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Oct 20, 2019

Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to cover my daughter’s favorite thing to do these days: Snapchat. Today Snapchat has over 203 million users. That’s up from 188 just a year ago. And with around 50 million logging in monthly, it’s becoming one of the most used social networks in the world. But how does a company manage to go from nothing to, well, so… much… more… You see, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Nearly 80 percent of people on the Internet between 18 and 24 use Snapchat. As does pretty much every kid I know who’s younger than that. A lot of people don’t really like Snapchat, but the seems to be partly because a lot of them don’t seem to understand it. Neither does the world of finance. They have yet to figure out how to turn a profit. But in a world where users means once that number starts to slow, the adults will be called in to make all the money. This doesn’t mean the stock of Snap Inc doesn’t jump around. Facebook did it. And in the short term, life looked good. But in the long term, many of those decisions Facebook made has led to talk of breaking up Facebook, and has caused CEO Mark Zuckerberg to spend more time in front of the leaders of various nation states than I think he’d like. But Snapchat is a Gen Z company. And there’s something more there. How did Snapchat end up in these types of conversations? In part this was because with the popularity of Facebook growing amongst older generations, Gen Z and beyond wanted to stay connected but more more authentically and less for show as is common when trying to just go out and gather likes. This starts with how the company was founded. Snapchat was started in 2011 by now-CEO Evan Spiegel and partners Bobby Murphy and Reggie Brown, while going to school at Stanford University. They had a core tenant: that messages are removed once viewed. In the beginning, it was just for sharing pictures from one person to another. And it was the first social app to really embrace a mobile-first design philosophy. They worked on Picaboo, the first name, for a few months and after launch kicked out Reggie Brown, who had the idea in the first place. They rebranded to Snapchat, keeping Reggie;s Ghostface Chillah icon though. They would later settle with good old Brown for a little more than $150 million dollars in 2014. At release time in 2011, Snapchat was an iOS app. The next year, they released an Android app and similar to the guys from Silicon Valley they were having a rough time keeping up with demand of over 20 million photos per day already zipping through their network. 2013 brought a bunch of features like the ability to find friends, to reply by double-tapping, better navigation, and Snapkidz for children 13 and lower. The “My Story” feature allowed users to put snaps in storylines. In 2013 Snapchat also taught the world about API rate limiting. Given that they didn’t limit the number of possible API connections they leaked about 4 and a half million usernames and phone numbers on a website called As is often the case, getting hacked in no way hurt them. I mean they said they were sorry. I think that’s painful for Stanford… Nevermind. They added video in 2014. The network continued to grow and Snapchat teamed up with Square in 2014 to send money to friends through Snapchat. After 4 years, Snapcash was discontinued in 2018. 2015 Brough in app purchases to get more replays. I never liked that. They also relaxed the requirement to hold down a button while watching snaps but didn’t remove the requirement that you couldn’t take a screenshot without alerting the sender. But the big thing was adding effects. This led to an explosion in popularity. Bunny ears and noses were everywhere. And world lenses led to those little frames at special events all over the world. Snapchat got big enough to release a notable figures feature. 2015 also saw Spiegel say that Snapchat was for rich people, not Indians or the Spanish. They temporarily lost 1.5% in share price but… I guess it’s like when people have been drinking too much wine, they say what they really think. 2016 brought Snapchat Memories, which allow saving story posts in a private location in the app. We also got geofilters in 2016, bitmojis, and locking snaps with a PIN. They managed to raise $1.8 billion in private equity that year. In 2017, you could view a snap for an unlimited amount of time, but they would be removed at the end of the viewing time. 2017 also saw links in chats and given the popularity of other graphical tools, we got backgrounds. We also got custom stories which let people make stories by combining images. They bought Zenly in 2017. 2018 gave us the Snap Camera and Snapchat lenses which allow for those silly bunny filters video chat and live streaming services such as Skype, Twitch, YouTube, and Zoom. Seeing that they would like to foster a spirit of integration, Snapchat also released an integration platform known as Snap Kit, which allows for OAuth logins with OMG bitmoji avatars. They also released a new interface in 2018. One that Kylie Jenner dissed, supposedly causing the company to drop over a billion in market cap. Pretty sure that drop lasted less time than how long people will actually know who Kylie is. 2019 mostly just gave us Snapchat employees spying on other people using an internal tool called SnapLion. Pretty sure that’s not SOC2 compliant. Also pretty sure there will be law suits. It’s crap like that that can stifle the growth of a company. Instagram added similar features and investors later sued Snap for not disclosing how substantial a threat Instagram ended up being. This with dropping over a billion dollars a year to keep gaining that marketshare. Becoming a big name on Snapchat and Insta can skyrocket people to stardom and open the floodgates for an entire new career: influencer. People long thought Apple would buy Snapchat. They have enough cash on hand to do so and they’ve tried for a long time to build social networks to no avail. But Apple builds frameworks others use for Augmented Reality, not Augmented Reality worlds. Others thought Amazon would acquire the company to further build out the Snapchat camera and further promotional options to a younger audience. Snapchat also has better visual searching options than Amazon. Tencent owned 17 percent of the Class A shares of Snap in 2018 who has a market cap of over ten billion dollars. I believe they call that a decacorn. People keep trying to say Snapchat can’t stand alone forever. They sure burn through a lot of cash. But Facebook has tried to buy Snapchat and failed, just as Friendster tried to buy Facebook once upon a time. Special aint it. A lot of these tech empires are built by buying up smaller scrappier companies. What’s a couple hundred million here and there? The fact that Snapchat has managed to stand alone should be an inspiration. Until they become the company gobbling up everyone else. My daughter, who’s my Super BFF, sends me tons of snaps. It’s become one of her favorite things to do I think. It’s sweet. I don’t get snaps from anyone else. But then, I’m also a different generation. Which is both good and bad. She also chats me up a plenty in Instagram. Personally, I just want to see it all in one place and don’t care which place that is. So if you wanna’ hit me up listeners, you can find me at krypted dot com. And I’d be happy to take any feedback on the podcast that you might have. Or at Snapchat. Or at Twitter. Or… Well, you get the point. And thank you for tuning into another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re lucky to have you. Have a great day!