I’ve said it before. Mark Zuckerberg is def. that character in Saturday Kung Fu who routinely decapitates his opponent at a very specific speed and angle so that the opponent’s head falls backwards and stays conscious just long enough to watch his own body collapse and think: “I have made a terrible mistake”. I know. It seems like a weird metaphor. But today, Zuck did just that to Snapchat.
I wrote a post here on Medium in July (equally as light and uninformed as this one, but worth a read nonetheless) about a potential roadmap for Snap to become a futuristic, fully-immersive AR creation and experience platform built not only on the phone/device, but also on super available and affordable wearables. I used the Coachella experience as a use case, assuming that Coachella would be the layup event to highlight the amazing augmented world that SoCal’s Snap Inc. could create around both our most momentous and most mundane life events.
And today, dead center in between weekend one and weekend two of Coachella, Snap announced EXACTLY that product. No. Wait. Sorry. FACEBOOK announced EXACTLY that product. At F8. During Zuck’s keynote. And they did it in the most perfectly diabolical way imaginable. It’s called AR Studio, and it is an open source toolset for creators.
In a move so brilliant, so simple that it almost feels incomplete, Zuck just ended Snapchat’s growth for the foreseeable future by democratizing everything that makes Snapchat special. Since the advent of Instagram Stories, most of my friends (we’re old) have been using Snap primarily to create content for other platforms because the lenses are so unique and identifiable. If nothing else, that feature (esp. the damn dog tongue) kept us coming back. Zuck just took that away.
Unless Snap is working on something completely left-field and ingenious and patentable (don’t count that out), Zuck just took Snap’s Death Star blueprint (core business), handed it to the entire galaxy (every designer, animator and engineer on the planet) and gave us all the tools to release our own fully-operational Death Stars…just as cool as Snapchat’s Death Star…on Facebook’s platforms…probably with their full support and promotion…maybe even with some dollars for our trouble.
There is literally no way that Snap (or anyone) could outpace or outscale an open source AR platform built on top of Facebook and its 2-billion-user community. That’s game, son.
Now, a lot has been written about Facebook’s other offensives and the effects that they have had on Snap’s growth, so I don’t think everyone understands just how momentous this particular announcement is. This move, more than any other, feels like the second knockdown in the first 30 seconds of a one-sided round…you know…not the official TKO knockdown, but definitely the one that gets you shaking your head and wondering why you didn’t just pirate this PPV.
Instagram Stories was the first knockdown.
AR Studio is a daisycutter.
And it drops at a time when Snap is having issues not only with growth, but with community. They’ve slowed domestically, have hit a wall internationally, and are struggling to scale against their own purposefully robust data/device/bandwidth requirements. And Zuck threw some shade there as well. He made it a point to emphasize that Facebook is for everyone. Not only is AR Studio a public beta, but Facebook Inc. has OTHER products to service people who can’t afford the hardware or don’t have the bandwidth or tech savvy for a full AR experience. They make intuitive apps that your grandma in Kentucky or Romania or Brazil or India can figure out if she wants to send you a photo. They make apps that will run on your $200 desktop. There is no Snapchat Lite. So really, FB just used inclusion to win on the high end/bleeding-edge front, and has already used it to corner the low end/standard-format front.
Zuck also made it clear that FB isn’t limiting AR to advanced wearables that most of us don’t own (yet). And that makes sense. Now…I know Snap’s lenses aren’t limited to Specs, but the release of a luxury item-as-growth-strategy points to a major flaw in corporate philosophy. Specs seem fun, but while trying to eliminate a creation barrier, they also present a barrier. I’ve actually had this argument with a number of friends who live in the silicon bubble, and they never agree with me, but $130 is a lot of money for the average kid. Spectacles present a dilemma that rich people will never understand: survival priority. For the average kid, a $130 pair of shades is either out of reach, or a big ticket item (we’re talking you’ve been hella good and it’s both Christmas and your birthday LVLZ), and if they have to choose between Specs and a phone, or Specs and a new pair of shoes for this school year, or Specs and braces, or Specs ad a new starter for mom’s van….the Specs will always lose. Every time. Hell, I can’t even afford Specs RN.
SO. How is this Snapchat’s fault?
Snapchat declared war. We’ve all heard that Evan Spiegel gave all of his employees copies of The Art of War following his potential acquisition meeting with Mark Zuckerberg. And yet today, we saw evidence that Snap has apparently overlooked what might be the most important tactic to be learned from that text.
The easiest way to stay 3 steps ahead of your enemy is to irritate him with weak offenses and cloud his mind. Deceive him. Make him wonder why he, as a superior fighter, is not destroying you…pretend you’re chasing and reacting to his moves (copying his features)…struggling to keep up your defense, while in reality, you are slipping jabs, recording his openings and preparing a haymaker (open sourcing his entire core business and using all the developers in the world against him). The okey doke. The rope-a-dope. The bait and switch. The Saturday Night Special.
“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
“If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.”
“Dude, do NOT fuck with Mark Zuckerberg.”