Feb 092013
 
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The ephemeral now has value, at least for users of cellphones.

More than 60 million photos or messages are sent each day through an app called Snapchat and then, after they are viewed for a few seconds, the missives vanish. That disappearing act — and a volume that is over a tenth of the well-established Facebook’s — has made the tiny start-up a technology hit, amassing millions of users and the backing of some of the most respected names in Silicon Valley, even though it doesn’t make any money.

Because images sent through the application self-destruct seconds after they are opened, Snapchat is being embraced as an antidote to a world where nearly every feeling, celebration and life moment is captured to be shared, logged, liked, commented on, stored, searched and sold. For people who don’t want to worry about unflattering pictures or embarrassing status updates coming back to haunt them, the app’s appeal seems obvious.

Many young people are growing tired of the polished profiles and the advertising come-ons of Facebook, recent surveys have shown. Moreover, young Facebook users are becoming acutely aware of the permanence of the content shared through the Web — and its repercussions later in life. As perceptions of social media change, other start-ups, including Wickr and Vidburn and Facebook’s own Poke, have recently released messaging and video products that self-destruct after a set period of time.

“It became clear how awful social media is,” said one of Snapchat’s founders, Evan Spiegel, 22. “There is real value in sharing moments that don’t live forever.”

The Snapchat service, which started two years ago but has steadily gained users, has been painted as a popular way for people, especially teenagers, to send naughty pictures. But Mr. Spiegel and his co-founder, Bobby Murphy, 24, say Snapchat is gaining traction for more than R-rated exchanges. Mr. Murphy describes the service “a digital version of passing notes in class.”

“You can’t build a business off sexting,” said Mr. Spiegel, using the term for sending racy pictures via text message chats. “It’s such a specific-use case. This is about much more than that.”

Sean Haufler, 21, a computer science major at Yale who uses Snapchat, said he thought it was “dumb” when his younger sister, a high school student, first told him about it. But he began to realize that it was a much more intimate way to communicate with friends. The emotional weight of the content is heavier, he said, because messages are direct and personal. Plus, he said, “the time limits make people more comfortable.”

“People are very self-aware when it comes to their Facebook profiles,” he said. “All the content is very manicured and curated, the best possible portrait of yourself.”

Facebook has certainly taken notice of the desire for impermanence, especially as Snapchat, according to Nielsen statistics, attracted 3.4 million users in December, more than twice as many as the month before. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, met with the company in December, according to Snapchat’s founders. Shortly after, Facebook started a similar product called Poke.

Read more . . .

via The New York Times - JENNA WORTHAM

 

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