Will Poke Slay Snapchat?

In the wake of Poke’s release, Greylock’s Josh Elman tweeted:

“What is the last feature that Facebook copied and crushed competitor? Questions, Camera, Realtime stream? Bodes well for Snapchat”

My quick response to Josh was that the only immediate historical impact was a chilling of new entrants into that space – VC money tends to shy away and startups focus elsewhere. Partly because neither want to compete with Facebook’s distribution advantage but also because large companies can build these services as loss leaders, which leads to challenging business models for standalone players.

Historically though I’ve seen another dynamic to help discern whether something will become “just another feature” of Facebook versus something which can live semi-harmonious alongside Zuck’s machine: is the service an experience or utility? The distinction first struck me a few years back amid questions of whether Foursquare was going to survive the launch of Facebook Places. The tldr on my thinking was that if it’s just about posting lat/long to a social stream, then FB would win – location would be commodified. However I sensed there was an opportunity to create an experience out of geo, not just a status update, and Dennis + Co have certainly executed towards that.

With this new wave of ephemeral messaging, how should we view Poke vs Snapchat? Well, if self-destructing media is just an attribute of a communication you send to your existing graph using your real name, Facebook’s Poke, and other existing messaging services, will soon dominate.

However, if Snapchat isn’t just a cute take on SMS, but rather a new type of message that you want to send to a different set of connections (via real identity and/or pseudonyms), I don’t believe you can merely layer Poke on top of Messenger, and Snapchat will have a chance to grow to their natural market opportunity.

I actually haven’t used Snapchat enough in a true social environment to have an opinion yet, but my sense is there’s something more interesting going on here. And if that’s true, the “ha, Poke was built in just 12 days so Snapchat must be a goner” meme will be as silly as those folks who insist they could rewrite Instagram in a weekend. A fact which *might* be true but which misses the point.

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