Snapchat’s disappearing usp becomes a memory

Memories is described by the company as a way to create ‘a personal collection of your favourite moments’. This database can also be drawn upon in the creation of new Snapchat stories. It’s a feature that adds a permanence to a traditionally transitory channel and nods towards Snapchat’s current ‘growing up’ status, as exemplified in the official Memories launch video.

And growing up it is. An estimated 14 per cent of US smartphone users aged 35 and older are now on the photo and video messaging app according to comScore, a statistic that led Teen Vogue to issue the damaging warning that, ‘Your Parents Are Using Snapchat’.

Cue the debate

Of course this has instantly sent media commentators into debate surrounding the future of the $20bn valued company. Its supporters argue that an ageing and therefore broadening user-base invariably requires more mainstream features, such as the ability to store and revisit past content. By offering more of the functionality associated with the likes of Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat can become a more serious mainstream social media contender.

Those who warn against further exodus away from the platform’s original ‘disposable’ roots highlight that this move could alienate existing users, particularly if this development takes on generational connotations, i.e. making Snapchat more appealing to older users.

As always in the world of media, the decision to gamble existing niche audiences and usps in favour of a shot at the mainstream, provokes debate.

Bigger picture (and videos)

Phone at festival ()

But for me, in 2016, the bigger picture has gone far beyond that. When Facebook hit it provided a revolution in the way we communicate with one another and consume media. Twitter brought an immediacy and a stream of consciousness to communications that we had never really before seen save in the science-fiction of telepathy.

What these new apps bring is much less. They have not so much invented a genre, as put a modern spin on the back-catalogue of the greats. They function on a digital, and a mobile, and a video technology that is already there, and offer a niche interpretation of how to use it. Yes, Vine’s 6 second video concept was innovative, yes Snapchat’s filters, and stickers, and overall ephemeralness provides a wonderful antidote to the personal online brand building of a Facebook and an Instagram.

But ultimately what they offer can easily be incorporated into existing platforms. Facebook is already reportedly developing its own disappearing messaging service, stickers and filters can undoubtedly be built more robustly into the coming rounds of iOS, and services like Messenger and WhatsApp have given back the private elements of online sharing that had at one time been usurped by public social media.

So good luck to Snapchat and platforms like it as they seek to cash-in their niche usps for a shot at mainstream success. We know that there investor money in it if nothing else. But in terms of mid to long term success, just how well walled garden photo and video messaging apps are going to fare is a less certain bet.

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