I'm starting to think that Snapchat is a major dark horse in the "new generation" chat-app race, and that it's going to become highly relevant to cyberculture in unexpected ways. I've been seeing it make a comeback but in a really under the radar kind of way, becoming the group chat of choice for informal social interactions. Two use cases are dominant from what I've seen (excluding "transactional", proto-OnlyFans usage):
- You made a new friend? Add them on snapchat, not ask for their number; it's less formal/committed than Messenger and less intrusive than texting.
- You and your bros wanna keep in touch in a comfy, low-maintenance way? Send updates and running commentary on your day to day in the group chat; it's less about sharing information and more about sharing vibes.
Its strength is that it mirrors real conversations by making interactions ephemeral and confined (not just temporally but also spatially, as it is primarily used for private interactions rather than one-to-many, "influencer" broadcasting). There's ways to save good messages and to keep up with the flow of vibes. That means ephemerality is a strength for snapchat, since it forces content to be as new as possible by default; this is good because, all else being equal, novelty always confers a relative advantage to content. This makes it so that chats don't become overwhelming (e.g. too much to catch up on; too many conversation threads accumulating over time; prior history being exposed to new group chat members).
With Discord developing their own forum functionalities, Twitter rolling out their Close Friends style "Twitter Circles" feature, and subscription models like Substack continuing to pick up, the general trend seems to be towards radically cutting back on noise. Users can access endless amounts of "civil discourse" and "engaging content" practically anywhere. Enabling production is no longer the challenge; filtering and curating in a way that doesn't default to the lowest common denominator junk is the challenge. Narrowing your focus to the present, as Snapchat encourages users to do, seems to be a great rule of thumb for filtering out irrelevant content that belongs in the past. And contrary to received wisdom, not remembering the past is often a great tactic for not repeating the past: old beliefs get in the way of competing novel insights. Users, content producers, and platforms which cling to outdated knowledge not only fail to keep up, but actively get in the way of others acquiring more up to date knowledge.
An effect of the Internet getting old (Google is 23 years old) is that most of the Internet's memories is precisely this kind of noise. Platforms which optimise for the preservation and maintenance of old knowledge and memories require an unusually novelty-seeking userbase in order to remain healthy. The best examples are wikis and forums about new phenomena that exist independently of the community, like news, money, or tech. The high pressure to keep up or die out balances out the inherent conservatism of memory-preserving platforms, which is something Facebook/Messenger doesn't have that Snapchat does. Hence it's plausible that Facebook could be made a better platform purely by removing most of its features rather than adding more (but that would alienate older users, who give more generously to advertisers): allowing users to decouple Messenger from Facebook to use it on its own was an amazing move in exactly this direction, but superior alternatives to the hypothetical "modular Facebook" already abound.
I would say that the kind of dissappearance of noise you're talking about is a form of semi-ephemerality, which distances itself from some privacy-oriented messaging platforms where you either purge everything or don't. Approaching from the other side of the same coin, I think it is this form of half-permanence that really mimics real-life. With the default being deletable pieces of info, only the good chats/photos are screencapped/saved, and the act of preserving is notified to relevant parties. It gives a form of recognition akin to actual chatters where some jokes are noticed and passed around more than others.
The keep-up-or-die-out race, as you said, seem to need a balance of ephemerality and longevity. There are Facebook groups who fail to innovate their contents and recycle the same jokes for years, as old posts kept getting dug up to be seen by newer members. Likewise, if everything is ephemeral, how can memes in the form of media contents be saved and spread out? While Snapchat is a good incentivizer for fresh stuff, I still think its impermanence still leans to much to one side of the balance above.
Not concise to the messaging app discourse, but I think one major advantage of many platforms over Facebook (and Messenger) is pseudonymity already. Yet, they come with too much "binary" features: everyone who follows your Twitter knows who you're following, and all your Reddit comments/posts across all subs are shown in one convenient page. Sometimes it's better to fragment these things out - they are noises that are too much to keep up any sort of tightly-knitted group vibes. Perhaps, Facebook's privacy tweaks options for many aspects of a user profile (who can see my friend lists, page likes, important dates, etc) are a thing to implement in some of these platforms.
Twitter has been trying out a few features that let the users self-organise into groups together, whether they be lists, groups, or audiences. Fediverse communities are much more rigidly boundaried, insofar as each instance is owned and admimistered by the owners however they see fit (and likewise for Discourse instances). But it seems that having the volume of users in the first place to sort is too important a prerequisite to bypass.
That being said, some invite-only Mastodon instances I've seen have a really good software-community fit precisely because being small and focused is a good thing for them. The scholar.social instance is a great example: they have really specific rules for what kind of content to share, the privacy settings to use, hashtags and groups, and so on. The rules are rigidly applied and posts are pruned aggressively to keep the feed clean and tidy. You can't get this kind of fit on other platforms like Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter (doing something similar on TikTok or YouTube is unthinkable for most academics; I wonder how well Academia.edu works).
I've noticed people that spend most of their time in group chats/Discord like communities don't tend to use Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook that often and vice versa as well. I think that's because "spider-web" (I am making these terms up on the spot) style platforms allow each individual person in the community web to feel like the center of their own world, whereas the more "roundtable" -esque discussion programs like group chats/Discord decentralize the individual and facilitate longer form conversation and community centric interaction. It's much harder to feel like the center of attention in like a group chat vs. on Instagram/Snapchat with stories/posts/likes/etc. Vice versa, its harder to feel a part of a consistent, reliable community entirely on Insta/Snap/etc since interaction tends to be fleeting and surface level.
So, I don't think Snapchat will directly eat Messenger's user base because much of its UI and functionalities are focused on that spider-webby, contract inwards towards the individual style social media, which Messenger does not have. It's the same idea as Facebook separating itself from Messenger; Snapchat's UI has too much noise in it taking away from Messenger's appeal.
The Spiderweb VS Roundtable (Webs VS Circles?) dichotomy is informative. Do webs promote deeper discussions involving fewer participants per conversational thread? I wonder which category forums belong to, and I find it intriguing that you think Snapchat belongs to the spiders (aren't their group chats roundtables?).
imo people mostly use social media due to network effects, i.e. if their friends use a platform that's what they'll use. i have a friend group who only communicates over messenger, and attempts to move that over to discord have always failed. this is in spite of a splinter chat w a subset of the main group chat existing, and that splinter chat having a two healthy discords where we regularly stream games to each other. i think snapchat or something similar will overtake messenger, but it will be due to user attrition as friendships on messenger chats drift apart and groupchats die, and not due to the replacement being a better platform. i'd argue most social media is already better than messenger (and especially facebook), but both platforms continue to limp along despite their unforgivable bloat, and imo this is entirely due to network effects.
I don't personally know anyone that uses Snapchat primarily for anything other than keeping in contact with drug dealers. This is generally the culture of Snapchat's use in the UK. It's informal enough to have contacts with people you wouldn't regularly want to engage with, similar in function to a burner phone, you keep your means to an end on that phone, not the means in themselves hahaha.
I'm much less optimistic that Snapchat will come back in a serious way just because of how inherently cold it is. Facebook guarantees an almost familial atmosphere (I treat old Philbook members as family, as I've seen their personal development over the years the same way a distant cousin might), Instagram guarantees a visual vibe-environment where you can understand what this person is about before even talking to them by virtue of their stories and posts. But with Snapchat, the stories function is primarily used for advertising a service ("Doing lifts pop up", "I've got new stock in pop up for mushrooms in X place"). The plethora of filters and stickers further alienates authentic social interaction, I'm not sure how you might use these in a function other than taking the piss.
Messages getting deleted unless you actively save them removes the impression of discourse imo, when I'm talking with someone I care about, I re-read previous messages constantly as a way of re-experiencing great conversations and as a reminder of what it is I care about this person for, to have a blank slate each time is almost a business-like reduction, you can't simply enjoy the other's messages, each message needs to serve an immediate function because it's soon to be deleted.
I suppose with the stereotypical trend of younger generations becoming less socially engaged, Snapchat might be a safe haven for them to not have to fully engage with others (I don't know many people younger than me that use Facebook, and I assume it's for this reason). But I think this trend is something that should be actively worked against, if there was ever a time to rekindle the joy of human connection now's the time.
TL;DR Facebook messenger, as adjunct to Facebook, won't be overtaken by Snapchat because people need the personal connection.
I would use snap chat but the corporate stories make me wanna puke and I mainly use snap for people without messenger (messenger is clean looking)
my brother and I are right on the folding point of generational divide- he uses primarily snapchat, so I downloaded it to talk with him but I soon began to hate how the format lent itself to more aimless conversation. I had peers who were also using it, but found that I just couldn't bring myself to care about their little random updates. All of this made me weirdly feel even more isolated. I can't see it really getting any bigger than it is.
As for alternative messaging systems, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Telegram which also has Snap like features for disappearing messages. Best of all, Telegram displays link previews! The absence of link previews on Messenger was perhaps the single worst change I could imagine. I was a part of a music sharing group chat on Messenger that basically died overnight when link previews were scrapped.
Telegram seems like quite the dark horse! The way it handles media is so much more thoughtful than Messenger.
and being able to easily send files through it is so great when I'd normally have to take several more steps to send via email.
The custom themes and stickers on Telegram are also surprising and can be a lot of fun.
I've been trying out Snapchat more based on the hypothesis I posed last month, but it doesn't really feel like a "winner". It feels annoying and even "slow", by which I mean that the amount of enjoyment it offers is not high enough compared to the amount of interaction it demands of the user (of course, it's nowhere near as bad as the active torture which Facebook and Instagram deliver; at least it leans towards a net positive). Platforms like BeReal which play with the variables involved in the ratio of enjoyment to interaction suggest that there's a particular niche with a lot of potential here, but that doesn't necessarily mean that BeReal or other similar apps are gonna be winners. Are the mechanics at work fundamentally different from how news corrals users to be active together on Twitter?
Discord, on the other hand, definitely feels like a place that the future of the Internet could be built on, because it's well-suited for building things on. I think that something like a TikTok-Discord hybrid would be just absolutely incredible, and fundamentally change the way that online culture operates. There's little in the way of reliable and convenient discovery for Discord, and while TikTok has been testing out group chats since last year, it's nigh impossible to build a community space on TikTok alone. Perhaps the two factors (discovery and community) involved in a healthy growth of online communities are not so much a matter of careful balance but a matter of direct contradiction, which has to be navigated by alternating between each other.
I liked these articles from Axios discussing the "TikTokification of Facebook" (about 5min read total; the second is a podcast segment):
Memepages gamed Facebook while the focus was still (marginally) on the social media aspect, deliberately getting their content out in front of people who never would have encountered it otherwise. The same strategy is now employed in an infinitely more sophisticated form by preference-learning algorithms on TikTok. So, content is first and foremost a funnel, and everything is always an A/B test all of the time; users treating content as though it were a destination end up wasting their time on an inconsequential gameplay designed by the platform. Even as they interact with other users, the principal relationship that they form is with the algorithm itself. That is why I think (perhaps paradoxically) subcultural communities are becoming increasingly insular, specialised, and exclusive; forum-like spaces for high-commitment users (initially attracted through algorithmically mediated platforms) offer stable community to users that can't be found in makeshift communal spaces like the comments section on a social media post.
Another article about the "end of social media", from Cal Newport: