they also have a terrible track record of announcing things that should revolutionize social media but fail miserably instead. Some of these Facebook fails include:

  • The effect of changes to the News Feed algorithm for posts from friends
  • The effect of changes to the News Feed algorithm for posts by brands
  • email addresses
  • Facebook Graph Search
  • Facebook Home (despite being a cool product)
  • The HTC First (this was actually quite a cool entry level phone)
  • Facebook Poke (to compete with Snapchat)
  • Facebook’s controversial IPO
  • Not being able to solve advertising on Instagram (although this may change)
  • Instagram Video (to compete with Vine)
  • Instagram Direct (once again to compete with Snapchat)

So even if buying WhatsApp is a good idea and fits perfectly into Facebook’s genius plans…things don’t always go according to plan. Especially for Facebook. After writing this post, I think I realise that the only possible reason Facebook bought WhatsApp wasn’t to increase revenues, get more data or even more users. The acquisition was most likely to prepare for the upcoming battle between with WeChat. Will the $19 billion dollars that Facebook spent on WhatsApp be worth it? We’ll find out as the battle unfolds on the tiny screens in our pockets.


Everything you need to know about Snapchat in 10 seconds (give or take)

Everything you need to know about Snapchat in 10 seconds (give or take)

by Adam Skikne

1. What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is an app that allows you to share pictures and short videos that delete themselves after 10 seconds. You can also draw or write on your pictures. It’s more fun than it sounds.

2. That sounds stupid. Why would people use Snapchat?

Young folk are getting tired of the fact that everything you do or say online sticks around forever. Sometimes, you just want to share something and not have it recorded until the end of time.

3. Is this the app everyone uses for sexting?

Apparently but not really. I get a decent amount of snaps from friends everyday. So far, not a single sext. But if you do want to sext (am I using that word correctly?) you can add me: adamskikne

4. Can’t people just screengrab your snaps?

Yes, but it’s cool. Some snaps are just too awesome not to save. Plus you get a notification when someone screengrabs your snap. So you know if you need to start panicking.

5. Why is everyone talking about Snapchat?

Facebook reportedly offered $3 billion to acquire Snapchat. Facebook got turned down.

Google reportedly offered $4 billion to acquire Snapchat. Google got turned down.

6. That’s crazy. How many people are on Snapchat?

It’s tough to say. Snapchat isn’t confirming the total number of active users.

7. Ok…so why the billion dollar offers?

There are more snaps sent each day than the number of photos loaded onto Facebook.

8. Should Facebook be worried?

Facebook shouldn’t be worried about Snapchat per se. Facebook should be worried that young people think that Facebook is boring and aren’t using it as much as they used to.

9. Is Snapchat worth billions of dollars?

Probably not. They haven’t figured out a way to make money and people are very fickle when it comes to the next hot app. Plus a lot of their metrics are very misleading at the moment.

10. Can brands use Snapchat?

Yes and no. Seriously, this is taking way longer than 10 seconds. I guess you could use Snapchat’s relatively new Story feature to create a feed of pictures and videos that live for 24 hours before deleting themself. I’m sure Snapchat is probably looking at new features specifically for brands. To be safe, just stick to Facebook and Twitter and quit trying to look smarter than you really are by trying to find “the next big thing” in social media.


You can get Snapchat on the Google Play Store and the Apple App store.

 *No turtles were harmed in the making of this post