The young today are increasingly wary about existing notions of housing, loans, marriage, etc. They are worried that governments and corporations are snooping in their messages and intercepting their dick pics. They prefer opting for solutions that are less attaching than the earlier generations. That means they live in the present and don’t want to worry about the future. The generation I belong to tries to straddle both this world and the older one awkwardly.
Snapchat was born of the phenomenon of impermanence and paranoia that is very characteristic of this younger generation. No one would have sold me on the idea that a company centred around ‘you sending a photo to your friend and it disappears after 10 seconds’ would some day be a multibillion dollar enterprise(nor would I have thought that a website to pin your ideas visually would be valued in the billions but that’s another story). But this somehow clicked, along with products like Secret, with the high school crowd and soon everyone was clamouring to see what the hype was all about and adding to Snap’s valuation. But then the question about why they would stay and not move on to yet another app became Snap’s existential crisis.
Today, I believe with ‘big data’ being thrown around, our behaviour has begun to shape technology. Once a product achieves product-market fit, a company is able to understand the needs of its users and cater to it in ways not previously possible. Netflix for example provides what kind of topics their users watch to production houses so that they can produce more watchable content. Quality content means returning users means $$$. For Snap, the primary idea was about sharing that single snap with your friend. What started with a single snap, then became a series of snaps which were called ‘Stories’. These however rarely had a coherent narrative. Snap opened up corporates to create their own stories which you would rather associate as ‘perishable magazines’. They are beautiful. They blend eccentricity with news, memes with opinions, silly videos with reviews. This kaleidoscopic capsules is what takes me back to Snap. I might not have snapped everyday but I will go back to see what topics are being talked about today. I find this more useful than any other source of news at the moment and boy, are they monetisable. To further increase their domination, they have started making the product more ‘affordable’ to older users.
This is the second thing that influences product evolution – monetary valuation. Companies are constantly trying to increase this to be able to survive. This probably is what motivated to create something called ‘Memories’(image data) which directly attacked Facebook and Facebook responded quickly enough with its own version of stories on Instagram. Instagram has been racking its head to figure out a monetisation strategy and earlier this year started pushing sponsored posts on the timeline which were not received very well. I assume Snap’s stories monetisation capacity pushed Facebook to create its’ own Stories. Instagram’s stories are not so rigid as Snap’s. They let you create curated sneak peeks into your life and skilled creatives can leverage this medium to great heights. That’s the reason why they are not rigid. Unlike Snap only opening up this customisation of stories to corporates, Instagram seeks to attract lot of people to utilise this medium. This is also similar to Apple opening up Siri to corporates vs Google keeping Google Now integration based on corporate tie-ups. More people = more eyeballs for advertisements = more commission.
Facebook has in the past decade been great at getting people onboard unlike any other digital product before it but it realised the need to diversify when it saw its numbers dropping. Facebook’s attempts in product engagement and monetisation have been criticised for lack of empathy. It’s Basics program was ridiculed and abused by its users. It’s become yesterday’s Google which in turn has become day before yesterday’s Microsoft. But it’s got a few aces up its sleeve; Oculus(wont get into it) and Messenger. Both of these are being written as platforms. I presume that the threat from WeChat was what prompted Facebook to pivot Messenger to a platform. Along with WhatsApp in its kitty, Facebook has achieved dominance in today’s western messaging culture but I feel it is not in complete control of what its governing over. Messaging is important because of its access to users. Your phone space is sacred and you decide what apps reside there and messaging apps have the highest importance in this regard. So converting them into platforms become the de-facto next move for companies. The rise of chatbots is for this reason. I do not want to say that chatbots are the next big thing rather I believe AI is the next big thing. Chatbots are just a means of expression of the platform. Notifications came before them and there will be other expressions to come. So with just a messaging app you will be able to access various services without installing apps – a platform inside a platform. Will it give rise to more platforms inside these? only time will tell.
Freedom of choice with no real allegiance is the core value at the centre of this and the millennial’s use of products like Snapchat. This freedom was what the World wide web was all about. Powered by domains, it gave users endless opportunity to setup virtual shops that broke the access barrier that the physical shops had but retained other problems like how do you find these shops? That’s what gave rise to digital advertisements and that’s what churns the wheels of our digital products. This promise of everyday ubiquity is the new dream of capitalism and this is why the greatest minds of this era are indeed trying to get people to watch ads.