Facebook And Snapchat: One Way To Fight A Distributed Mobile Threat

Rumors floating around (again) that Facebook is considering a new twist on a Snapchat-like app that they develop. Sound familiar? That’s because they tried the same thing around the holidays in December 2012, after which Snapchat secured Series A funding from Benchmark and was off to the races. Today, the app may not be in the news every day, but the metrics are on a tear. I read on BusinessInsider earlier this week that folks are sharing over 450M pictures per day on Snapchat. OK, stop — read that line again. 450M per day. (Caveat – there is some debate around how one actually counts pictures sent or shared inside Snapchat – I’m not going to get into that, but I think we can agree it’s a ton and enough to make Zuck think twice.) Additionally, the BI article pointed out that Snapchat was adding 10M *new* active users…every month…and growing. That is insane. Snapchat is benefiting from a network effect ignited by its users’ phone contact lists, a sort of distributed network of people and devices that can grow without the help of the Web, without real identity, and without a set of unbundled apps.

I would never bet against Zuck; the guy is an incredible visionary and CEO. But, my initial thought when I saw this rumor again was deja vu — that this will never work because the lure of Snapchat is that it is the pure anthesis of Facebook. An app branded or blessed by Facebook likely won’t engender the trust needed to scratch this particular itch, not to mention the “empty room” problem new adopters may face with a 1:1 or 1:many messaging app (not the same effect with Paper).

Then, in the car ride home today at the end of a trip, I kept thinking about it, and a thought occurred to me — even though Facebook may try this move again, this time could be different because they now own Whatsapp, one of — if not the — largest mobile app properties. What if part of Facebook’s plan is to build a Snapchat-like clone and distribute it through their own native app but also Whatsapp (just as LINE and other messaging clients cross-promote content and apps)? This theory could be interesting because (1) Facebook is deep-linking users in and out of some of their other apps (such as Facebook to Messenger) and (2) a good chunk of the Whatsapp audience resides in different parts of the world where Snapchat may not have yet penetrated because of either geographical limitations and/or phone incompatibility. There are billions of people who have phones that only run Whatsapp, who don’t yet use Facebook or Snapchat, and who may — as they get better and better phones — may want something like Snapchat…and if they do, Zuck & Co may be right there to serve that new customer.