Ghost in the machine: Snapchat isn’t mobile-first — it’s something else entirely


“Oh, you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark, I was born in it, molded by it.” — Bane

It’s tempting to think of Snapchat as a part of the app revolution, as one of the shining examples of mobile-first design that has defined our smartphone age.

This is of course true to an extent, but seeing Snapchat take its place at a consistent #1 or 2 in the US App Store alongside Facebook and Google’s main properties (and the other flavors of the week) somewhat obscures what is actually going on here.

Snapchat is not mobile-first, and it’s not really an app anymore. Nor is it a meta-app platform at this point like Facebook Messenger is angling to become (at least not yet)Snapchat is a true creature of mobile, a living, breathing embodiment of everything that our camera-enabled, networked pocket computer can possibly offer. And in its cooption of smartphones into a truesocial operating system, we see the inklings of what is beyond mobile.

When I open Snapchat up to the camera, I can’t shake the feeling that the ghost is banging on the glass, trying to break out into the world.


As we come up on year 8 of of the app economy, it’s absolutely remarkable to think about just how far we’ve come. Mobile has completely reshaped old industries, created new ones, and turned the entire computing world on its head.

Companies from all sectors have met their end (or become shells of their former selves) for failing to think “mobile-first” — a term coined by Luke Wroblewski that has defined the age as much as “lean” and “design-thinking.” Most consumer-facing and many B2B verticals are being driven by companies that have designed or adapted their customer experiences to fit a smartphone dominated world.

And yet — like all great waves in technology — the ground shifts beneath the feet of even those who have aligned themselves around the dominant ethos.

Peter Wagner and Martin Giles astutely wrote about these very rumblings last year in “Mobile First, But What’s Next?” They coined the term “authentically mobile” to distinguish services that not only are tailored for the mobile world, but who so thoroughly leverage the unique capabilities of mobile devices that they could literally not exist without them.

Where mobile-first companies take the new, portable form factor and riff on things that were more or less possible but limited in some way on the desktop, authentically mobile companies are truly creating experiences that would either be impossible or entirely meaningless without a networked supercomputer in our pockets.

A classic example of authentically mobile would be Uber, which without a location-enabled computing device always on our person (on both sides of the 2-sided marketplace), would almost certainly not exist. Wagner and Giles’ table here summarizes the shift:

Credit: Peter Wagner and Martin Giles

It’s clear that Snapchat is extremely well described by column #3 — particularly with regard to its emphasis on collection — and if there were a column #4, it would be straddling the lineThe “emphasis on collection” couldn’t describe Snapchat — an app which famously defaults to its camera — any more perfectly. CEO Evan Spiegel recently characterized Snapchat as primarily “a camera company.”

The Feed

No user-interface metaphor is as widely associated with the idea of “mobile first” design than the scrollable feed— whether it’s standard reverse chronology or algorithmically driven. One need only to observe people on public transit with their necks craned over their phones flicking up endlessly to feel just how pervasive feeds have become in our daily lives.

Outside of the big social players, the feed is found in countless other mobile apps ranging from productivity to personal finance. But although the smartphone form factor suits the feed incredibly well — from the focused screen size to the portability that has allowed content consumption to consume all the idle moments of our lives — it wasn’t born on mobile.

We began to see feeds everywhere towards the end of the desktop browser heyday, with the most important feed obviously being Facebook’s. In a way, Facebook made the browser wars irrelevant by essentially itself becoming the browser — the jumping off point for how we experienced the web. And despite intense skepticism from Wall Street, Facebook has been wildly successful in porting the News Feed over to mobile.

Adam Gale has a nice summary of just how handsomely this mobile bet has paid off for Facebook:

Indeed, Facebook (which includes WhatsApp and Instagram) is essentially a mobile company. Revenues on the platform jumped 70% year on year in the first quarter of 2016 (to $4.4bn, out of $5.4bn total revenues), having grown 82% the previous quarter. Mobile income now represents 82% of the business.

Just as Facebook was making this transition, and right when the iPhone’s camera gained the capability to take acceptable photos, a more pure, focused version of the Facebook News Feed emerged: Instagram. You post a few Instagram photos per week. Then you spend a lot of time scrolling through and looking at content, much like you would with the Facebook blue app. Instagram’s simple design, creative constraints and s̶u̶s̶p̶i̶c̶i̶o̶u̶s̶l̶y̶̶ consistently beautiful content make it a delightful mobile experience, and in many ways the crown jewel of Facebook’s attention empire.

Instagram is the pinnacle of Wagner & Giles’ “emphasis on presentation” hallmark of mobile-first. Instagram has long since eclipsed Facebook’s mindshare in the younger generation, and the acquisition has been hailed as one of the greatest in the history of technology. Facebook’s dominance over the feed metaphor is essentially complete and uncontested.

But we are beginning to see some cracks appear in both Facebook and Instagram. Earlier this year (ironically?) the Twittersphere was abuzz over a report in Bloomberg about sinking original (i.e. user generated) sharing on Facebook in what the company refers to internally as “context collapse.”

Anyone who has been on Facebook for long time probably didn’t need numbers to back up the general feeling that they and their friends weren’t posting big photo albums from the weekend’s events anymore, let alone sharing a cool song on someone else’s wall. VentureBeat reported around the same time that Instagram engagement had dropped a whopping 40% in 2015.

The Instagram numbers I take with a bit of a grain of salt as they don’t entirely pass the sniff test, but I think that while Instagram continues to grow (recently passed Twitter in a big way) and maintains a very privileged place in mediating our social hierarchies, people (especially young people) seem to be posting less frequently and are starting to spend their time elsewhere. It remains to be seen if Instagram’s algorithmic feed will fix this.

To be sure, Facebook and Instagram are still part of people’s hourly (ok — every 15 minutes) routine of “checking your phone,” but I don’t think anyone can deny that their apparent evolution into more passive consumption experiences doesn’t raise a few red flags.

Physics — back to the “now”

So what exactly is going on here? The numbers support the idea that Facebook and Instagram are wobbling a little in the US, and I think it’s reasonable to look at Snapchat’s continued explosive growth in users & engagement as one of the causes.

But why exactly are the two scions of the feed and the lynchpins of a mobile-first empire seemingly struggling to drive people to share their lives? Perhaps the task of constantly manicuring a persistent online identity — of carefully considering what effect your digital exhaust will have on your ego — is beginning to weigh on people. Both Facebook and Instagram are supposed to be arenas for the best version of yourself, and with each post you are putting something out into the ether to be judged both now and forever.

Mark Zuckerberg is famous for his extreme views on the singularity and persistence of our identity, going so far as to say that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Consuming the feed exacerbates some of our darker insecurities which, in turn, put a ton of pressure on our contributions to it.

As everyone with a mom who made the family stop for a picture at every turn while on vacation can attest to, the urge to photograph all of the best moments of our lives is nothing new, but social media has turned this up to a fever pitch such that if it’s not posted, a moment might as well have not happened.

Before joining Snapchat as a researcher in 2013, Nathan Jurgenson wrote an essay called “Pics and It Didn’t Happen” that sheds some light on the chickens that are finally coming home to roost. He begins one of the most poignant sections here with a quote from Susan Sontag:

As Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography,

there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.

Sontag notes that this makes for a nostalgic gaze, an understanding of the world as primarily documentable. For those who live with status updates, check-ins, likes, retweets, and ubiquitous photography, such an understanding is near inescapable. Social media have invited users to adopt a sort of documentary vision, through which the present is always apprehended as a potential past. This is most triumphantly exemplified by Instagram’s faux-vintage filters.

I don’t think it’s so much the simultaneous massaging and crushing of our egos that is weighing on the mobile-first giants of the feed. Snapchat Stories certainly have a component of performance and voyeurism that probably never goes away in social.

Rather, as we drown in an over-abundance of content destined for archive that has lost its meaning, the immediacy and intimacy of those platforms like Snapchat and plain old messaging have given us an island of engagement with the present moment.

Jurgenson absolutely nails it when he sayBy being quick, the temporary photograph is a tiny protest against time. In contrast, the feeds are crushing in their insistence that we are constantly living to relive the past.

The ghost in the machine — a sign of what’s to come

Countless people have observed (and often lamented) Snapchat’s “bad UX/UI” according to generally accepted design practices on mobile. Where “good design” calls for feature discoverability, Snapchat does almost no hand holding for new users and buries features behind complex gestures and unintuitively placed screens. From pressing on Discover stories to compose a snap to share + markup the content, to double filters (hold the first down and then keep swiping through)Snapchat is at once one of the simplest apps of its stature in the world and one of the hardest to learn.

Importantly though, it’s not really the UI that is the “hard” part about learning Snapchat (many have overstated the role of this feature bamboozling in keeping out “the olds”). Rather, the ambiguity around what Snapchat “is” and “what it’s for” is primarily responsible for the incredulity of onlookers and the so-called steep learning curve.

Beyond the visual design practices that have defined the smartphone era, perhaps an even more overarching principle that has guided the critique of mobile apps has been the idea of a core “problem” to be solved, a single organizing principle around which users can rally. Reminiscent of the early days of Twitter, Snapchat has faced questions about what it’s core use case is, but unlike Twitter which has arguably been consumed by this dilemma, Snapchat has embraced the ambiguity and essentially responded with 👻.

Snapchat is very difficult to understand, even for those who use it regularly and think about it until their head hurts. The tangible reasons for its incredible success are numerous, overlapping and, at the end of the day, inadequate when compared to the actual feeling and experience of using it.

An interview Evan Spiegel gave to The Verge back in 2013 for the launch of Stories gives one of the best lenses (no pun intended) through which to understand what Snapchat is and what it was about to become. He said, describing the new feature:

When you have a minute in your day and are curious about what your friends are up to, you can jump into their experience. The last snap today will also be the beginning of tomorrow so there’s no pressure to compose a narrative. There’s this weird thing that happens when you contribute something to a static profile. You have to worry about how this new content fits in with your online persona that’s supposed to be you. It’s uncomfortable and unfortunate.

Jumping into their experience,” I think is probably the closest thing I’ve heard to a unified theory of what Snapchat is. It connotes an active give and take between friends (and more recently, influencers). It foreshadows theimportance of the doodles, stickers and filters that have come to define much of Snapchat, which are more about giving us an excuse to share anything — profound or mundane— than posing for an eternal self portrait. It’s something that only really works when the capture and consumption device are the same, and where the output — vertical photos/videos — fully immerses you in each experience shared with you.

And like all real experiences, these shared “jumpings” are fleeting. We can put a different persona on (with face filters, now literally) each moment and be reborn the next. Snapchat itself feels like it’s constantly pulsing like one of those time lapse videos of cars and city lights. We all go “there” when we get a peek into each other’s lives, but really there’s no there, there.

In this way, Snapchat the “place” is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The “app” lives as much in our own mind and habits— the latent potential of any moment to be instantly shared, experienced together, and forgotten — as it does on Snapchat’s serversRather than looking at the inherent ephemerality of life as a bug like some of its competitors, Snapchat sees it unequivocally as a feature. Without this impermanence, Snapchat would feel like surveillance. Instead, it feels more like teleportation — somehow allowing us to be together when we’re apart.

It’s no surprise that even as Snapchat remains a fraction of Facebook’s size, it has nearly caught the blue giant in terms of photos shared daily. Ben Thompson had a great piece where he posited that tech markets all seem to have a “phonebook” and a “phone” — the phonebook being the grand directory of both people and content, and the phone as the go-to place for actively connecting with the most important people in our lives. In the US, he stated the obvious: Facebook is the phonebook, and Snapchat is increasingly becoming the phone.

This might appear to be a stable stalemate, but I pose the question in light of Facebook’s frantic attempts to get Messenger to catch on in the US: how long can the phonebook live without the phone? Much like Facebook became the browser on the desktop and took its momentum into the mobile-first world, I think we should expect authentically mobile Snapchat to parlay its takeover of the phone into whatever comes next.

Update 6/30: Two interesting new stories I felt I should include here as an addendum

Originally published on Medium

What do we mean when we say bots solve the discovery problem?

Much of the early excitement around bots has been predicated not just upon the idea that developers and businesses have a problem reaching new customers via apps, but also that the end user has the problem of finding new apps to download. So enter the dream of bots: a frictionless way to message a service inside an app you’re already using where you can easily install software without really having to do much. Installing new apps becomes trivial and the status-quo preserving gatekeepers of the App Store / Play store are bypassed. Discovery problem solved. Bango.

There’s a pretty obvious problem here: outside of the tech early adopter community (and honestly, even within it), users don’t have the “problem” of not being able to find new apps and easily install themThey might have the problem of finding accurate weather info in a new city and search the app store, but that presupposes a high level of intent and awareness. It requires that the user has some idea that there’s a solution to this problem in an app store.

Launching a new social app, marketplace or even niche productivity tool is hard not simply because the person has to download an app, install it and enter their iTunes password. It’s hard because you need to get people to care about problems for which they don’t know there is a solution, or even problems that they may not know they have. You need to find a way to get to them, whether it’s through word of mouth, paid search or social. The app store is simply not enough because categories that the user knows to search for on the app store have already been well served by existing players.

We’ve all heard it, and sometimes it can sting for people in the startup world to be reminded of this but: users simply don’t need another app. The “problem” here for users is basically nonexistent, and the problem for developers is less app discovery than it is awareness and creating a relationship with the customer that doesn’t start with the Top 150 list on the App Store.

So bots are screwed, right? Most of the bots out there are pretty dumb and unpolished, and their stumbles have been roundly ridiculed in screenshots on social media. All this hype from techies, VCs and Facebook is predictably misplaced shiny object chasing, and it’s another example of Silicon Valley trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist with cool technology. The doubters may very well turn out to be right, and I do think that bots are decently overhyped (which is not a very original view, and I don’t pat myself on the back for holding it 🐸☕️). But there are the seeds of new, novel and powerful use cases in the ashes of this narrative, and I actually think the biggest impact of chatbots in consumer will stem from bringing services and intelligent agents into users’ conversations with their friends. This looks to be missing from Facebook’s current Messenger Platform iteration, but I have no doubt that we will someday soon see gain the ability to add a bot to a Messenger chat of any size and interact with it together.

If the bot store migrated into the share sheet, users could explicitly share services for their friends to interact with on a demo basis and potentially add to their own Facebook contact book. Most successful new apps (and especially ones that need to build a graph and achieve network-effect critical mass) are very much spread at the beginning by a core evangelist in each group of friends who loves the product (or the idea of the product), and who persuades their friends to join them in using it. The potential to remove those barriers for that kind of user, by arming them with a proposition to their friends to try something without having to download or sign up for anything, shouldn’t be overlooked.

Services delivered via bots could actually indirectly solve for “discovery” in this sense. Supercharging word of mouth and helping power users convert their friends might prove to be very powerful advantages for services delivered via bots. But an even more exciting implication of mixed chats between friends and bots is the potential for truly multiplayer experiences inside of Messenger et al. You could imagine a digital bartender bot could take a group’s order for the night and fulfill it with a delivery service. Or maybe a group gift shopping tool that let users view a carousel of potential outfits to discuss, vote on and ultimately purchase. Perhaps none of these “going out” apps haven’t taken off because they actually just belonged inside of a rich conversation between friends and a robot ticket agent.

Much of our economic lives are social, and our social lives have a huge economic component to it. We constantly make group decisions on what to do, where to go, what to buy. Don’t be surprised if conversational commerce turns out to be as much about commerce weaved into our existing conversations as it is about texting a computer.

Originally published on Medium

Sharing my tribe: introducing flock for Twitter

Find, follow and create playlists of awesome people on Twitter

Not so long ago I wrote about finding my tribe on Twitter, and how the people I met there changed my life for the better in more ways than I can name.

But the fact remains that new users face a steep learning curve and have trouble finding people to follow, the very people that make Twitter such a magical place for devoted users. Curating a great Twitter feed is a real chore, and most of us power users are always tweaking and refining the people we follow in order to “tune in” to the perfect stream of information. Think about how hard it is for power users to find new accounts to follow, and now magnify that problem by 100x for new users. Pretty overwhelming.

It happens that my buddy Zach recently came to me with an idea for a hack project: user-generated Twitter lists that you could follow in one tap. I instantly loved it. A curated primer for building a good Twitter timeline out of people relevant to you and your interests, leveraging the only way I know of to reliabily find awesome new users to follow: other people. A little bit of help building & tending to your flock on Twitter.

For example, a list could be something like:

  • Brave foreign journalists
  • Standup Comedian Twitter Addicts
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Up-and-coming entrepreneurs

So that’s how our little experiment was born. We hope you like it, and we’d love your feedback on how to make it better.

You can sign into flock with Twitter and start creating, discovering and following lists here.

— @basche42 & @zreitano

*UPDATE 12/22* Looks like our write access to Twitter’s API has been revoked. We’re seeing if we can get this resolved and apologize for the inconvenience.

We believe that user-curated lists, especially as we build features like upvoting & user-submitted suggestions to lists, should be follow-able for users new and old in one simple tap.

We love Twitter. We want people to be able to get to that magic moment sooner and join us in the Twittersphere.

Originally published on Medium

Fuck Patience

“If you want your fucking rock to move you have to push it yourself.” — Meredith Perry

They say patience is a virtue, and in a lot of ways they’re right. Patience about life, about finding out who you are, and about meeting people you connect with — that’s the only tried and true method for riding the waves. Being present & patient with yourself is essential.

But at the same time don’t be patient about the world. Don’t be patient about things that are broken.

Now is such an amazing time to be alive because people all over the world are encountering obsolete, inefficient and unfair systems and for the first time ever are empowered to change things themselves. From the tech startup boom, to the slow but steady growth of online activism and civic organizing, we’re seeing a righteous impatience take hold, and an accompanying acceleration of the pace of change.

Button mashing on an automated phone answering system in order to get a person is not the future. We should not be patient with our antiquated financial system — whose byzantine model inconveniences all & disproportionately burdens the poor. A healthcare system with spiraling costs, unequal access & suffocating bureaucracy should not be accepted. We should not wait for racial justice. From traffic & drunk driving deaths to predatory lending, we do not have to sit back and let change occur gradually. We can do something about it right now.

People will always say things can’t be done. That there are fundamental, structural forces that keep things working the way they are now. Experts will call a paradigm shift impossible up until the day that it occurs. But progress progresses in spite of this ossification of imagination. The arc of the universe is at play, the forward arrow of evolution is at work.

So fuck patience because change takes time, but not as much time as it used to.

Anyone can start tomorrow.

Originally published on Medium

Finding my tribe: a love letter to Twitter

I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then one day, I got in.

– Tron: Legacy

Dear Twitter,

We’ve heard a lot about what you’re doing wrong over the last year. Everyone knows that Twitter has a problem attracting everyday users, that the value proposition is not (and has never been) clear, and that the setup and fine curation of a Twitter feed is more trouble than it’s worth for most people. These things are pretty obvious, and I think you have taken some great steps to address them.

But I want to take a little different tack here by telling my own story as a true power user of Twitter, and as someone who’s life has been changed for the better because of it. I want to dig into the essence of why Twitter has been such a profoundly formative & positive influence for an extreme case like me. Maybe I can shed some light on a universal nugget that lies at the heart of Twitter.

I’m a bit weird. I work in technology, but you also might say that’s where I play. The things that I think about during the day are the things I think about at night when I’m off the clock. Even in a booming industry like tech with so much optimism, it can be hard to find people as crazy obssesed as I am, who are perfectly willing to argue about native apps vs. HTML5 for an hour at the bar. It can be hard to find kindred spirits for me, to find other people who are so interested in it all. I found some friends like this in college, but that was really a function of where I was at that time. What Twitter has done for me is help me find my tribe, and find them all around the world.

The people that I’ve met on Twitter have — directly or indirectly — taught me more in the past 2 years than I learned at high school and college combined. I get to go back and forth with scientists, entrepreneurs, brilliant designers and programmers, spiritual seekers and politics junkies, and just all around fellow geeks. My tribe evolved organically, one @reply argument here, one retweet there. I’ve met some lifetime friends on Twitter, some of whom I might work for, start a project with, or go to Mars with. And I know I wouldn’t have met them otherwise.

When I open my Twitter app out of habit, there’s an element dopamine seeking kicking in because I’m addicted to my phone just like everyone else. But what I’m really doing when I open Twitter is reaching out and touching pure information as it flows throughout our global consciousness. Our interest graphs cross pollenate with each other, and people go head to head in an open arena of expression. Sometimes it’s not pretty. But out of that chaos comes something very special. You can see ideas rise and fall on Twitter. And despite all the bickering, people’s minds are changed and hearts are softened everyday there.

Thinking about it as just a place to share and discover content, to follow live events, or have a second-screen experience for TV only gives you part of the pictureTwitter allows people to love the things they love even more by experiencing them together. It’s a place for passion. It’s a place where interests and ideas are the centerpiece, but where people are the soul, and as the stewards of it I hope you don’t forget that.

I grew up on AIM and Facebook, but I found myself on Twitter. I came to it at a point in my life when I was checking out different jobs and cities, trying to figure out just who I was & where the other weird people were. And it eventually dawned on me that they are everywhere. That’s why Twitter is so important to me.

Don’t fuck it up.


Originally published on Medium

The pregame is the party: Silicon Valley’s war for your night out

Tech in nightlife isn’t a new phenomenon — from Ticketmaster to Tablelist — we’ve used technology to make our night out better ever since the dawn of the internet. This previously analog industry has done a great job of digitizing, with sophisticated point-of-sale, ticketing and logistics solutions widely available to venues. But even as mobile reshapes vertical after vertical, we continue to see a lot of the same good(!) ideas around what should be next in nightlife tech — on-demand bottle reservations, exclusive deals, location-based social networking — without the kind of explosive growth & mainstream tech brand that we’ve seen elsewhere.

The technical capabilities are absolutely there, and from a culture standpoint, Tinder has successfuly introduced the concept of using an app to plan your night out (even if that night is just date night for now). So why aren’t our great techie ideas for going out catching on? I think the absence of an Uber or even Tinder-caliber success in the vertical betrays this simple fact: nobody has really addressed the keystone job-to-be-done, nobody has solved the right problem.

That’s because getting together is what matters. It’s the apartment rager, the drunk brunch, the Wednesday night dinner and the Sunday evening Thrones watchfest that truly define our friendships. It’s all of the stuff in-between Coachella or a crazy night out in NYC’s meatpacking district that make our lives really worth living. Most of the nightlife apps completely forget this, and skip right to selling you a bottle of Grey Goose. Being presented an awesome nearby concert or a hot nightclub is little use when you’re not sure who you’d bring. The true opportunity here is to help friends coordinate and get together when they otherwise might not have, to connect people that want to go out but don’t have specific plans yet. The app I’m describing will simply help you meet up with friends in the first place. When everyone’s together, the question changes from “what do I do tonight?” and becomes “where to?” In a way, the pregame is the party.

Much of the nightlife tech space is distracted by selling expensive stuff like bottle service & concert tickets, but there are some companies that are on the right track. Danny Trinh’s “Free” app — a twist on Yo’s one-bit communication model — is a very cool attempt at attacking this problem space. Inspired by the AIM away messages of a bygone era, Free lets you set a very simple availability status for yourself, see which friends are also free, & chat with them to coordinate something to do. Through design (Going out, flexible, busy options are somehow less intimidating than a blank News Feed post), Free is looking to reduce the stigma around putting yourself out there when you’re interested in going out but have no plans.

But it’s an app called Wigo, founded in 2014 at Holy Cross, that I think has come closest to the holy grail by starting with the question: who’s going out? The app lets students post “events” that are coming up (along with details) and people can RSVP, view attendees, and post photos related to the event. While it sounds an awful lot like an unbundled version of Facebook events, Wigo has been on a tear over the past year at college campuses. Students are using it to plan their weekends, connect with their campus, and branch out from their core friend group. Many of the same high-minded ideas like a news feed of upcoming events that have been unsuccessfully bouncing around the space are finally coming to fruition, and it’s working because the guest lists are actually filled to the brim with your real friends. Wigo has even managed to get kids from campuses around the country to pre-register for the app and beg the company on Twitter to unlock it at their school. With the classic college takeover strategy and a seasonal experiment (Wigo Summer) with non-affiliated local events, Wigo seems like it really has a shot at making itself a regular habit in the lives of our generation.

Ultimately, the solution to this problem will involve, and yet not revolve around, shiny, concierge nightlife experiences at upscale venues like you can find on Tablelist. The winning app may eventually be able to tell you what parties & venues are “hot” around you, but the primary value proposition will not be such a heat map. You’ll be able to meet new people as a byproduct of this service, but it won’t be explicitly about making new friends. The app will likely direct you to relevant deals on nearby events (like Flux) & will help you and your friends split the bar tab (like Flowtab & Wingman) but the category-defining app will not start out as a tool to do any of that. The technology-enabled nightlife experience of the future won’t be what we all thought it would be, but it will rhyme.

Bringing people together is the hard part. Figuring out exactly which model (events vs. status based? both?), design language & product positioning will both bring people out of their shells & protect their egos is a very tall order (Tinder, anyone?). But once this nut has been cracked, the awesome ideas in nightlife tech that I mentioned earlier — bottle service, drink specials, event tickets, heat maps — all of this stuff will be set in motion. The coordination of people is the point of leverage here, putting the winner in a position to monetize via building or partnering to solve these other complimentary problems. In fact, Wigo CEO Ben Kaplan, when asked about Wigo’s monetization strategy in an interview, said that they’d be looking into partnering with nearby venues in the future where their users can take the party. Likewise, it’s not hard to imagine a button to order a 30-pack of beer (courtesy of the Drizly API) inside the Free app. If an app like this really lives up to its potential, it will expand the market for these nightlife related purchases, not simply capture and monetize them. Less nights of FOMO and Netflix -> more nights out. It’s simply more natural for an app that is frequently used to coordinate hanging out to add one or more of these commerce options (booze, tickets, etc) than it is for one of those commerce apps to add an “invite your friends” button at the end of the checkout flow. This directionality is important. It hints at the fact that we have the spokes, but are missing the hub.

The inventions in mobile nightlife tech that have been popping up over the past few years are poised to take off, just not in a vacuum & not by themselves. There will be some dominant experience around which these other components will orbit, and through becoming the default online means by which people get together offline, this app will secure its place in the center of the nightlife solar system.

Originally published on Medium

From the Uber-Spotify Partnership to Drizly’s API: The Rise of the Remix Economy

People love their favorite brands, including in tech. Facebook, early on in mobile, capitalized on their network and brand equity in order to provide a login service to developers that both enhanced user trust and reduced onboarding friction. And while today many app developers have begun to eschew Facebook Connect in favor of other keychaining options (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram) or simply using the address book graph/usernames, the appearance of a third-party brand alongside third-party code in marquee consumer apps is becoming more common, not less. At the risk of ironically borrowing from other various themes/theories around collaborative creation, I’ll dub this trend the “remix economy.”

Partnerships have always been a crucial part of strategy in business, and in technology it’s been no different — from open source software projects to channel relationships and everything in between. APIs themselves are also not new — and ever since early pioneers like Ebay and brought web APIs into the main, they have exploded in popularity and become integral to the strategy of many tech companies. I think this poignant excerpt from a blog post on enterprises joining the API economy applies just as well to consumer apps leveraging each other’s strengths:

Third-party developers are the creative x-factors who will drive your brand into the innumerous niches in which your modern customer segment lives. They are the people who will mix and remix your corporate assets together with those of others to create unique, multidimensional experiences. These novel applications and ideas, which would never be conceived in a corporate boardroom, are precisely what will drive surprising new sources of value for your company and give you access to your competitor’s lunchbox.

But lately API integrations — especially in mobile and consumer web — are becoming increasingly more public-facing and central to developing a brand and user experience. Take the Spotify-Uber partnership announced recently.

“Spotify your Uber” is how Uber’s website characterizes the new integration

It’s nothing technically mindblowing — Uber allows you to link a Spotify account to your Uber account, and allows your playlists to be pushed to the driver’s stereo-controlling phone in the car. But the seamless integration delivers not just a delightful listening experience (okay — at least for the passengers), but also a juxtaposition of two wildly popular brands — Spotify and Uber. It’s almost like when you find out two of your favorite actors are actually buddies in real life. When I open the Uber app and see that — “hey! my Spotify is here too,” I get that uncanny feeling of everything being in the right place. Uber’s own API looks poised to provide a similar value-add experience but for transportation in other apps.

Another great example of this ethos is Snapcash — the new Snapchat feature that leverages Square Cash in order to facilitate peer-to-peer payments seamlessly within the app. Payments in a messaging app are nothing new, especially for Asian companies like Snapchat investor and WeChat owner Tencent. But I do think it is telling that Snapchat chose not to roll its own payment solution and elected instead to leverage the existing brand and technology of Square. This is not only a nod to specialization — Square’s business is building payment solutions while Snapchat’s is building a socialization platform — but also to a mutually beneficial brand relationship where each partner’s strengths are partially conferred by association to the other. Snapchat brings an element of hipness and pop culture relevancy to Square, who in turn blesses the Snapchat platform with its payment & commerce chops.

Snapcash demo on Android

I think this colorful exchange between Jack Dorsey and Evan Spiegel regarding the integration really captures the spirit behind this deal. It’s a great example of tech leaders acting like the DJ’s of their own brand experiences: remixing, collaborating and fine tuning not only their final product but how their product fits into the constellation of other services users love.

Lets move to the immediate inspiration for this piece: today’s announcement by Drizly that they will be making their alcohol delivery service available for developers to integrate into their own apps via API. In addition to launch partners such as Miller and Swarm, the API will allow a wave of apps to be enhanced, and perhaps even built, with a co-branded, local alcohol delivery component. In the article above, BostInno mentions a whiskey recommendation app called Distiller. Users will be able to purchase whisky from Drizly right inside their Distiller app, and it’s not hard to come up with a few other uses for this right off the top of your head. Not only do these apps and liquor brands benefit from the technical/logistical heavy lifting that Drizly makes available to them via API, they also can leverage Drizly’s growing but trusted brand among millennials as a cool, upcoming service that many have heard about (if not tried themselves). Launching with Foursquare’s Swarm as a partner really emphasizes the versatility of a platform like this and shows how through one of these “remixes,” social apps and beyond will be able to cleverly integrate e-commerce + more into their apps by partnering up.

When things like this are done well, I get a weird feeling of satisfaction. I get the sense that my mobile experience is evolving into something richer and more personally rewarding as my favorite cloud services and apps begin to “play nice” together. Both self-service API implementations and those borne from coordination behind closed doors are making our apps better and more useful. There are other adjacent trends here at work; the rise of platforms like Stripe for payments and Twilio SMS — along with newcomers like Dispatch for on-demand services (for whom I did some work recently) — has begun to change the way applications are developed. But I think that these brand-level partnerships and app remixes will are becoming increasingly more important and visible to the end-user, and ultimately will change how these companies are grown and marketed in addition to how they function. If I’m right, larger (or more greedy) companies in consumer tech that wish to control everything and “take their ball and go home” will find themselves short not just on friends but also on fans in the long-run.

Originally published on Medium