Is Every App Becoming Snapchat?

I’ve been using Snapchat for a while. I’ve seen it evolve through numerous innovations, including streaks, lenses, and stories. They’ve always been able to anticipate what their users want next — before they know they want it.

From the goofy filters to the winking rainbow ghost, it’s obvious that Snapchat was designed to be fun. Yet Snapchat’s user interface is fairly unintuitive. To a first time user, it’s tough to tell what’s what. This was done on purpose. Some even say that the interface was designed to “confuse olds”. In reality, Snapchat finds value in letting users discover new features naturally. If you get it, you’re part of the in crowd. And if you don’t get it, well, you just don’t get it.

As initially confusing as Snapchat may be, people can’t get enough of it. Neither can tech companies, apparently. Top social media platforms are eager to duplicate not only Snapchat’s success, but the very features that have driven it.

Facebook, for example, has incorporated various Snapchat-inspired features into their popular apps Messenger and Instagram. They’ve also built stand-alone Snapchat competitors such as Poke, Slingshot, and Flash. Since Snapchat has always been so unique, it’s pretty obvious to users when Facebook pumps out another Snapchat clone.

When a Snapchat feature is copied by another company, much of the interface design is copied as well. After all, if they want it to work as well as Snapchat, it’s going to have to look a bit like Snapchat too. But if social apps are beginning to copy Snapchat, with a watered-down interface, what will happen when all apps start to look the same?

Direct copies will be mostly rejected. Facebook’s surviving Snapchat clones haven’t gained a whole lot of traction. But the preexisting products that have incorporated Snapchat features, such as Instagram Stories, have found success. Otherwise, people see copying for what it is and reject it. If a new product is not actually improving on what they already use, why would they switch?

When all apps look the same, people will follow the content. Vine was shut down, yet many Vine stars survived because they had shepherded their followers onto other platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. And their followers were more than willing to change platforms simply because they were after one thing — the content. It didn’t matter where it was coming from. What’s being shared matters more than the place it’s being shared.

We’re a long way off from all of our social apps looking and working the same. We’ll never actually get to that point. But with such intense competition among social media platforms, it is important to take note of what is happening. Snapchat is definitely doing something right. Its features are being adopted like no other. This shows us that people enjoy to create and consume content in the ways Snapchat provides.

If anything, this tells us more about ourselves than it does about Snapchat. It shows that the way we experience each other online is beginning to shift.

In 2008, my Facebook was stuffed with these weird, text-based surveys that my friends were posting. They were essentially long-form “check yes or no” personality quizzes posted as notes. They were a fun way to share things about yourself and learn more about your friends.

What started as a simple way to pass the time turned out to be a huge way we learned personal information about each other, even though it was often silly. These survey notes were a major way that we experienced each other online.

Things have changed since then. I haven’t seen a survey note in quite some time, but I’ve sure seen lots of photos and videos. They’re in every app. That’s because it’s now so easy to share them — we can do it from anywhere.

As our tools for sharing evolve, so do we. And because of this, so does the way we experience each other, human to human. That’s quite an achievement from the app with the winking rainbow ghost.

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