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The Disappearing Photo Act: The Success of SnapChat

SnapChat, the app that lets iPhone users send pictures that disappear in 10 seconds or less, is currently the 12th most popular iOS photo app in the United States, but when Evan Spiegel first brought the idea in front of his college business and design class he was practically laughed out of the room.




Everyone told him the idea was dumb and would never gain traction, but Spiegel didn’t let that discourage him. He went home and told Bobby Murphy, his co-founder, that everyone had loved the idea. They spent their summer plugging away at the prototype, but for awhile it seemed like maybe everyone in that college class was right.


No one was biting.

Then, all of a sudden, SnapChat started going viral in the group that loves instant communication, narcissism, and technology more than any other group: teenagers. Spiegel and Murphy saw spikes in use during the week, when kids were using the app to send each other funny pictures in class, and drops in use during the weekend when kids were home.



All of a sudden these two Stanford boys had VCs knocking on their door, trying to get in on the ground floor. Suddenly the “dumbest idea ever” seemed like it could be poised to be the next big thing in photo apps.


So what’s the appeal? As far as I can see, SnapChat is doing a couple of things right. The first thing it does is appeal to basic human desires. Almost everyone likes taking pictures (when’s the last time you went out and a camera or phone wasn’t pointed in your face?), everyone likes getting messages, and distraction is the name of the game these days.


Another appeal, for me at least, is that this app allows people to share photos and moments without all of the posing and posturing that’s almost required on Facebook these days. Everyone I know has their “photo pose” now and I’m not just talking about the infamous duck face; it seems like each picture is exactly like the last. I’d kind of like to people not looking so perfect or picking their nose as a joke or with their hair standing straight on end. It’s more interesting that way.



And then there’s the less innocent side of a instantly disappearing photos: nudie pics. Everyone loves to talk about sexting because, well, it’s sexy, but Spiegel insists that his app isn’t just for a little quick titillation.


While he’s not denying that people probably use SnapChat to more safely share private moments (you can’t even take a screenshot of the image: the app will kick you out and inform the sender that you tried), Spiegel insists that the real purpose of his invention is to share candid moments with your friends and family.


Spiegel has spent a lot of time talking to the press recently about how sexting is really not that popular and how SnapChat isn’t for dick pics, but instead of rejecting the designation of “sext app,” why not embrace it? Whatever you think, Mr. Spiegel, people really are sending pictures of the parts covered by bathing suits and your app is a perfect solution to those photos potentially getting in the wrong hands.



In one promotional photo on the website it’s totally implied that two teenage girls are topless at the pool. I say stop sending double messages: if you don’t want people to associate your product with sexy photos, change your promotional images and stop talking about how the Weiner scandal was an influence.


Other than that, these guys are clearly on the right track and are taking their rightful place in the league of technologies that parents stress about.


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Author : Emma McGowan

Emma is a proud native of Burlington, Vermont, who has lived in six different countries over the past two years. She's living and loving the global nomad life and writing about technology and startups everywhere she goes. Check out more of her writing about tech on (the more titillating stuff) KinkAndCode.. Follow her on Twitter @MissEmmaMcG.

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