Here Today, Gone Tomorrow – Why Ephemeral Messaging Matters
Ephemeral messaging is tightly linked to the most valuable social communications network you’ve got – the one you carry around in your pocket everyday. It’s the address book inside of your phone. Yes, the social networks we’ve amassed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are important (really, really important), but when you think about who you talk to most, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they’ve got a spot in your mobile phone address book.
As the big social networks have grown to gargantuan proportions, borg-like sizes, they’ve turned into more broadcast style platforms than messaging of daily, even second-by-second, things related to personal communication with people you know well. This is why chat apps and ephemeral messaging are on the rise. We think there may be some upper limit of how big a digital social network can get and still stay personal, ultra-relevant and easy to communicate the more intimate details of everyday life. In fact, there have been plenty of social science experiments around the cognitive capabilities of humans in real-life social networks. A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar popularized the commonly accepted premise that humans can have somewhere between 100-200 meaningful social connections before the quality starts to break down significantly. This is referred to as Dunbar’s number.
One of the trends in ephemeral messaging that is worth exploring is the concept of using social media for longterm memories vs. using social chat apps for high frequency communication where the content value has a short lifespan. Our research indicates that the motivations behind using Facebook and Instagram are shifting dramatically to be more about the concept of “storing life’s important moments” and things you’d like to show-off in a mostly public manner. If you think about it, do your privacy settings on Facebook and Instagram matter as much as they used to? Or is it easier to just use other platforms like Snapchat or text to send things that you do not want public or on the behemoth social networks? We are finding the there are very distinct and largely held beliefs that change as the overall size of a social network grows.
The term ephemeral messaging may not be one that we all use frequently, but the core value and concept is one that everyone immersed in social communications understands; when we care about people enough to have them in our phone book, the nature of what we send to them on a daily basis is much different from what we publish on large, less intimate social platforms and therefore it makes complete sense that we create divisions among our mobile apps which reflect the reality of how we communicate and share information. Ephemeral messaging does not mean to imply that the value is any less than storage-oriented content we share, in fact, it probably has a greater short term value to us. And ironically, we are more likely to pay attention, if only for a fleeting moment or two, to the content delivered via ephemeral communications.
As the saturation of always-on mobile connectivity continues to soak into all aspects of our lives (even making objects like TVs, refrigerators, cars and thermostats connected to the Internet), we expect that the ways in which we create and share content that is most meaningful will evolve as new platforms emerge. Ephemeral messaging is a fast-moving space, but one that is exciting to be a part of it.