What started as a class project has become a multi-billion dollar company. The Yale Entrepreneurial Society and the Yale Entrepreneur magazine brought Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to campus on Thursday night for a conversation about the past, present, and future of the app. Spiegel, who is sometimes portrayed in the media as a prototypical “brogrammer,” was thoughtful and well-spoken as he discussed the philosophy behind Snapchat and teased some of the features they will be rolling out later this year.
- When Spiegel and his co-founder presented the app (then called Picaboo) to their design class, everyone said they were “morons.” His classmates thought the whole premise of the idea was undermined by the fact that anyone could take a screenshot. And so, the big breakthrough for Snapchat was when Spiegel and his co-founder invented a way to detect screenshots. That development set the foundation for what we see in Snapchat today: deletion by default. “In most communication, we don’t store transfers of the conversation, but we do hang on to the things that are important or valuable,” Spiegel said.
- Evan Spiegel sees Snapchat as a fundamental shift in the nature of photography. “The thing that Snapchat did that was really different is that, in deleting the content itself, it focused on what the content was conveying. It turned photos into a much more communicative tool than a documentary one.” Now that photographs can be easily used for messaging rather than memory, people are taking more of them than ever before.
- “Our Story” is the feature that’s surprised Spiegel the most, and it hasn’t even been part of the product roadmap for very long. When Spiegel and his founder launched Our Story at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, they were blown away by its success. With Our Story, viewers are instantly transported from back stage, to the audience, to a helicopter in the sky above. They really get a sense of what it’s like to be there. The future of Snapchat is about “broadcast media” and enabling people to see more of the world around them.
- Spiegel knows that Snapchat isn’t technically the fastest way to send photos, but he believes Snapchat’s user-interface is better because of how it makes people feel. He mentioned a product called TapTalk, which is often cited as a faster version of Snaphat. In Snapchat, users first take a photo then decide who to send it to. In TapTalk, however, users see four or five of their friends’ names on top of the camera view. Tapping on a name sends a photo to that person instantly. “That may technically be the fastest way to send a photo to somebody,” said Spiegel, “but when you actually use it, it’s not. Why? Because deciding who to send it to is the part that takes the longest time. You need to grab the moment right now. But [in TapTalk], when you try to grab the moment, you’re looking through your friends list and you can’t find the right person. You miss the moment.” The genius of Snapchat’s UI is that it separates the act of taking a photo from the act of deciding who receives it. This removes a psychological barrier and frees users to simply focus on capturing the moment.
- Snapchat’s designers have been encouraging Spiegel to implement group chats, but he refuses because he doesn’t want people to feel excluded on the app. “The other thing I don’t like that I remember from school is that we would have lists at our school, and I’d go to send something to the list, and I’d remember that I really don’t like two people on the list. So I wouldn’t send it.” Snapchat’s idea is to have free-form groups that are more representative of how your friendships change in real life. The app embraces—and even encourages—fluidity. If Snapchat does do a group product, Spiegel says groups will probably expire the same way that photos do. He wants it to be reflective of how groups change over time in the offline world.
Bonus: Our Campus Story is now live at Yale. Yale is only one of a few schools with the feature, which allows students to post photos and videos to a collective Snapchat story.