Snapchat continues its efforts to introduce public features to its private messaging service with the announcement of Our Story, a section of its application devoted to images taken at events like the Electric Daisy Carnival, where the feature will make its debut this weekend. In doing so, the company might have just done what Color tried to do before it closed in 2012 — all it needed was an extra $100 million in funding, a longer lifespan, and a different focus.
Color was supposed to create a social network that allowed people to share images with other users near their location, like a camera roll that automatically mails photographs to anyone in a one-mile radius. It raised $41 million before introducing its product, which was well-liked by a few but largely dismissed as a novelty by most. Lead by a co-founder who spent more time in Hawaii than in the office, it was ultimately acquired by Apple for a paltry $7 million in October 2012, reportedly for its patent portfolio and not for its actual technologies.
But the horribly dysfunctional clown show that was Color, doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to share images featuring a single event. It just means Color was a horribly dysfunctional clown show.
Services like Instagram have shown that most of us are obsessive voyeurs waiting to catch a glimpse into someone else’s life, while companies like Twitter show that everyone wants to feel like part of some club based on their shared experiences. Allowing people to share images of an event with Our Story could help Snapchat fill both of those roles without compromising on either.
Snapchat didn’t launch with the intention of building a Color that actually works. It focused first on creating a private messaging service; then, when people trusted it with their one-on-one communications, introduced the public Stories feature; and is now asking them to trust it with images that any Snapchat user can view. (The company says in its blog post that Our Story is meant to help people feel like they’re at an event they couldn’t attend themselves.)
Color wasn’t so careful in its approach. The company’s first application allowed them to share images with anyone in a certain distance, creating an all-too-public network managed by a company that no-one had ever heard of before. It was creepy. It also didn’t offer a reason to use it beyond “look what your smartphone can do,” so many consumers remained ignorant of its existence even as the technology and business press mocked the far over-funded company.
It seems that Snapchat has learned from that mistake, and that might allow the company to succeed where Color failed. Snapchat built trust first, and then is slowly opening itself up. Kinda like Facebook which slowly and methodically broadened its user base from Harvard to billions of people around the world.
Though Snapchat might have risen to popularity as “the sexting app,” its true purpose of changing the way we think about permanence and social media is advanced with a public-facing utility like Our Story, which shows that people can share things with the outside world without having to worry about it haunting them forever.
That gets down to the fundamental difference between Snapchat and Color: The former took the time to instill trust in its users, while the latter assumed that everyone would embrace a public sharing tool without having to consider the consequences. And if there’s anything that Snapchat knows about it’s trust, whether that’s because of its data breaches or the fact that it first grabbed attention because people trusted its self-destructing messages with dirty images.
All of those differences might allow Snapchat to deliver on a concept that first attracted some attention years ago, when people didn’t think about things like “ephemerality” or “messaging platforms” or other buzzwords and instead focused on communicating with the outside world. It’s taken a few more years, an extra $100 million, and a focus on something else entirely, but it seems like we’re finally going to get the chance to see what Sequoia thought it was funding amid Bill Nguyen’s ramblings about jarred brains, teleportation, and the singularity.
[image adapted by Brad Jonas for Pando]