I’m as happy as anyone that 15 year olds love Snapchat. But what does that mean? If you’re the Disney Channel or 16 Handles, it means investing some time and energy realizing the platform as a powerful marketing and communications channel. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean much.
With all the buzz Snapchat is getting, it’s popular to imagine the photo-exchange app as “the next Instagram.” I’ve got another comparison: it’s the next Draw Something.
Remember Draw Something? Of course you do. It is a social drawing game that challenges users to guess a word off their friends’ illustrations. Peaking in April 2012, Draw Something had a reported 14.6 million daily active users. At that point, the app’s $1.99 paid version was Apple’s top paid app and developers OMGPOP were said to be generating $250,000 a day.
On March 21, 2012 – just weeks from this peak – social game giant Zynga bought OMGpop and Draw Something for $180 Million dollars. The deal was huge. But it didn’t stop some from claiming Zynga had got a steal, with Flurry CEO Simon Khalaf claiming “[OMGpop] left $800 Million on the table.”
Then something unexpected happened: Draw Something started shedding users a prodigious rate. Over a single month, Draw Something lost a third (6 MM) of it’s daily users. Between May and June 20th, the app lost another 4.1 million to settle at 5 Million daily active users.
Draw Something was fun. For the first few exchanges of illustrations with friends, there was distinct charm and excitement. But the novelty quick fades. And as friends pilled in, the game became onerous, even “more of a chore.” Without something to keep the game new and fresh, the urge to return subsided and literally millions of users stepped away from the app.
This is what feels destined for Snapchat. As a stand-alone application, exchanging quick and disposable photos has a fast half-life. Even if it is a form of ‘communication’ that is natural for younger audiences (the same claim made for Draw Something), it’s a communicative experience that could quickly be baked into existing text and social network platforms. Perhaps, as some as argued, there’s something novel about sharing silly and disposable content on a network that is not a name-brand social network. That might be the reason Facebook’s Poke has failed to launch in popularly and been panned by tech critics as a failure.
But as I see it, teens and tweens were the primary engines of Draw Something’s popularity and their rate of boredom is famous. With a similar demographic powering the Snapchat buzz, why should we expect something different? Even 24 year old TechCrunch writers don’t readily see the attraction of Snapchat, and sentiment that has been echoed across the web. That’s a damning forecast for long-term growth.
This is not to say Snapchat lacks value. To the contrary, its disposability and impermanence have shown that the silly and jokey have as much attention value as the sublime and ‘viral.’ If Instagram inspired everyone to pose as an auteur, Snapchat might be our allowance to be jesters and fleeting love-note writers. But like the difference between MoMA and a penny arcade, one’s better built to last.