Why you are too old for Snapchat.

Short answer: Snapchat’s user interface is bewildering and you haven’t played enough Minecraft.

Note: I wrote this a long time ago and never posted it. However, I’ve referenced it enough times in coversations about Pokemon Go, that I yanked it out of drafts.

Have you ever listened to a group of 11 year olds talk about Minecraft? It is the art of childhood oneupmanship and social jockeying. When I was a kid (I’m old), we tussled over who could pull off the best 360 ollie. Or who’s slam dunk was the most like Michael Jordan’s. To be clear, none of us could really do these feats, but it didn’t stop us from establishing an entire social structure based around them.

Knowledge was seldom revered in these battles of “cool”. But today, the knowledge economy has trickled further and further down the ages. Kids on the monkey bars are engaged in a war of wits over who knows the most about Minecraft or League of Legends. It’s something to behold and worth listening in on at your next family gathering.

“Charlie doesn’t even know how to use Redstone”.

Minecraft couldn’t exist without the internet. It has no manual. No direction as to what to do. No words on the interface. It’s confusing. Minecraft works because kids watch videos of other kids playing Minecraft. This seems like pure insanity to many parents. But to a kid, it’s practice. It’s knowledge acquisition and to some extent, it’s hand-to-hand social combat prep.

It’s also fun. Discovery is rewarding. It can bring it’s own delight. But sharing knowledge is the real drug. It makes you feel smart, which happens to be one of the most addictive things on the planet. Rather it’s the dopamine from recommendations or that feeling of having a search engine in your pocket, smart feels good.

It wasn’t until Snapchat’s Looksery acquisition, and the subsequent release of animated selfie lenses (WTF?), that I finally understood why the UX of Snapchat “got away” with being so incredibly poop emoji. I saw a rainbow puke from Ryan Hoover’s mouth on Instagram. I wanted to do that. I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know what app he did it in. Like a bumbling old man I clicked on everything. Maybe the app told me, maybe it didn’t. If it did, I missed it. I went to the web; Nothing. Twitter search came through. Hold down on your face. Now I knew. And it felt good.

I sent my masterpiece of an animated selfie to the only people at the time I had really interacted with on Snapchat: my nieces and nephews. The response was immediate: OMG OMG OMG HOW DID YOU DO THAT!!! My phone even rang. Like a voice call. Possibly the only telephone call I’ve ever received from a preteen. In that moment I was the coolest uncle of all time. And it felt good.

If Snapchat’s UX made a lick of sense that entire interaction would not have been possible. The kids would have just hit the obvious button in Snapchat and my animated selfie would have been old news. My nieces and nephews wouldn’t have had their “cool” moment sharing knowledge with their friends. With a sensible, clear UX, I’m not sure I would have switched from an occasional Snapchat user to a daily user.

It was “Bad” design by design. I hadn’t identified it. We’ve talked a lot at SproutBox about the importance of the user experience outside of an app. Still, I couldn’t take myself away from the attachment I had to in app usability. Clarity of a the interface is HOW you measure UX success. Right?

We’ve started talking about a different kind of experience related to discovery. One that exists completely outside the user interface. We consider if discovery UX has any application. Frankly, it usually doesn’t, but when it does, it can be a game changer.

For the last few weeks I kinda feel like I’ve watched the end of The 6th Sense and I’m seeing Snapchat’s ghost everywhere. Peach, a dying network, is full of discovery UX. There is no in app directory of Magic Words. You have to search elsewhere to find commands. You might as well be searching crafting recipes for Minecraft. Hold down the home button and get a “secret” set of options. Next thing you know, you are actually reading Peach’s newsletter just to find out how to play peach ball.

You may think it’s all just a fad. But discovery UX isn’t just the flavor of the month. The fact that the UX is so confusing to you is precisely the reason it’s so popular. Wait until the kids who grew up playing Minecraft become a critical part of your core demographic (hint: they probably already are). You won’t just be too old to “get” Snapchat, you’ll be too old to “get” customers.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Mike Trotzke’s story.