Snapchat is an image messaging and multimedia mobile application created by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown[4] when they were students at Stanford University. The company headquarters are located in Venice, California.[5][6][7][8]


The prototype for Snapchat was started by Brown and Spiegel as a project for one of Spiegel's classes at Stanford, where Spiegel was a product design major. Beginning under the name "Picaboo", the idea was for users to communicate using images that were explicitly short-lived. When, in April 2011, Spiegel floated the product idea in front of his class as a final project, the classmates balked at the thought of temporary photos.[8][9] Murphy was eventually brought into the project to write the source code for the application, and Picaboo first launched as an iOS-only app in July 2011 from Evan Spiegel's living room (who was still staying at home with his father when not away at school). The application was relaunched two months later under the name Snapchat.[8][9][10][11]


Snapchat evolved into a mix of private messaging and public content, including brand networks, publications, and live events such as sports and music. Nevertheless, according to survey studies conducted in March 2016, the personal oriented messaging was still being accessed by users more than the publicly offered content that was being presented. 71% of users surveyed said that they preferred the app for its chat, messaging, and imaging services, versus 5% who almost exclusively chose the various events, brand features, and celebrity content on a daily basis. 24% responded that they accessed all features equally. However, about three quarters of those surveyed were also familiar with the brand content and had a favorable opinion of those areas.[12]





According to documents and deposition statements, Reggie Brown brought the idea for a disappearing pictures app to Evan Spiegel because Spiegel had prior business experience. Brown and Spiegel then pulled in Bobby Murphy, who had experience coding. The three worked closely together for several months, straight through the initial product release, until Spiegel and Murphy decided to deny Brown further access a few weeks before relaunching the app as Snapchat.[13]


Early on, the Snapchat team focused on usability and technical aspects, rather than branding efforts.[9] An exception was the decision to keep a mascot designed by Brown, "Ghostface Chillah", named after Ghostface Killah of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.[9][14]


On May 8, 2012, Reggie Brown sent an email to Evan Spiegel during their senior year at Stanford in which he offered to sell any former stake he'd had in the original product. Lawyers for Snapchat responded by insisting that he had never had any creative connection to the company. The attorneys also accused Brown of committing fraud against Spiegel and Murphy by falsely claiming to be a product inventor. On behalf of their clients, the law firm concluded that Brown had made no contributions of value or worth, and was therefore entitled to a share of nothing.[15]


In their first blog post, dated May 9, 2012, CEO Evan Spiegel described the company mission: "Snapchat isn't about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It's about communicating with the full range of human emotion—not just what appears to be pretty or perfect."[16] They present Snapchat as the solution to stresses caused by the longevity of personal information on social media, evidenced by "emergency detagging of Facebook photos before job interviews and photoshopping blemishes out of candid shots before they hit the internet".[16]


In May 2012, 25 images were being sent per second[17] and, as of November 28, 2012, users had shared over one billion photos on the Snapchat iOS app, with 20 million photos being shared per day.[17][18] In November 2012, Spiegel cited problems with userbase scalability as the reason why Snapchat was experiencing some difficulties delivering its images, known as "snaps", in real time.[17] Snapchat was released as an Android app on October 29, 2012.[17]


In December 2012, Snapchat added the ability to send video snaps in addition to photos. By holding down on the photo button while inside the app, a video of up to 10 seconds in length can be captured. After a single viewing, the video disappears by default. Spiegel explained that this process allowed the video data to be compressed into the size of a photo.[19]


In February 2013, Reggie Brown sued chief executive officer Evan Spiegel and chief technical officer Bobby Murphy. Brown said that he had once been the chief marketing officer. Brown also claimed that he had come up with the original concept, which he had called Picaboo, and that he had created the mascot logo for the product. Originally titled Toyopa Group, LLC, Brown said that he had named the newly formed company as well. Brown's lawyers offered documentation of a collaboration with Spiegel and Murphy, but Snapchat described the lawsuit as meritless and called Brown's tactics a shakedown. During April's depositions, Brown testified that he had believed he was an equal partner, and that he had agreed to share costs and profits. Spiegel instead described Brown as an unpaid intern who had been provided valuable experience, and although Murphy claimed that he had not fully understood what Brown's role was supposed to have been, he too characterized Brown's involvement as having been that of an internship. Months later, Spiegel dismissed the lawsuit as an example of opportunists who seek out rapidly successful companies in an attempt "to also profit from the hard work of others".[20][21][22][23][24][25]


In June 2013, Snapchat version 5.0, dubbed "Banquo", was released for iOS. The updated version introduced several speed and design enhancements, including swipe navigation, double-tap to reply, an improved friend finder, and in-app profiles.[26] The name is a reference to the ghostly hero from Shakespeare's Macbeth, a character in the play who is ultimately seen to be victorious over evil.[27] Also in June 2013, Snapchat introduced Snapkidz for users under 13 years of age. Snapkidz was part of the original Snapchat application and was activated when the user provided a date of birth to verify his/her age. Snapkidz allowed children to take snaps and draw on them, but they could not send snaps to other users and could only save snaps locally on the device being used.[28]


In October 2013, Snapchat introduced the "My Story" feature, which allows users to compile snaps into chronological storylines, accessible to all of their friends.[29] In December 2013, Emily White, who had formally been a high-profile executive with Facebook, Instagram, and Google, was hired as chief operating officer for Snapchat. Her tenure with the company ended in March 2015.[30]


On May 1, 2014, the ability to communicate via video chat was added. Direct messaging features were also included in the update, allowing users to send ephemeral text messages to friends and family while saving any needed information by clicking on it.[31]


On September 9, 2014, Snapchat's owners announced that they had settled the lawsuit filed by fellow student and former friend Reggie Brown for an undisclosed amount. As part of the settlement, they credited Brown with the conceptual idea for Snapchat.[32] The press release published by Snapchat's communication department quoted Spiegel:

"We are pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter in a manner that is satisfactory to Mr. Brown and the Company. We acknowledge Reggie's contribution to the creation of Snapchat and appreciate his work in getting the application off the ground."[32]

In 2015, Snapchat acquired the start-up Looksery, an app which allows users to alter video images of themselves by utilizing specific photoshopping graphics.[4] According to Snapchat's published statistics, as of May 2015, the app's users were sending 2 billion videos per day, reaching 6 billion by November.[4] By 2016, Snapchat had hit 10 billion daily video views.[4]

In May 2016, the company leased 79,000 square feet of office space available at the Santa Monica airport to be used for at least five years.[4] Also in May 2016, Snapchat raised $ 1.81 billion in equity offering, suggesting strong investor interest in the company.[4] By May 31, 2016, the ephemeral messaging app had achieved almost 10 million daily active users in the United Kingdom.[4]


Core functionality

Snapchat is primarily used for creating multimedia messages referred to as "snaps"; snaps can consist of a photo or a short video, and can be edited to include filters and effects, text captions, and drawings.[39][4] A feature known as "Geofilters" was added in July 2014, which allows special graphical overlays to be available if the user is within a certain geographical location, such as a city, event, or destination.[41][42] The "Lens" feature, introduced in September 2015, allows users to add real-time effects into their snaps by using face detection technology which is activated by long-pressing on a face within the viewfinder.[5]


Snaps can be directed privately to selected contacts, or to a semi-public "Story".[29] The private message photo snaps can be viewed for a user-specified length of time (1 to 10 seconds) before they become inaccessible. Users were previously required to hold down on the screen in order to view a snap; this behavior was removed in July 2015.[44] The requirement to hold on the screen was intended to frustrate the ability to take screenshots of snaps; the Snapchat app does not prevent screenshots from being taken, but can notify the sender if it detects that it has been saved. However, these notifications can be bypassed through either unauthorized modifications to the app or by obtaining the image through external means.[9][17][45] One snap per-day can be replayed for free; additional replays can be purchased using microtransactions.[46]


Friends can be added via usernames and phone contacts, using customizable "Snapcodes", or through the "Add Nearby" function, which scans for users near their location who are also in the Add Nearby menu.[44][47] Spiegel explained that Snapchat is intended to counteract the trend of users being compelled to manage an idealized online identity of themselves, which he says has "taken all of the fun out of communicating".[9]


In July 2016, Snapchat introduced a new, optional feature known as "Memories". Memories allows snaps and story posts to be saved into a private storage area, where they can be viewed alongside other photos stored on the device, as well as edited and published as snaps, story posts, or messages. Content can be searched by date or using a local object recognition system. Snaps accessible within Memories can additionally be placed into a "My Eyes Only" area that is locked with a PIN. Snapchat has stated that the Memories feature was inspired by the practice of manually scrolling through photos on a phone to show them to others.[48]

Stories and Discover

"Stories" are viewed in chronological order, and each segment is accessible for 24 hours.[29] By summer 2014, photo and video snaps presented to friends in the Stories functionality had surpassed person to person private snaps as the most frequently-used function of the service, with over one billion viewed per day—double the daily views tallied in April 2014.[5]


In June 2014, the story feature was expanded to incorporate "Our Stories", which was then changed to "Live Stories" about a year later. The feature allows users on-location at specific events (such as music festivals or sporting events) to contribute snaps to a curated story advertised to all users. As a result, multiple contributors could be presenting the same event from varying viewpoints. These public "Stories" can also be of a more personal nature involving daily type activities of users. [50][6][6][53][6] An "Official Stories" designation was added in November 2015 to denote the public stories of notable figures and celebrities, similar to Twitter's "Verified account" program.[55]


In January 2015, Snapchat introduced "Discover", an area containing channels of ad-supported short-form content from major publishers, including BuzzFeed, CNN, ESPN, Mashable, People, and Vice, among others.[56] Advertisements are estimated to be seen 500,000 to 1,000,000 times a day.[57][58][59] To address data usage concerns related to these functions, a "Travel Mode" option was added in August 2015. When activated, the feature prevents the automatic downloading of snaps until they are explicitly requested by the user.[6]


In contrast to other messaging apps, Spiegel described Snapchat's messaging functions as being "conversational," rather than "transactional," as they sought to replicate the conversations he engaged in with friends. Spiegel stated that he did not experience conversational interactions while using the products of competitors like iMessage.[61]


Rather than a traditional online notification, a blue pulsing "Here" button is displayed within the sender's chat window if the recipient is currently viewing their own chat window. When this button is held down, a video chat function is immediately launched.[61] By default, messages disappear after they are read, and a notification is only sent to the recipient when they start to type.[61] Users can also use messages to reply to snaps that are part of a story.[62] The video chat feature uses technology from AddLive—a real-time communications provider that Snapchat acquired prior to the feature's launch.[63] In regards to the "Here" indicator, Spiegel explained that "the accepted notion of an online indicator that every chat service has is really a negative indicator. It means 'my friend is available and doesn't want to talk to you,' versus this idea in Snapchat where 'my friend is here and is giving you their full attention.'" Spiegel further claimed that the Here video function prevents the awkwardness that can arise from apps that use typing indicators because, with text communication, conversations lose their fluidity as each user tries to avoid typing at the same time.[31][61]


In March 2016, Fortune reported that Snapchat had acquired Bitstrips; the target of the purchase was its app Bitmoji, which allows users to design stickers featuring a personalized cartoon avatar.[64] On March 29, 2016, Snapchat launched a major revision of the messaging functionality known as "Chat 2.0", adding stickers, easier access to audio and video conferencing, the ability to leave audio or video "notes", and the ability to share recent camera photos. The implementation of these features are meant to allow users to easily shift between text, audio, and video chat as needed while retaining an equal level of functionality.[65]

User demographics

From its earliest days, Snapchat's main demographic has consisted of millennials.[66] In 2014, researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University designed a user survey to help understand how and why the application was being used. The researchers originally hypothesized that due to the ephemeral nature of Snapchat messages, its use would be predominantly for privacy-sensitive content including the much talked about potential use for sexual content and sexting.[68]


However, it appears that Snapchat is used for a variety of creative purposes that are not necessarily privacy-related at all.[68] In the study, only 1.6% of respondents reported using Snapchat primarily for sexting, although 14.2% admitted to having sent sexual content via Snapchat at some point.[68] These findings suggest that users do not seem to utilize Snapchat for sensitive content. Rather, the primary use for Snapchat was found to be for comedic content such as "stupid faces" with 59.8% of respondents reporting this use most commonly.[68] The researchers also determined how Snapchat users do not use the application and what types of content they are not willing to send. They found that the majority of users are not willing to send content classified as sexting (74.8% of respondents), photos of documents (85.0% of respondents), messages containing legally questionable content (86.6% of respondents), or content considered mean or insulting (93.7% of respondents).[68]


The study results also suggested that Snapchat's success is not due to its security properties, but because the users found the application to be fun. The researchers found that users seem to be well aware (79.4% of respondents) that recovering snaps is possible and a majority of users (52.8% of respondents) report that this does not affect their behavior and use of Snapchat.[68] Most users (52.8% of respondents) were found to use an arbitrary timeout length on snaps regardless of the content type or recipient. The remaining respondents were found to adjust their snaps' timeout depending on the content or the recipient.[68] Reasons for adjusting the time length of snaps included the level of trust and relationship with the recipient, the time needed to comprehend the snap, and avoiding screenshots.[68]


Funding and valuation

Snapchat raised $485,000 in its seed round and an undisclosed amount of bridge funding from Lightspeed Ventures.[17] By February 2013, Snapchat confirmed a $13.5 million Series A funding round led by Benchmark Capital, which valued the company at between $60 million and $70 million.[7] In June 2013, Snapchat raised $60 million in a funding round led by venture-capital firm Institutional Venture Partners,[7] and the firm also appointed a new high-profile board member, Michael Lynton of Sony's American division.[7] By mid-July 2013, a media report valued the company at $860 million.[72] On November 14, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook offered to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion, but Spiegel declined the cash offer.[73] Tech writer Om Malik then claimed on November 15, 2013 that Google had offered $4 billion, but Spiegel again declined.[74] On December 11, 2013, Snapchat confirmed $50 million in Series C funding from Coatue Management.[75] Four more funding rounds, from December 2014 to March 2016, amounted to approximately $1.2 billion and totaled funding at $1.36 billion.[76] Beyond 2014, the company had achieved a valuation of $10–$20 billion, depending on the source.[77] According to reports in May 2016, the company's estimated worth was said to be approaching $22 billion in the event of a new round of investment.[78] Further reports in 2016 suggested that funding was almost at $3 billion and that Snapchat was targeting yearly revenues of a billion dollars.[79]


Features added to Snapchat have been used to provide monetization; Snapchat's first paid advertisement, in the form of a 20-second movie trailer for the horror film Ouija, was shown to users on October 19, 2014. In addition to acknowledging Snapchat's need for a revenue stream, the company stated that it wanted to evaluate "if we can deliver an experience that's fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted."[80]


The "Discover" feature, which presents short-form content from publishers, also allows for paid advertising. The entity that sells the ad campaign causes the revenue distribution between Snapchat and its partner to vary, but it is estimated that advertisements are worth ten to fifteen cents per view. Furthermore, advertisements are estimated to be seen 500,000 to 1,000,000 times a day.[57][58][59]


In June 2015, Snapchat announced that it would allow advertisers to purchase sponsored geofilters for snaps; an early customer of the offering was McDonalds, who paid for a branded geofilter covering its restaurant locations in the United States.[41]

In October 2015, Snapchat started working with companies to create sponsored Lens filters.[81] In May 2016, as part of a campaign to promote X-Men: Apocalypse, 20th Century Fox paid for the entire array of lenses to be replaced by those based on characters from the X-Men series and films for a single day.[82]


Ad placements can be sold within a live story, or a story can be pitched by a sponsor. Live stories are estimated to reach an average of 20 million viewers in a 24-hour span.[53] In September 2015, the service entered into a partnership with the National Football League to present live stories from selected games (including a Sunday game, and marquee games such as Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football), with both parties contributing content and handling ad sales.[83][84]

Mary Meeker, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which negotiated a financial agreement with Snapchat in August 2014,[85] highlighted the growth of vertical video viewing in her 2015 Internet Trends Report – growing from 5% of video viewing in 2010 to 29% in 2015. Vertical video ads like Snapchat's are watched in their entirety nine times more than landscape video ads.[86]


In April 2016, NBC Olympics announced that it had reached a deal with Snapchat to allow stories from the 2016 Summer Olympics to be featured on Snapchat in the United States. The content will include a behind-the-scenes Discover channel curated by BuzzFeed (a company which NBCUniversal has funded), and stories featuring a combination of footage from NBC, athletes, and attendees. NBC will sell advertising and enter into revenue sharing agreements. This marks the first time NBC has allowed Olympics footage to be featured on a third-party property.[87]


In July 2016, it was reported that Snapchat was pursuing a technical patent which would make it possible for the network to recognize specific objects appearing in snaps. This information could then be used by advertisers to target users with specific products matching some of their personal interests.[88]

Privacy and security

December 2013 hack

Snapchat was hacked on December 31, 2013.[89][90] Gibson Security, an Australian security firm, had disclosed an API security vulnerability to the company on August 27, 2013,[91][92] and then made public the source code for the exploit on Christmas Day (Australian time; Christmas Eve in the US).[93][94] On December 27, Snapchat announced that it had implemented mitigating features.[95] Nonetheless, an anonymous group hacked them, saying that the mitigating features presented only "minor obstacles".[96][97] The hackers revealed parts of approximately 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers on a website named ""[90][98][99] and sent a statement to the popular technology blog TechCrunch saying that their objective had been to "raise public awareness ... and ... put public pressure on Snapchat" to fix the vulnerability.[98] Snapchat apologized a week after the hack.[100]

Screenshots and FTC

Snapchat's privacy statement originally claimed that Snapchat was "the fastest way to share a moment with friends. You control how long your friends can view your message – simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send. They'll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We'll let you know if they take a screenshot!"[101] Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez commented on Snapchat's privacy, stating "If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises."[102] The FTC claimed that Snapchat "made multiple misrepresentations" about the application, including the longevity of photos and videos users sent. The agency's complaint cited workarounds users could employ to avoid Snapchat's screenshot detection, as well as third-party apps that saved photos or videos indefinitely.[102]


Snapchat was initially designed so that private photos and videos would disappear after a predetermined amount of time set by the sender. However, some users found ways to keep photos after their intended time. One of the primary ways Snapchat users kept photos was through taking a screenshot. Users could take screenshots by capturing a photo of their screen while the snap was showing.[101] Snapchat's response to this potential privacy breach was to notify the sender.[103] However, the concern of the FTC was not only the possibility of screenshots, but also the workarounds users could employ to avoid Snapchat's screenshot detection, as well as applications that saved photos or videos permanently. Many technology blogs online gave a step-by-step walk-through of how to avoid detection and save snaps. The most popular way was through a variety of applications available on the App Store. Snapchat's response to concerns over the potential for screenshots and saved snaps going undetected stated, "Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user."[101]


Snapchat settled with the FTC over these privacy and security claims and under the terms of the settlement, Snapchat was said to face independent monitoring for 20 years. Furthermore, the FTC claimed that Snapchat was prohibited from "misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users' information."[102]


Following the decision by the FTC, Snapchat updated its privacy page to state that the company "can't guarantee that messages will be deleted within a specific timeframe." [104] Even after Snapchat deletes message data from their servers, that same data may remain in backup for a certain period of time.[104] In a public blog post, the service warned that "If you've ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it's sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted."[11]




In September 2016, Snapchat released it's first hardware product, Spectacles (Snap Inc.) In tandem with the release, Snapchat also announced its rebranding initiative as Snap Inc.