When’s the last time you heard about a social media platform update that was truly original? And by original, I mean something that isn’t just a blatant copy of a feature already released and deemed successful by another platform. Drawing a blank? Yeah, it’s been a while.
Lately, it seems as if social media apps have been competing with each other in a technological arms race. Everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon of “whatever is working for the other guy.” On closer inspection, it becomes ridiculously clear that everyone is really just trying to catch up to the innovation being produced by dark horse, Snapchat.
Snapchat: Disappearing Content O.G.
When Snapchat first came onto the social scene in 2012, both users and critics informally branded it as a tool designed “to help people do things they probably shouldn’t on a smartphone”. Since then, the platform has become so much more than that, thanks to the company’s persistent pushing of social and technological boundaries. The app has pioneered the concept of ephemeral social content, making the documentation of life’s everyday visual moments through digital “Stories” the new normal. Snapchat’s cutting-edge features also include its facial recognition technology and associated filters, and its integration of unconventional sponsored content enjoyed by users and brands alike.
Arguably, every single one of the elements mentioned above were first introduced into social media mainstream by Snapchat and later “adopted” by competing social platforms. A short list of Snapchat copycats include Facebook’s camera-editing and Messenger Day tools, Instagram’s lazily-named Stories and Events features, Twitter’s #Stickers, and WhatsApp’s image “doodle” update. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if all major social media apps looked nearly identical by the end of 2017. Then again, Snapchat is probably working on another groundbreaking feature as I write this very sentence.
That’s one perspective on how this arms race will end. If history continues to repeat itself, Snapchat will always be first to roll out original gadgets and gizmos while other platforms will be scurrying to follow in its footsteps. For the perpetual followers, things would have to catch up to them at some point, right? There must be a breaking point in the future where the vultures can no longer keep up with their ever-evolving prey. In this version of the future, Snapchat will end up reigning supreme over its slow-to-innovate competition.
Last App Standing?
On the other hand, things might not turn out so gung-ho for Snapchat. John Shahidi and his failed photo app “Shots” embody the other possible outcome. Shots was doing fine, with great funding and celebrity support, until it was essentially killed by the release of Snapchat Stories. In an interview with Recode, Shahidi explained that “in the social app world there’s this war between apps for features: ‘Who can build this new feature and who can do it first?’” Based on Shots’ experience, Shahidi came to the conclusion that “at the end of the day, the big guy is always going to win because the user wants discoverability more than they want anything else.”
While Snapchat was strong enough to knock out the up-and-coming Shots app, it might not have the punching power to get rid of heavyweights Facebook and Instagram, who have 1.5 billion and 300 million more active users, respectively. Despite its innovation, Snapchat might just end up a washed-up platform struggling to make it back into the big leagues like its peer, Twitter.
As a huge fan of Snapchat and a major opponent of plagiarism, I sincerely hope Snapchat fares well in the future. But as unexpected as the app’s rise to fame was, I’m sure that its inevitable demise will be just as surprising.