Snapchat is built to scale. Facebook isn’t.
Facebook can’t hold 2 billion users without turning into a mess but Snapchat can.
People keep fighting over if Facebook will bring Snapchat to knees and some experts believe that it already has. However, they can co-exist very well. Because they are in completely different domains and their paths will diverge even more in future.
Facebook’s mission statement is “ Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Is Snapchat trying to build a community?
Heck no. Building a community requires you to find people of similar interest. That’s impossible on Snapchat. You can’t add people without their phone number or username most of the time. Forget about fan communities, you can’t even build college communities. What happens on Facebook is that you search for your college, you get a list of people on Facebook that are in your college and you start adding them. Facebook fuels this by suggesting you even more people from your college and you get your network built. But then you are stuck with people you have never talked and have to see their lives for the rest of your life (because unfriending is much more difficult that accepting/sending a request).
On the other end of the spectrum, on Snapchat, forget looking for you college, you can’t even search someone by their name. You either need to have their phone number, or their username (which you get in in-person, unless you are an influencer/celebrity), or you end up in their friend suggestion which is also very restricted. Unlike Facebook, it doesn’t read you call logs and doesn’t give you a suggestion to add your last Uber driver.
So Snapchat is not for building a community or bringing the world closer. So what is it for? It not easy to understand by the way they describe themselves but Snap is a camera company. All they want is for you to take snaps through you Snapchat Camera/Spectacles (or from several drone companies they are buying)and share it with people you know.
So why is it build for scale and why can’t Facebook sustain the 2 B?
Facebook is built in a way that IT TELLS YOU on what YOU SHOULD see. Snapchat provides you with whatever THEY HAVE FOR YOU and YOU CHOSE what YOU WANT to see. It’s like going into a restaurant and instead of CHOOSING what YOU WANT to eat, you get the waiter telling you “Sir, see this new dish. Sir, this is the drink that 69 of your other friends liked. Sir, see this expensive dessert, please buy this, it’s sponsored.”
It was fine until we had our close friends being our Facebook friends but as soon as more people rush in, things get messy. When more people join a network, quality vanishes. See what’s happening to Quora, Twitter, and even Medium. It’s getting difficult to find good content. And adding that to constant shoving content in your face based on what THEY THINK we will like, it’s a mess. Engagements will certainly go down and these companies will have to resort to unnatural ways to make you active. Remember the “XYZ commented on ABC’s photo” notifications? Or constant Quora notifications about “Follow your Facebook friend XYZ on Quora” and the worst, a proper message like notification telling you the obvious “You are now connected on Messenger.”
With Snapchat, even if it reaches the Billion mark, everything will stay the same for you. You’ll never see random names you’ve never heard of. You might get notifications that some unknown person added you but if you don’t add them back, they wouldn’t know. Because Snapchat doesn’t show anyone about who are you friends or even how many of them do you have.
This is why Facebook can’t have a feature like SnapMap. Imagine 700 people showing up on a map. And I know that major threat for Snapchat is Instagram, not Facebook. But if you get the point of scaling and failing, you should realise that Instagram is no different than Facebook. It’s just less messy right now (Perhaps because even they haven’t hit the Billion mark. Although there explore tab is already a window to the future.) You are again following people that you don’t know and hope to get more followers just to get that social validation and trying to make your online identity more likeable. Snapchat has no identity of you. You don’t have to compete who has more followers or who gets more likes. All you know is that someone saw your story. If they liked it, they will message you. If they didn’t, they will message you, instead of making a public comment and staining your online identity.
One reason that companies are moving to stories format is that their regular content started becoming irrelevant/uninteresting. Stories provide a more in-the-moment personal experience. But if you keep following unknown/irrelevant people, your stories tab will become the same as your news feed. Only difference is you not being forced to see their stories (for now).
When you scale at Billions, you need money and Ads get that money for you. I am not against ads. As long as they are non-intrusive, it is fine and Facebook does a good job at that, yet. But Facebook has already admitted that they are running out of spaces to show more ads. They have it on Facebook App, Instagram and even Messenger now. They have reached the peak of ad/content ratio and declared that their ad revenues will go down meaningfully in the near future.
How will Snapchat tackle advertising once it reaches the B? I don’t know what they are up to with the ads. Even most of their employees don’t know what’s happening inside the company until they read it in the news. But all I know is that Snapchat is taking their focus on tracking you location data. You now need to turn on your location to even apply basic filters on your Snaps. With all these location data, and their recent acquisition of Placed (a company that tracks offline sales through online ads) and the way they are acquiring more and more location based companies and patents, be ready to experience a new way to see ads that are non-intrusive and are not shoved in your face masked as a user created content. Maybe you will see some icon on Snapmap from a sponsored restaurant/shop/hub and you CHOOSE to see what they are offering. And you decide to go there and while you buy food, you can scan their Snap QR Code and get some discount. Maybe.
The last bit here is News. Facebook is already under fire for it’s fake news that keeps people in a bubble of fake information and has polarised America. It all comes down to scale again. With anyone allowed to post anything, and Facebook having the power to show you what they think is right for you, news get mixed with user created content. No wonder why Twitter changed it’s PlayStore category from Social to News.
In Snapchat, you can only see content from your friends and family. To see news, you have to switch to their Discover feature. It allows publishers to create story-like sequences which can be news, education, entertainment, or even Buzzfeed clickbaits. But it is very difficult to become a publisher for Snapchat Discover. So only mainstream trusted news and entertainment sources make it to your app in a segregated section that doesn’t interfere with your network of people.
Disruption is not making a unique app and spending billions on marketing to monopolise a new market (Hi Uber). Disruption, is Snapchat, perhaps, a bit ahead of time, especially for some old school experts.
(Edited: For readability and removed the part mentioning Snap Ads)