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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015