So why did Snapchat reject Facebook's huge offer?

Ephemeral media removes the burden of a lasting digital archive (without ads) - which could potentially conflict with Facebook's format

Share
Related Topics

I’ll start this piece with the bit of word-play I might have ended it on, it goes like this: Snapchat – the “ephemeral media” photo sharing app that deletes its own messages after they’re sent – isn’t going away any time soon. 

This sort of quasi-punnery has ended many op-ed style pieces on Silicon Valley’s latest darling (I’m guilty of it myself) but the reason it gets trotted out so much is because it’s true. The two-year-old company recently rejected an acquisition offer of $3bn from Facebook, and although you can argue that this wasn’t the wisest of decisions (mainly by repeating the words Three. Billion. Dollars’) the core concept behind Snapchat, the idea of “ephemeral media”, could prove to be immensely important.

As the vast majority of Snapchat’s users are under 25 (a demographic that is, not coincidentally, beloved of advertisers) we should start with a quick run-down of how the app works. You download it to your smartphone, add your friends, then send them pictures or videos. The kicker is this: you also have to set a timer on each message for between one and ten seconds. After this time is up the message it is automatically deleted from the recipient’s phone. Of course, there are hacks to get around this (including simply taking a screenshot – though the sender is informed of this) but that’s not a massive issue unless you’re planning on using the app for sharing racier images.

This last point has been one of the more foolish ways of evaluating Snapchat’s success (‘look at those teens and their ke-razy hormones’) and it’s an argument that completely ignores the fundamental appeal of having photos that disappear: there’s just less pressure.

Teens - and I’m sorry to use that moniker as if it represents some homogenous mass – generally love sharing information online (it’s pretty much what powers the internet) but studies have shown that they’re far more attuned to the nuances of self-presentation than we sometimes think. They’re aware of being judged online and they worry about how they appear; both to their peers and to the adult world of parents, schools, and potential employers.

By offering a form of communication that is private and erases its own tracks, Snapchat removes the burden of a lasting digital archive - that ugly tail that everybody drags behind them throughout their online life. And if the app does happen to provide teenagers with a safer option to explore their racier impulses then what of it? If history teaches us anything it’s that it’s incredibly difficult to stop young people trying to get off with one another. Self-destructing messages make for less anxious teenagers, less conspicuous narcissism, and less young lives ruined by private snaps going public.

However, whilst all this suggests that the wider trend for ephemeral media is beneficial, it doesn’t answer the question of whether or not it was wise of Snapchat to reject Facebook’s offer.  If self-destructing messages are such a good thing then what’s wrong with giving them the financial clout of Mark Zuckerberg’s backing?

The answer lies in how the companies would make their money. Like Snapchat, Facebook began by attracting vast amounts of users before monetizing this resource by selling them ads, and - more controversially - mining their personal information in order to sell them better ads. Whether or not this is a good thing or not is debatable, but it means that it’s always in Facebook’s interests to get users to give up more information about themselves. This can become a problem.

In contrast, Snapchat reportedly plans to use a different revenue model: getting users to pay for added services instead of selling them adverts. This would mean that if Snapchat ever developed into a more fully-fledged social network (and recent additions suggest that they could go this way) then they would be far less exposed to the sort of worrying privacy issues that dog Facebook. Snapchat wouldn’t be forced to continually tweak privacy settings to reveal more about their users because they wouldn’t need to.

As apps go, Snapchat might seem like nothing more than a silly idea that has attracted silly money, but if it succeeds then it could be a significant development – both for the internet and for society as a whole.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent