It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the wonderful world of social media is continually evolving. At a recent digital communications summit my attention was drawn to a relatively new kid on the block, Snapchat. I say new, Snapchat has in fact been around for almost two years, but has somehow managed to remain outside of the mainstream and off radar for many social media types. As a social networking enthusiast myself, whenever I get to hear about new social platforms like this my curiosity is usually aroused. So when Snapchat was drawn to my attention, I just had to find out more.

For those of you who, like me, are new to Snapchat, here is a brief overview of what it does and what it’s all about… I think!

Snapchat is, to put it bluntly, a photo and video messaging service. Nothing groundbreaking there I hear you say! Well no, but Snapchat does have one trick up its sleeve that makes it significantly different to every other photo messaging service available – every message self-destructs after a user-selectable period of time; typically 1 to 10 seconds. Gone forever apparently… well yes, if you don’t include those clever bods who have the presence of mind to quickly take a screenshot on their device before the message disappears. But that aside, the principle behind Snapchat is that there is no lasting evidence on any device or the Internet that a message was ever sent or received.

At this point you may well still be scratching your head trying to understand the point of this seemingly odd application… you are not alone! In my quest to understand the answer to that very same question, I did what most people do and headed straight for Google! I’d got no further than typing into the search box “What is the point” when Google helpfully auto-completed my sentence with “of Snapchat?”. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one asking this self-same question. Google, in all of its wisdom, had obviously been tasked with this self-same question so many times before that it was able to pre-empt my query. Having toyed with the Snapchat app some more since, I’m still left wondering where, exactly, it fits into my daily routine and, more importantly, how it enriches my everyday life.

In researching the app some more, one thing was becoming more evident - Snapchat’s potentially more sinister side. Snapchat, it would seem, is very popular with adolescents, as it allows them to send ‘secretive’ photo or video messages in the reassured knowledge that they disappear without trace after a very short period of time. The so-called advantage to children is that parents remain completely oblivious to their offspring’s potentially covert activities, as it leaves no traceable evidence on the user’s device. What do I mean by covert? Try searching Google using the term “sexting” and you’ll understand exactly the issue here!

So at last I find Snapchat’s distinctly, some may say ominous, unique selling point and more worryingly, the app’s unofficial target demographic. Clearly, herein lies a myriad of contentious issues, not only in the way Snapchat is used, but who uses it and, importantly, how it should be policed day-to-day.

But hang on. Let’s take a step back for a moment. Yes, there are questions to be answered regarding Snapchat’s place in society – questions that should essentially be asked of Snapchat’s owners themselves I’d suggest! But, on the flipside, perhaps the principle of definably expiring content is a paradigm that we should all embrace. I need only refer to the recent hullaballoo surrounding the U.S. government’s alleged requests for specific user information held within vast Google and Facebook data banks.

With my SEO hat on, it could be argued that everyone would win as, bizarrely, Google’s search algorithms actually reward ‘fresh’ content. So, ironically, the whole notion of disposable data should sit very well with the search engines.

But, of course, nothing is ever that clear-cut. Information is power and therein lies the overarching issue. The data collecting digital service providers, such as Google and Facebook, hold the most precious thing of all – reams and reams of information about us, and how we go about our everyday lives. These huge mines of user data and intelligence, of course, hold real value – not just to government authorities, but to commercial enterprises too.

So whilst Snapchat’s idea of disposable data is, in principle, a brilliant one, it would seem that it’s not one that will be embraced more widely any time soon. As the old adage states… if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product!

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