The Real Reason for Poke and How Facebook was Left Naked by Snapchat

Posted on: December 22, 2012
Posted in Social


Strategically there’s a subtle underlying reason Facebook needs to buy / copy / kill Snapchat within its first few months of existence – it’s not because Snapchat has seen crazy initial success for a new mode of communication (impermanent photos) but because Snapchat is effectively a new social network being built outside Facebook, not on top of it, and not giving Facebook access to the users via its near-de facto APIs.

No, instead Snapchat is one of the first photo apps to say “screw you FB, we’re going to require people to register”. Remember registering for a service pre FB-connect with no option to FB-connect in? Neither does anyone else. And this is the main story here: Snapchat was able to get a young user base going crazy sexting based on a different identity—email and phone number, buoyed by mobile platforms (iOS app store, Android), NOT social platforms (Facebook, Twitter).

Try it. Download Snapchat, go to create account, and there is no mention of FB log-in allowed on Snapchat. This is a huge deal, making Snapchat likely the fastest growing mobile photo app ever having not enabled users to implicitly create a graph through an existing friend graph (FB/Twitter).  Yes, you can connect FB after logging in. But the data shows only a minority of people are doing so.

Snapchat has about 1.5M MAU who have Auth’d Facebook, but this number is tiny compared to its total install base, which is not published to the best of my knowledge, but is likely in the 15M+ range. Trust me, Facebook hates that only 10% or so Snapchat users have linked their account. And the key point here is that users on Snapchat who have Auth’d FB are not doing it at registration.

Instead Snapchat exclusively asks for email and number for its identity, correlating these on the server-side with your username after registration. This is remarkable and a testament to the use case. Maybe they suppose you’re more likely to sext someone you met at a bar last night (getting their phone number obviously, not friending them) rather than your Facebook friends. But Snapchat is going beyond sexting, threatening to take temporary moments mainstream.

Again to say it one more time:  Snapchat’s rise to prominence—likely adding about 100K users solely on iOS per day over the past couple months based on ranking—happened almost totally outside Facebook.

This is the reason that Zuckerberg needed to copy this app overnight. FB was very smart / lucky in snapping up Instagram when they did, but that was a $1B price-tag because of network-effects that were a very real risk to its photo franchise. But FB can’t keep buying networks when they reach critical scale, and they definitely want new social apps to pay the FB-connect toll.

This is sort of sad news for the social web. I look at it this way: any new / amazing social communication tool that starts to touch the mainstream will either be killed or copied or acquired by Facebook. It’s like one big company owning your conversations. Dictating how you talk and with whom. Take our acquisition offer or we’ll copy you. And, if you’re lucky… Zuckerberg may even actually code your replicated product… himself.

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