Why Snapchat is winning.

Context

Over the Christmas holiday I read multiple reports of Snapchat’s recent financing and when I headed on over to a my usual internet watering holes to learn what everyone thought I was tickled to read a many comments to the tune of:

Good on them, but I still don’t get Snapchat

As someone who [thinks he] gets Snapchat, I though it would be an opportune time to write down my personal thoughts on the subject and what makes social products successful in general. All opinions — and theories—are my own.

What is “social”?

Let’s lay some groundwork so we’re all talking about the same…


Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.
- Alan Kay

This is the story of the web, as it exists today. By many definitions, it is one of the wonders of the world — Wikipedia, Facebook, Google. And yet it began from humble beginnings — as a medium for sending around and connecting hypertext documents, but when slapped together with Javascript suddenly became a platform for creating applications.

Fast forward twenty years and you have multiple billion dollar companies (Facebook and LinkedIn to name a couple) pouring endless engineering resources into figuring out how to build state of the art applications in HTML. My company (bubbli) fell into this trap as well. “Use CSS transforms,” they said! “Optimize your code with Closure,” they said! But it was all a fools errand, we were trying build a bridges across abstractions so deep (web browsers) that it was like trying to build a house that spanned and sat atop ten skyscrapers. …


Forget you know how to program for a moment.

When you were a kid, you probably learned about functions in Algebra 1. You probably learned to write out tables for functions like this:

f(x) = x^2 + x + 1

As follows:

f(0) = 1
f(1) = 3
f(2) = 7

After this, maybe you learned about function composition:

g(x) = 2x
f(g(0)) = 1
f(g(1)) = 7
f(g(2)) = 21

Still with me? Hope so. Let’s add a new function into the mix:

h(x) = √x

Now, I need you to remember back to middle school, before you were taught imaginary numbers existed. …

About

Ben Newhouse

code + design, entrepreneur in hiding. cofounded bubbli (acquired by Dropbox). previously made yelp monocle (for iPhone and Android). stanford alu

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