A few years ago I saw an app called Mojo Mask. It had a pretty janky design, and I'm not even sure if it was a standalone product or a one-off tool from an agency. But it did one thing incredibly well that I had never really seen before: It rendered a digital mask over my face that would react in real time.
I was floored. I would immediately feel a slight identity shift with every mask I put on. I actually started to feel and embody some of the characteristics that were portrayed. If the mask turned my face into a cat, I wanted to slank around and stick out my tongue. The mask dragged me into a different mindset and pushed me into a different body.
It was only a matter of time before this penetrated the mainstream and every 13-year-old girl was filtering their identity through their favorite mask. And then, of course, Snapchat released this exact function with face filters.
Has Snapchat already sparked true augmented reality?
Snapchat has the chance to be the main canvas and operating system for the augmented reality industry. 100 million people a day are now jumping in and out of different characters and skins while using augmented reality as a daily tool and most of them don’t even know what “AR” means. Snapchat has already normalized a fringe technology that most people still think is years away from being adopted.
This is huge.
But how did Snapchat put augmented reality at the center of our communication with out even speaking a word about “AR”?
Pretty simple; the face filters are super fucking fun, and I can show my friends.
It is hysterical to instantly become some weirdo version of yourself, and when I’m being hysterical, I want everyone to know I'm hysterical so I’m posting my dog mask video to my story so all my friends can see how hysterical I am… 3 times a day.
But what’s really happening here is actually quite profound. These masks allow us to live in a world of choice and push us closer to exactly who we want to be.
When we can look like a cat, dog, dragon, girl, macho man weight lifter, Parisian artist, or alien, we stop paying attention to dumb, restrictive and distracting things like physical features and appearance. Identity becomes proactive and deterministic. It becomes a contextualized communication tool, rather than something we feel like we are stuck with and tied to.
After all, why should we derive an identity from things that we didn’t choose in the first place?
How awesome will it be when employers have to evaluate a potential hire while a different race or gender is overlaid on their face every minute.
Those “A Scanner Darkly” body suits are starting to make a lot more sense now.
Snapchat is in an incredibly interesting position to become the augmented reality layer for the world that makes this type of living possible. This is something they are well aware of and have even announced the development of google glass like sunglasses. As we have seen before, the real differentiator and value of hardware is its software, and Snapchat is in an incredible spot to be this software layer. Snapchat has the network, the platform, and the users, and is starting the conversation with developers and content creators. This is something that should make Google, Magic Leap, Facebook, and any other player who’s considering going into the augmented reality space extremely nervous.
Teenagers are using 60 gigs of data every month and getting 40 snaps every ten minutes. It is becoming the communication and broadcast medium of our lives and its growing. This is so unbelievably gigantic and powerful that a few hundred million daily active users sending selfies to each other may be just a tiny seedling of Snapchat’s true potential.
Are geo-filters the foundation for creating customizable digital realities?
Alongside face filters, the launch of customized geo-filters last month has some enormous implications. This is not only a fantastic monetization strategy (a million times better than charging consumers for replays) but it also opens up the platform and the conversation to creators, developers, and businesses, which is where the true potential lies for Snapchat.
First, here is how it’s custom geo-filters work: you pick your geo-location by digitally fencing off a perimeter on a map, choose how long you want it to last, and submit your creative.
Now Sarah can feel really special because everyone can share moments at her birthday party with her special “Happy Birthday Sarah” filter laid over each picture. How fun!(not sarcastic) And these are really just 2D pencil sketches, so I guess that's cute, but is that really all its going to be? Nope.
A few questions I’ve been day-dreaming about:
What happens when…
- you can create more than just a 2-d filter, and you can start to create customized 3D objects that can exist within that geofence?
- everyone is walking around with those Snapchat sunglasses or even Snapchat contact lenses? (they probably don’t even need to own the software)
- brands aren’t just creating content for people to watch, but they can start to create their own digital universes that overlay on our existing world?
- Nike starts paying a shit load of money for the geofence around the Olympics? Sure they can create USA digital masks, but what if they start leaving digital assets all around that geofenced area with product demos, augmented reality games, and their own digital version of the stadiums physical architecture? Will we get to choose which branded reality we want to live in?
- Uniqlo sells a t-shirt that’s receptive to Snapchat’s glasses and can display an ever-changing digital skin? (I made an Ipad handbag with an app a few years back which was my attempt at an analog answer to this vision of the future)
- I want to geofence central park, create a bunch of Pokemon and invite my friends to come play real life Pokemon while we run around with our Snapchat sunglasses battling each other while we catch 'em all?
While many companies can make this happen in theory, Snapchat has the user base and the network effects. This means Snapchat has solved the hardest part of the puzzle solved when it comes to getting people to adopt new technology. They made it fun and cool. Passing out hardware that interacts with this already existing Higg’s field Evan Spiegel has created shouldn’t be that hard.
I’m certainly not waiting until all my friends go out and buy whatever Magic Leap is building, then waiting again while we all get used to a new platform, and then waiting longer for it to gain mass popularity, and then finally using the platform. Even the fanciest technology is boring if I can’t play with my friends when using it, so once any feasible hardware solution is created, Snapchat can replicate it, even if its only 30% as good, and own the industry practically overnight.
The possibilities here are endless. This starts to become a real world of abundance where physical restrictions become extracted and everything can exist instantaneously and at virtually no cost. Identity becomes infinite, physical space becomes ever changing, and experiences start to become scalable and interchangeable.
These are all old concepts and ideas that have existed for years around the potential of augmented reality, but Snapchat, that creepy sexting app toy thing that just raised a down round because “we are in a bubble,” is in the best position out of anyone to own this budding digital universe of abundance. Something that may be one of the most valuable opportunities that has ever existed.
Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this, tweet me @johnnyfio so we can yell at each other and be friends.