You Are The Emoticon: Mobile (And Our Kids) Will Help Us Reimagine Social Networking

Three. That is how many billions of dollars Mark Zuckerberg offered to buy the hottest messaging chat app that is now way cooler with the kids than Facebook, Snapchat. The Wall Street Journal reports that the 23-year-old founder of the disposable messaging company has been convinced he can do better with another round of funding.

Tencent Holdings of China is proposing investment levels that would value Snapchat at $4 billion. The Journal reports that this is the second time Facebook approached Snapchat. In the first pass, it offered over the $1 billion price tag it paid for the last big hot thing, Instagram.

Talk about the accelerated cycles of digital media. How did cool kid Facebook so quickly become deep-pocketed, long-toothed sugar-daddy trying to buy it some youth with a trophy spouse? But so it goes. Facebook has no other choice than to chase the cool as its network matures, literally and figuratively.

Argue all you like about the sustainability of Facebook and how it retains scale despite its loss of the cool factor. This is a business that played the cool game and needs to keep it up. It is sort of like Hugh Hefner who was allowed to grow old but needed to act young to keep up the brand. Remember when Penthouse threatened the Playboy empire in the 1970s so it spun off Oui magazine? It is kind of like that.

But it's not that Facebook has to keep buying cool. There is an interesting evolution going on in youthful users of social media. They themselves are discovering its up and down sides and gravitating toward startups that address some of the tiresome aspects of the first mobile networks.

My daughter, for instance, dumped Facebook altogether a long while ago because of flame wars and hurt feelings that seemed to come from people oversharing. It turns out that with a text-bound social network, it is hard to control who sees what conversations gets dicey as the conversations become more serious and intimate. Apparently Zuckerberg is following her. Instagram was her antidote. It was all visual and it encouraged inspirational postings rather than drama. While that social net also has matured into a diversity of expressiveness, the reflex to post on Instagram, I think, tends to be positive.

The need to control and contain conversations appears to be behind her and her friends’ embrace of Snapchat. But the way she describes it, Snapchat is being used as a conversational evolution of Instagram.

“I use Snapchat mostly to send pictures of ridiculous things I see or do around campus to a multitude of friends at once. For example, when I’m doing something interesting in a lab in class or a friend is doing something funny, I take a snap and send it out. Most of the time the responses are my friends’ facial expressions to what I sent them with a clever caption.”

She says that it is seen by her peers as a form of social networking that still doesn’t replace text. It is limited in its range, but it speaks to just how visually oriented her generation and its signature gadget have become. “I like that you can draw on the photos and send as well.” She even describes “snap battles” in which friends are competing to capture other people in the act of snapchatting.

A few things come to mind here. First, the sheer creativity with which the audience creates modes of communications out of these technologies is dazzling and humbling. But it is also impressive to see how these social networkers craft new languages out of the technologies at hand. We old farts look at the explosion of selfie photos as somehow shallow and narcissistic. Actually, via Snapchat these chatters are using the selfies as a language -- means of selfie-expression if you will.

Not surprisingly, at least one company is making the selfie the medium. Launched yesterday with financial support by Selfie-in-chief Justin Bierber, Shots of Me actually helps make my point about new social networks evolving out of frustrations with predecessors. The founders of this app promise selfie posting without the “drama,” because it doesn’t permit comments. Posters post their mood and a comment of their own but don’t have to withstand the snark. I guess the model here is that you are the emoticon now, and the emoticon is the message, not the punctuation.

A lot of the activity once poured into text and Facebook is now being focused on the ephemeral snaps bandied among her and her friends. Again, this strikes me as an audience coming to a more sophisticated understanding of the up sides and down sides of social networks and how they have been constructed. It also suggests that Facebook and other social nets need to focus as much as much on their basic social dynamics as they do on the ad models. 

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1 comment about "You Are The Emoticon: Mobile (And Our Kids) Will Help Us Reimagine Social Networking".
  1. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , November 15, 2013 at 5:43 a.m.
    Ephemeral? I think you mean *private*. This indicates a big problem for the older social networks which rely on over-sharing to build their graphs.