Mike Isaac

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“Deletion as the Default” — Snapchat and Ephemerality in a Mobile Photo World

Everyone loves a good selfie — just not necessarily for more than 10 seconds.

That looks to be evident with Snapchat, the self-destructing photo messaging service that has exploded in popularity in just a short time. Even for mobile photo services — which are incredibly popular right now and certainly in no short supply — the growth rate is impressive, moving more than 150 million photos through the service daily.

Here’s a question: Why? Is there something inherent in the medium that allows a small company like Snapchat to dwarf Instagram’s daily photo volume in such short order? Part of the answer, at least, could be found in our inclination to forget.

“In this world, deletion as the default works pretty well,” said Evan Spiegel, founder of Snapchat, at our D: Dive Into Mobile conference. “We believe the default should be ephemerality.”

Interesting, considering that the focus of competitors like Instagram, Twitter and the like is on curation of an album over time, a collection of moments to be shared, reflected upon and ultimately revisited.

Obviously, people enjoy that aspect of mobile photos. Instagram is still considered highly successful, boasting more than 100 million monthly active users and a volume of more than 40 million photos moving through the service daily. It’s why Facebook bought the thing for three-quarters of a billion bucks.

But, as Snapchat proves, there are obviously other use cases outside of curation. Namely, photos as “communication rather than artwork,” as the young founder put it.

Not to mention the benefits of fading away. “Snapchat allows you to acknowledge where you are without having to have a picture of me in seventh grade with braces or headgear,” Spiegel said.

Here’s the big quandary. How does Snapchat monetize? It’s not like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, in that there’s no flowing stream to easily stick ads into.

Still, Spiegel said he’s open to ads, in whatever form they may take.

“I like ads, personally. I think ads can work really well on mobile,” Spiegel said, citing a recent hire who will focus exclusively on monetization efforts. “We’ve been playing around with a few prototypes.”

Good news for Snapchat’s investors, I’m sure. I just hope that when and if ads do end up on the service, Spiegel can convince advertisers that users won’t forget them as well.

(Hat tip to the New Yorker’s Matt Buchanan for his wonderful use of the word “ephemerality.”)

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