More than 60 million photos or messages are sent every day through the app Snapchat. Lightning missives of teen angst, young adult love, and pure lust, along with blase threats (and occasional apologies) from mean girls and bullies get swapped and swiped away in seconds. Once the message or photo is viewed, it “self-destructs.” The short shelf life of such a message (versus a more polished and permanent status update on Facebook or Twitter) is attractive to those who don’t want to take responsibly or face repercussions for their actions, opinions and feelings. The average user is 13-25 years old. (To be fair, it’s said to also be gaining popularity with Congressmen and other professional promisers, who might not mind seeing their abandoned positions immediately vanish from the record.)
Valued at $60-70 million, Snapchat recently raised $13.5 million from Benchmark Capital (recent Benchmark investments include Couchsurfing.com, DogVacay.com, and1stdibs.com). But despite Snapchat’s popularity and newfound flow of cash, the start-up does not yet make money–a sort of fraught badge of honor in Silicon Valley. Last week the 800-pound gorilla Facebook, another company whose earnings cause Wall Street headaches, created its own version of a disappearing message app called Poke. (And suddenly Snapchat investors are hoping the company doesn’t make their money vanish like some tween romantic poem.) Rumor has it Mark Zuckerberg himself wrote parts of the code and even lent his voice to Poke’s audio push notifications, but Snapchat users were not impressed–or at least there’s no record of it. According to Topsy, daily mentions of Snapchat on Twitter have jumped more than five-fold, from 27,360 to 153,900, in the week since Facebook unveiled Poke. It must be strange, though, trying to build a sturdy business by encouraging people to leave no trace. It’s just a tool, of course, susceptible to abuses like any other. But what kind of person is most likely to be attracted to a technology that allows them to virtually hit and run? We suspect it isn’t responsible drivers.