This week it emerged that Snapchat, the picture messaging app widely considered impenetrable to anyone older than about 17, now has more daily users than Twitter.
This milestone isn’t as meaningful as it might seem. Yes, it’s noteworthy that a five-year-old startup has sprinted past one of the founding fathers of social media—a whole 10 years old—on one key measure. It’s also further evidence of Twitter’s gradual stagnation. But while they’re both often called “social media,” only Twitter truly fits that description. It is for sharing news and information publicly, for shouting opinions from the rooftops.
Snapchat, on the other hand, is still primarily a messaging app (though media outlets recently began using it as a publishing platform). It’s up against the Facebook Messengers and WhatApps of the world. And in terms of daily users, those services are much bigger. That’s why Snapchat dramatically changed its interface in March to better compete with them.
To see the real significance of Snapchat’s growth, look at the closely watched internet trends report this week from venture capitalist Mary Meeker. She pointed to a generational shift in communicating: Millennials use text, but Generation Z prefers images. And, she observed, more photos per day are shared on Snapchat than on any other app.
The ephemeral nature of Snapchat’s messages may have been what first attracted its mischievous young users, but it’s beginning to make inroads with a more adult set. And while basic things like adding friends can be maddeningly unintuitive, the fact that the app opens directly to the camera makes its central function completely clear. Snapchat’s success is based on its mastery of the language we increasingly prefer: that of the image.—Matt Quinn
A Silicon Valley bestiary. If “unicorns” are companies worth over $1 billion, what are phoenixes, hippogriffs, and the Hydra? We put together a compendium of mythological creature names to fit the diverse variety of tech companies. Plus, Josh Horwitz on why internet startups are so addicted to jargon they can’t even explain what they do.
The year’s most interesting tech IPO. You might not know Twilio but you almost certainly use it. Zach Seward on the company that, by being a software service (text messaging) laid atop another one (Amazon’s cloud computing) might define a new category of business.
The complete guide to fasting diets—or no diets. Katherine Foley explains how to safely manage the latest dieting craze, which promises weight loss by mixing bouts of little or no eating with periods of normal eating. Sandra Aamodt, meanwhile, chastises doctors for advising overweight and obese people to lose weight, instead of concentrating on their actual health.
Ghanaian businesses and their love of God. On a trip through Ghana, Yomi Kazeem was struck by the numbers of stores with names like “Christ the Almighty Plumbing” and “Thank You Jesus Hardware.” He looks into the country’s (and Africa’s) uneasy relationship between religion and economic prosperity.
Summer reading. Kevin Delaney offers a list of the best books for this summer, compiled from the top picks from the top US book critics. And since you’re stocking up, check out Bill Gates’ recommendations for the only two books you need to read about artificial intelligence, and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s best books of the last two years.
In this episode of Actuality, we learn the ugly truth about how US cannabis prohibition originated as a tool to repress minority groups. Then, we peek at the green shoots of the nascent legal weed industry to see if this new market can avoid the injustices of prohibition and the subtler dangers of corporate marijuana.
Blowouts are big business. How do you sell women on a new beauty routine? You start by making it fun. BuzzFeed’s Sapna Maheshwari looks at how DryBar’s free champagne and rom-com screenings helped take the “blowout” from a luxury reserved for celebrities to a $40 weekly habit—making it the Starbucks of high-end hairdressing.
Inside Takata’s airbag crisis. US regulators estimate 60 million cars contain airbags with a propensity to lethally explode. Businessweek explains the blunders and rash decisions that led Japan’s Takata to base its airbags on an unstable propellant chemical, despite years of warnings within the industry that it was heading down a path to disaster.
The ticketing industry is rigged. Nathan Hubbard, former CEO of Ticketmaster, knows a thing or two about how tickets for concerts and sports events are sold. For the Ringer, he rips into sports promoters, music stars, and marketers for cronyist practices that inflate ticket prices on the secondary market and squeeze out genuine fans.
Earn your PhD in Trumpology. Politico convened a panel of five preeminent Donald Trump experts, biographers and writers who have been analyzing the presumptive Republican candidate for decades. They discuss Trump’s questionable fortune, how reality TV saved him from irrelevance, and his desire, above all, to be loved.
Your brain is not a computer. Explanations of how the mind works have tended to invoke the metaphor of whatever major technology was in vogue at the time. Robert Epstein in Aeon explains why the notion of the mind as a computer, so beloved of some AI researchers and singularity proponents, will one day turn out to be equally misguided.
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