Why Snapchat’s Design Will Make It the Most Popular in the Long Run


In the design of Facebook and Instagram, everything bad happens.

You will get why Snapchat is better.

On Facebook and Instagram, the issue is peer comparison. Specifically, upward comparison. When we are on social media, we are often drawn in from a state of loneliness. That’s why we want to distract ourselves with online social activity. We then subconsciously contrast our isolated, weak selves with romanticized, glorified lives of others.

We are stimulated in the short term from the novel information about people in our community. But in the long term we are pretty hurt by the upward comparison: comparison against others that are seemingly in a better position than us. Studies linked in my other posts show that, for Facebook.

Then self improvement on Facebook and Instagram kicks in. We see people on the side in ads wearing clothes we can buy. These people look good and seem to have high self esteem. Maybe we can be like them. They even have external validation, surrounded by others showing interest in them.

What kicks this all into gear is Facebook and Instagram’s design. It encourages people to upload materialistic content, powering the upward comparison. You may be asking, how?

Unlike the quickly disappearing “snapchats” sent selectively to your friends, Facebook and Instagram encourage users to upload photos on their timelines for everyone to see. Yes you can send pictures on Messenger to specific people, and upload videos on Instagram temporarily, but that’s not as privileged in the design as uploading content for everyone to see at any time, and interact with.

And that’s the issue.

Anyone you are connected with can interact with your public, permanent content on Facebook and Instagram, at any time. For the world to see. Since our number of Facebook and Instagram friends is publicly visible, we are connected to many people to seem popular. As a result, quite a few people can see and interact with our content. Not just our friends. This exposes us to vulnerability: to hurtful comments and negative emoticons. This vulnerability we mitigate by not uploading authentic content showing our weaknesses but instead showing our best selves through materialistic, glorified content. What we see each other upload is reflective of our desire to reduce our inner self’s exposure to invalidation.

But it makes people who interact with Facebook and Instagram — coming there in positions of weakness — feel worse about themselves. Then more vulnerable to ads.

On Snapchat, the design enables authenticity. It privileges sharing transient content, that will quickly disappear, to fewer people. The intimacy of the sharing, as well as the transience of the content, minimizes vulnerability. And out of that, comes easier authenticity. This may make users less vulnerable to ads, but partially because it does something much more important in the long run. It enables authenticity that leads to people being comfortable sharing their weaknesses and not romanticizing themselves. Suddenly this takes out the consequence of repeated upward peer comparison, which we have on Facebook and Instagram. It takes out, possibly, the association with depression. Which is a long term threat to Facebook and Instagram.

Even on Snapchat, content can be made public through “stories”. But even with these “stories” you are not as vulnerable. The world cannot leave public negative comments or emoticons. With less vulnerability, comes more authenticity, not materialized self enhancement. It’s more intimate, it’s better. The inner self doesn’t have to be shielded. It can come out. While it’s not as good as the transient sharing of content to fewer people, it’s not as bad as the Facebook and Instagram design. Admittedly, it is not better than Facebook and Instagram with respect to short term ad revenue, as people feel better about themselves, less in need of buying. But in the long term, revenue will be increasingly in line with the human context as time goes on and awareness improves, engagement levels change.

Ultimately, this is what is happening. This is why Snapchat is better in the long run.

The transience of the content, the intimacy of sharing the content with specific people or groups of people, and the privileging of private interaction with the content (swiping and starting a private conversation in response to a snap): this all reduces vulnerability and exposure and thus enables people to feel much more confident exchanging more authentic content, thus alleviating upward peer comparison otherwise created from people interacting with the materialistic, superficial, glorified content of Facebook and Instagram.

Snapchat is a superior platform for communication, information exchange, for the visual age. Its design creates less vulnerability, even with stories, allowing for more authentic content to be shared, which in turn enables people to augment real emotional relationships with one another.

Whereas Facebook and Instagram distance people from one another through the materialistic, superficial content culture users create in response to the mass vulnerability designed into those systems.

And Snapchat would do well to market this key difference.

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