Mike Isaac

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We Still Don’t Know Snapchat’s Magic User Numbers (But Here’s a Bunch of Other Interesting New Stats, Including About Norway!)

Asa Mathat / AllThingsD.com

Evan Spiegel is certainly enjoying his time in the limelight.

The 23-year-old CEO of Snapchat is happy to talk about the success of his ephemeral messaging app, which he said last week at a private investment conference now has more than 400 million messages received every day.

But despite all the buzz around Snapchat, we still don’t have a clue about the company’s most important statistic: Just how many people are regularly using the app?

That’s one of the deets he did not share at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference earlier this week.

It was closed to press, but a few insiders slipped us some more info from Spiegel’s talk, to add to some that had been previously reported.

Here are a few new tidbits of info from the talk:

  • Monetization is certainly on the near-term horizon, although Spiegel said the startup plans to start “modestly.” First on the list, a number of “value-added services.” Ideally, he said, those could be a subscription service, instead of a la carte, one-off purchases. After that, he said Snapchat could look at how best to insert advertising into the service.
  • As has been reported, in part, the app’s core audience is the age group from 13 to 25 years old, with 70 percent of those members being women.
  • Half of Snapchat’s daily active users are using his new Stories product, which was unveiled last month.
  • About 25 percent of smartphone users in the United Kingdom use Snapchat monthly, he said, although it’s unclear how this number was measured. He also said 50 percent of Norway smartphone owners actively used the app. Go Norway!
  • Snapchat now has 30 employees. Half of those are engineers, 25 percent are dedicated to product and the remaining 25 percent are in other various positions, said Spiegel.
  • Spiegel said he isn’t interested in leveraging his emerging social graph. In that vein, he downplayed the importance of network effects, or the value derived from the number of people using the service — something Facebook cares about and regularly uses to its advantage. Instead, he said, the power is “all about product leadership.” Snap that, Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Spiegel very much admires China’s Tencent, which has seen tremendous success in its WeChat mobile application. (TenCent, by the way, is also a big fan of Snapchat.)

Interesting stuff, for sure, but all this should come with one giant caveat: Without an exact active user count, we have zero perspective on how much any of these numbers mean in terms of company scale. (Buzzfeed’s John Herrman wrote a great piece on this exact point last week.) So outsiders and the media are left clamoring for data point scraps, hoping to piece together clues on just how popular Snapchat is.

And it’s likely we won’t be getting any clarification anytime soon. It may indeed turn out to be an impressive number, but will inevitably invite direct comparisons to large competing services — such as Facebook — which can be unflattering to a small yet growing company.

Moreover, inventing new, creative and basically arbitrary metrics like “snaps sent per day” both hoodwinks the press into publishing big number headlines that ultimately mean very little, while also refocusing the narrative on Snapchat claims of extremely high engagement.

In short: Spiegel has little incentive to give us his active user numbers, and he’s probably smart not to do so.

In the meantime, we’ll watch — with some measure of skepticism — for the other data points that trickle out and see if they’re at all useful for the bigger picture.

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