SnapChat, Nudity, and New Communication

If you noticed the title and have no idea what Snapchat is, I urge you to load it on your mobile device and try it out.  This application is sweeping through the teenagers of the U.S. and seems to be the next darling of the social networking market.  I recently saw the first article predicting it will be the next billion-dollar acquisition.  Facebook (as usual) has copied the Snapchat capability in their service called Poke (A name which I loathe, by the way. You would think Facebook could come up with a better name than “Poke”).

The single unique capability that both companies offer is the ability to send a photo to someone with a very short viewing time window that only the sender controls.  For example, Snapchat lets you decide whether to allow the recipient a viewing window of only one second, or as man as ten.  The way this works is, the receiver holds down a button and viewing begins. Once it reaches the end, it is auto-erased and gone for good.  This means you’d better be paying close attention because those seconds go by quick, and that is the idea.

Hmmm, so let’s see … this now means we now have a disposable picture medium that can transmit messages which never end up being shared on the Internet. Oh, how I wonder what kids would ever want to do with that (cue the Captain Obvious face).  Of course the prediction is that this would become the perfect sexting application, and that does appear to be happening, but early observation is that the vast majority of usage does not involve nudity.

Naturally, young people love the service because it is a quick way to update “friends” that aren’t as close as other circles without the risk of the photo message(s) being forwarded to anyone else.  In other words, users can let someone know what they are doing in the moment while retaining control of a message’s share-ability or virulence.

Now, before you turn your nose up at this concept and once again wonder why kids do crazy things with their mobile devices, let’s look a little deeper at this capability and the great new uses for business application.

One of the big problems we have in our highly connected online world is that when we share text, documents, pictures and videos, we have little ability to control their redistribution.  This is true for email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.  Once we post or send content, make an announcement, or generally communicate in any way with a person or group online, the audience can simply save or pass along whatever might have been intended for a small circulation or “their eyes only”.  Along these lines, we share highly private information with family members, and critical business information with employees.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to set rules around content, or communications that have a digital self-destruct time limit, so they could not be forwarded or saved?  Truth be told, I have been talking about needing this capability in email for years (ever had to recall a message that you CC’ed an entire department on by accident).

I would venture to guess that more than half of the content or communications in the world would be sent as self-destructing if people were given a choice, and that would dramatically change what we would be willing to share.  For example, banks would be more willing to push out balances to people if they knew the information would disappear right after viewing so as not to become a security or privacy issue.  The level of honesty and direct talk would go up because people would not have to filter what they send, worried that it would someday come back to haunt them if someone else ever saw it. Then again, some people would be more than willing to send hateful or evil things if they knew it would disappear and not be tracked too.  Just imagine the online “crank calls” that could be sent!

We are truly in the early days of really putting together our communication tools and methods.  With all that we have built so far (email, texting, IM, social networking, etc.) we have not even scratched the surface of the tweaks that will surely come.  Snapchat and self-destructing content is just the latest new twist …

Scott Klososky (Speaking)/ (Consulting)

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