I met Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel a few years ago in an interaction that went from polite to extremely awkward within a matter of minutes. It happened three years ago at a tech and social media party one block from the Santa Monica Pier. It was a gathering of who's who in tech and celebrity circles, with Mark Cuban and Morgan Spurlock also in attendance, and yet Spiegel and his Snapchat crew were the biggest stars there. And why not? Snapchat had finally broken through to the mainstream and was on a clear path to be the next great app.
So when I was offered an introduction to Spiegel that night I immediately said yes. I was ushered over to his part of the party at 41 Ocean Club, and we quickly exchanged pleasantries. I remarked on how much all of my friends loved his app. "Well, what about you?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't really use Snapchat. I have a steady girlfriend," I said.
"I don't understand," he quickly responded.
"Well, I don't really mind if she keeps my photos, if you know what I mean," I said, oblivious to how insulting this was to him.
"No, I don't. What are you saying?" Spiegel said as his eyes grew and his facial expression morphed into a look of obvious irritation.
You see, at the time, I and many others were under the impression that Snapchat was an app that was primarily used for sexting. An angry Spiegel thoroughly explained to me how wrong I was and how small a portion of Snapchat's activity was derived from sexting.
Now, three years later, Spiegel has apparently softened, at least a bit.
In the latest update to the social app, Snapchat has launched a new feature called Memories, which lets you save your old snaps on the startups' servers. With Memories, users can store their snaps in the cloud for safekeeping, future re-viewing and re-sharing -- which will surely be a big thing on #ThrowbackThursdays.
But within Memories, there is another sub-feature that lets you store certain snaps in an even more private fashion. That tool is called "My Eyes Only," and it keeps any sensitive snaps hidden away behind a pin-code lock. Think of it as your own digital safe for any pictures or videos you wouldn't want a friend using your phone to view Memories to suddenly stumble upon.
This feature has the potential to be used for all sorts of things. Need to write down a password or save a sensitive document? Just take a quick snap and store it in "My Eyes Only." But it's also clear that Snapchat made this tool with sexting specifically in mind. Watch the company's promo for Memories and pay close attention when it gets to the 30-second mark.
It's a snap a woman recorded that zooms in on her butt in a bikini. The implication of the video is that this is a snap meant for her boyfriend, herself and no one else, and after she accidentally flashes this to her parents, she quickly goes in and moves the snap to her private "My Eyes Only" safe. This is probably the only time we will ever see Snapchat come even remotely close to acknowledging that sometimes the app is indeed used for intimate messaging, and it's way overdue.
Spiegel was right that day I met (and offended) him. Indeed, Snapchat is much more than sexting. One of the bigger keys to Snapchat's success has been its ability to simply make social sharing a fun and silly experience. This is the reason why Snapchat is still growing and even beginning to lure in older users.
And yet, where would Snapchat be without sexting? Though that is just one of the many capabilities of the social app, no use of Snapchat was more important to the app's early success than the ability to send sexual photos and videos that disappeared from other users' devices within a matter of seconds.
As Spiegel rightly decided -- showing great judgment from his early days as CEO -- he was not going to let his app fall into the categories of "sex app," "mobile porn" or, far worse, "child pornography," but clearly, sexting was key to Snapchat's growth in those days. It's what literally made Snapchat a sexy app to write about, and it's the capability that brought about much of the media coverage that helped the Los Angeles company go mainstream.
At this point, there's no denying that Snapchat is overall just a great social media app, but it's nice to see the company finally acknowledge that it is also a pretty good tool for intimate sharing.