Saturday, December 14, 2013


I did not see Snapchat coming, like I did not see Pinterest coming. They came out of nowhere and took over the world. Snapchat is an app where photos you share self-destruct after they have been viewed. Top names have tried to buy it, a recent offer was over three billion dollars, but the Snapchat founders refused. Obviously they feel like they have something fundamental at hand. Yahoo also tried to buy Facebook for a billion dollars at one point. Look where Facebook is today.

The image is being done and redone by app after app. I guess our sight is our most powerful sense. And we cannot get enough of pictures.

On the face of it the idea is fairly simple. Anybody could have done it. Pictures don’t get stored like on Facebook or Instagram. Pictures that destroy themselves are a guarantee you will have your privacy. You don’t have to worry about embarrassing pictures. You don’t have to be image-conscious while sharing.

Snapchat has caught much momentum among teenagers, many of whom think Facebook might have gone out of fashion.

The app economy has caught on. It was an industry that did not exist when we did not have smartphones. Steve Jobs almost did not allow external apps to populate his iPhone. But then he made a last minute decision to make space. And now you have a whole bunch of very well valued companies, and all they are are apps on the phone. They have no web presence. They seek no web presence.

Mobile is as fundamental a phenomenon as the Internet itself was when it showed up for the masses. And the mobile is just getting started. It will be a really big deal when say six billion people have mobile internet. That is almost 100% penetration. At that point the mobile phone will transform many aspects of modern life, including politics, non-profit work, poverty alleviation, and so on. Apps will become more not less important.

What Snapchat does is an ode to our sense of privacy. We want to share, but we also want to stay private. Facebook would have been a terrible home for Snapchat. Facebook over the years has worked to invade privacy. Snapchat’s starting point is total privacy.

I once said to a client. You can build an app for less money than it might take to launch a paan dokan in Jackson Heights, but if it takes off you can overtake Patel Brothers in terms of how much you end up making. Sometimes apps take off. Many times they don’t. But not every app has to end up worth a billion dollars. I think there is room for a lot of middling apps. If you built an app for 20K, and sold 50,000 of it for a dollar each, that is a good margin. 30K is not a billion dollars but it is something.

When Instagram got bought by Facebook for a billion dollars, it had not made a dime in revenue. But I don’t know anyone serious who thinks the deal was not a clincher. Not bought Instagram might have given Facebook itself some competition.

Like photos mobile based messaging also has seen a lot of activity.

Snapchat is a new paradigm, counterintuitive to a Facebook dominated world. And it has seen rapid adoption. Some estimates show that by now the number of photos shared on Snapchat is comparable to the number of photos shared daily on Facebook.

I have tried Snapchat, but I don’t use it myself. I get the concept but it is not part of my daily usage any more than Instagram itself is. Actually I quite like Google Plus for my photo app. Pictures taken on my phone get uploaded automatically. And sharing is easy to do. I can capture photos and videos. The ease of upload and share clinches the deal for me. I am a quantity photo taker. I am a point and shoot kind of guy.

Ephemeral socializing is quite the hallmark online. It can be argued Snapchat is just another social media platform.

The snapchat concept can be applied across many domains, many ideas and many use cases. Data you destroy will not be stolen, will not be compromised. There is a freshness to that destruction. Like we say in Nepali, hinddai chha paila metdai chha. A boat does not leave footprints in the water. Snapchat does not leave pictures scattered around in cyberspace.

That begs the question, as it always does. What’s next? What’s the next Snapchat? What’s the next Pinterest? There always is a next one. And it likely will not be obvious until it is already here, and feels simple and obvious.

I happen to think Gigabit broadband will bring forth a whole new family of apps, this time around video. But Gigabit mobile broadband, sadly, is not right round the corner.

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