Forget Spectacles, group messaging is Snapchat’s most important launch in 2016

December 20, 2016

Evan Spiegel

There was neither fanfare nor pizzazz, but yesterday Snap — the company formerly know as Snapchat — quietly shipped a new feature that could dent other messaging apps and obstruct upcoming social startups.

The feature was group messaging for up to 16 people. It’s an obvious part of any chat app but something that hadn’t been present in Snapchat until this week.

A messaging app introducing groups is not revolutionary in itself, but when that app happens to have more than 100 million daily users, it becomes a killer feature that impacts other services. Given that Snapchat’s core userbase is young people, there’s no doubt that they were going elsewhere to host group conversations with friends. Perhaps it was Kik, or Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp, or even just iMessage — regardless, their user behavior will now change.

Over time, those conversations will migrate over to Snapchat, solidifying engagement with the many millions of teens and people in their 20s for whom it is already the go-to app on their phone. It will also give less active users a big reason to open the app more often if their friends drag them into groups. Snapchat, as we know, is anchored in messaging but it has built out a considerable media business and is going full-steam on advertising revenue, both of which will be boosted by the introduction of groups.

This could be just the start of Snapchat’s efforts on multi-person conversation.

The app offers live video chatting in one-on-one conversations, but that could be extended to cover groups, too, thereby tapping the growing trend for multi-person video communication that services like Chatroulette and Houseparty are pursuing with signs of success. In the case of Houseparty, which was created by the team behind now-defunct streaming app Meerkat, one million people spend at least 20 minutes per day on its group video chats.

People may best remember Snap in 2016 for Spectacles, its glasses with a built-in camera, but the addition of groups seems significantly more impactful. It is particularly important since Instagram’s cloning effort is showing signs of success and Snap is reportedly preparing to go public in 2017.

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