The world of mobile communication is shifting away from the mobile “broadcast” that is the foundation of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. In this two part blog series, Charity Dynamics Production Solutions Coordinator, Vince Malouf, examines and explains this emerging shift.
The most memorable story that came out of all the tech chatter this year wasn’t Google Glass or the iWatch. It wasn’t even the mammoth Twitter IPO. It was the stunning imprint left by upstart mobile app Snapchat.
Since it launched, Facebook has captured the majority of social photo shares. It wasn’t until the advent of Instagram and its meteoric rise that anyone came close to threatening their dominance. In November 2013, Facebook reported an average of 350 million photo uploads per day. Add another 55 million per day for Facebook-owned Instagram and it comes to a tidy 405 million. A whole lot, right? Certainly it is, but consider that it’s only a scant few million more than the 400 million photos Snapchat users are sharing per day. And keep in mind, their photo shares have doubled since June.
Remember what you used to do on AIM or ICQ or MSN Messenger? Essentially, mobile apps enable those kinds of interactions on your phone. Analysts always point to free mobile chat service as the reason for the adoption upsurge outside the US, where text and talk rates are much, much higher. But that doesn’t explain why the apps are taking off stateside. So what’s the draw? Why start using another app with all the requisite hassle and locating of new contacts? If you explain a chat app to someone over thirty, they’ll ask you why you don’t just use text. But where native SMS apps try to be all things for all people, mobile chat is explicitly more idiosyncratic. It’s also much, much more fun.
In the swarm of mobile chat competition, Snapchat offers something maddeningly simple and truly unique: an ephemeral communication, served through a practically non-existent UI. Cool animations? Nope. Slick and fancy UI? Not even close. But somehow it’s still arguably the most fun way to share photos and videos. The fact that what you get sent disappears a matter of seconds after you open it, is both the defining characteristic and the most addictive ingredient. I won’t describe it; you’ll have to try it for yourself. Be forewarned, you might need a teenager to show you how to use it.
While the David and Goliath story of Snapchat versus Facebook, and their subsequent $3 billion buyout offer chewed up the tech blogs and the news coverage, the real story is about a fundamental change in mobile communication. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all create a social broadcast. The recipients of your story (or post, or tweet, or photo) are defined by your full content list. Although filtering is possible this broadcast is the default, and all three platforms encourage you to share your contact with your full list. Snapchat thinks differently: first you create the content and then you select the audience. Selecting the recipients is as much a part of the “snap” as creating the content.
The intimacy of selecting who gets your message reinforces the value of the product with every snap sent. You’re not “on Snapchat” you’re sending a snap to someone you care about. And that, ultimately, is what differentiates Facebook or Instagram from mobile chat and drives continued adoption. Instead of living in the mobile chat world, these apps offer you the ability to communicate in fresh new ways with a select audience. There’s no social media overlord; you interact with only who you choose in a “walled” environment.
Although mobile chat is shifting rapidly, the current trajectory suggests a world of rich communication options. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t use a wide array of mobile chat apps, provided they all serve a unique purpose. Snapchat facilitates exciting and memorable messages, but it’s not going to satisfy all my mobile chatting needs. (For example, it won’t help me nail down brunch plans.) But I could plan a birthday party on WhatsApp. And I could use Google’s Hangouts to get a small group together for a conference call at work. Whatever you’re looking to communicate, there’s a mobile chat app out there to help you do it.
As the market matures, and each product refines its value proposition, you can expect an even further differentiated offering of mobile chat apps. Even to the casual user, it should become much clearer why you would use Snapchat instead of Kik, or Hangouts instead of Messenger. And mobile chat will likely become deeply integrated in our mobile interactions.
In the next blog post of this series, I’ll discuss how mobile chat is already popping up in several of the apps we use every day. Stay tuned as we continue to unpack the opportunity in this exciting new market!