Snapchat is one of those rare tech products, like Pinterest, that seems to have taken hold in suburbia and then migrated to New York, at least judging by the coastal buzz suddenly circling the year-and-a-half-year-old app. The service, which was founded by two Stanford computer science students who met at a frat, lets you send photos to friends and strangers for 10 seconds or less before they (in theory!) disappear. You can type a message or use a crude coloring stick to mark up the image. It currently holds down the no. 3 spot for free apps in iTunes and recently claimed 30 million “interactions” a day.
After downloading it earlier this week, however, we were disappointed to find a dearth of norms acquaintances willing to snapchat us. A real pity considering that’s pretty much all we want to do with our waking hours in 2012, the Year of Our Lord P.S. (post-Snapchat).
Evidence about Snapchat’s newfound popularity with urban adults is purely anecdotal. It may just be that “that teen sexting app” doesn’t appeal to the grown up(ish!) people in our contacts list. But sexting is only one use case, and an ill-advised one at that.
Seriously, kids, don’t try this at home.
Snapchat says it doesn’t store any of the pics on its server, however flash-fingered pervs can always take a screenshot. Snapchat will alert you if they do, but it’s not like the app can stop them. One thoughtful tipster has also published a guide to circumventing the “Screenshot!” alert. Helpful! What’s more, Snapchat also obscures an indiscreet feature: PUBLIC web profiles that display the top three people every users has messaged, along with the number of pics they’ve sent.
But there’s another reason Snapchat is far from the “perfect sexting app”: 10 seconds or less of viewing time is hardly worth your while. It’s the App Store version of “just the tip.” That might be why its founders keep insisting that the majority of users don’t appear to be using it for sexting at all. Jessica’s 20-year-old sister, at college in central Pennsylvania, uses Snapchat daily to send funny updates to her friends. “Studying!” she snapchatted us, alongside a photo of her looking glum next to her laptop. Apparently, we’re also not the only ones receiving pantsless shots from the loo #nofilter.
And that’s the beauty of the app: its ephemerality makes it less the new Chatroulette than the anti-Instagram. You didn’t need a cringe-inducing Nickelback parody video to tell you that Kevin Systrom has pulled the ultimate coup: conscripting you into a curator of your own personal brand. Snapchat, on the other hand, tickles the same innate human impulse for sharing selfies, but stripped of the vanity. The photo quality within the app is iffy and there’s no moody filter to present a prettified version of the highlights of your life.
It lends itself neatly to silliness, a comforting dissipation of self-awareness. But just because the vanity is gone, doesn’t mean the desire to document your life is, making it the perfect app for our ADD-addled society.
So please, for the love of god, Snapchat us. Before this thing becomes the next Draw Something.