We need to talk about Snapchat.

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In a world where porn sites are pioneers for bleeding edge technologies, it’s no surprise that an app that acts as a de factosext ‘nexus can be valued at $4 billion. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat by now, good on you, cause it’s fuckin’ awful (not inherently, but ultimately). The premise? Allow the sender of an image to dictate the length of time for which a particular photo will be displayed; thereafter the image is forever erased (or so we’re lead to believe). So what’s the rationale behind this ostensibly innocuous app? Perhaps one might argue in this post-Snowden digital climate where online repositories are constantly being hacked and exploited, that we should take proactive measures in limiting the transferability of the content we share. This argument, whilst noble and quaint, unfortunately lacks the base depravity shared by the more likely of reasons, namely, as a contingency plan against that dick-pic you sent your girlfriend ending up on Reddit or plastered down the sidebar of The Pirate Bay.

Online tech pundit Roy Murdock recently authored an article titled, “Am I Going Insane? Snapchat is Intrinsically Worthless”, in which he harangued the app for its recent outlandish appraisal:

While Snapchat’s valuation is nowhere close to that of Apple and Facebook, it is surprisingly close to stable, established companies with actual revenue streams. Why have investors put such a high price tag on what seems to be a silly messaging app with no source of revenue?

Left pondering the same question, I began to reflect on a poignant Vice documentary that had delved into the macabre goings-on of the Japanese love industry (if you’ve got the time you should give it a shot, it’s really quite an eye-opener). The crux of the exposé revolves around exploring the commodification of the relationship experience within Japanese contemporary culture. Succinctly put, “You can replicate anything you’d get from a relationship, be it sexual, emotional or otherwise”. Far from an exaggeration, Japan truly does play host to a “whole industry of pseudo-romance services to fit every need”.

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Strewn amongst the oddities depicted in the Doccie (that’s slick insider jargon for Documentary) is a visit to a ‘cuddle-café’, where Ryan (the lead journo) solicits services from a diminutive Asian woman, including: petting her head, gazing into her eyes longingly, and having the ear wax cleaned out of his ear, you know, just everyday run of the mill activities. Point being, relationships are being dismantled into their individual components and outsourced, and it’s not just an Asian thing either; applications like Tindr and Grindr are already allowing potential users to reduce intimacy down to its lowest common denominator: ‘are you nearby and do you want to shag?’

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So where does Snapchat fit within all this? And more importantly, why do some very intelligent people believe it’s worth so much? Whilst Snapchat’s provenance was most likely contingent on the lack of secrecy within existing social media applications/networks, its continued success is more indicative of a paradigm shift within the broader socio-technological landscape (as alluded to by the Vice documentary). A zeitgeist characterised by dwindling marriage rates, disillusioned singletons, and a consumer driven porn industry – coupled with rapid internet connections and pocket-sized smartphones, has made for a colourful cocktail of salacious selfies and ‘filterfied’ phalluses.

The question of why Snapchat would be worth anything at all is nestled somewhere within the mishmash of sexual commodification and novelty that the app accommodates. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel recently told Forbes that he rejected Facebook’s $3 billion offer because he sensed “weakness and opportunity”. In lay terms that translates to, “Ok boys, we’ve got a couple million over-sexed teens and young adults at our fingertips, how do we make some ‘bread’ outta this mutha?” That question is still largely unanswered, but if they can figure out how to monetize this beast, then they’ll probably be getting Rands and the Nairas en masse, and that’s where the value lies, in its potential, not its current form.

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Here’s the wringer though – Snapchat’s recent security breach resulted in 4.6 million people’s private details being compromised. On top of that, it’s been discovered that Snapchat’s very raison d’etre  (keeping private photos, well…private), is in fact, not entirely true. Turns out those dodgy pics you thought would never see the light of day are in fact stored on the phone much like any other pic; they’re just harder to uncover, but still very much intact. And for the less technologically savvy, there’s always the good ol’ screenshot, which quite conveniently (if done correctly), can be executed without the sender even knowing.

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So, once we factor these little gems into the equation, what we have is an app whose unique selling point is contrary to its actual functionality – and rendering this safeguard void, turns a billion dollar app into a handicapped iteration of Whatsapp or BBM (on paper at least).

In reality, none of this matters, so long as people find gratification in sending pics of their junk to others, Snapchat will continue to grow, and so will the list of victims burned in the subsequent online genital fallout. I guess this post was more of an aimless rant than a cogent argument, but I kind of felt the need to try wrap my mind around how something so shitty could be worth so much. I suppose the old adage “sex sells” probably would have sufficed; alas, if I had to pitch Snapchat to a board of investors I’d probably start with:

Snapchat – cause there ain’t nuttin better than a close up of a choad.

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Now give me $4 billion dollars motherfu%kers.

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