What’s up with Snapstreaks?

I’ve had Snapchat for the last two years, and there’s one aspect I partook in for a few months, but never got into – Snapstreaks. I always thought that it was boring, receiving a message each day with a bit of text saying “streaks” or a crudely drawn “s” so that a number next to my name increases. And ever since I’ve never tried to make one, unless by the sheer chance I sent someone a snap three days in a row.

Despite the fact that I never got into it, I do appreciate those that can be committed to maintaining a streak for a long time. But it got me asking what’s with Snapstreak? But not the reasons why people keep Snapstreaks, but the people that designed and implemented the feature in the first place.

So I went online to discover just when Snapstreaks came about to help get some context. But there was nothing! No could say when it was released other than a small paragraph I found somewhere that said: “sometime in 2015”. So we’ll have to work with that.

I went to the Wikipedia page for Snapchat to try and figure out if there was an update that would’ve implemented the feature without people noticing. The January 27 update, caught my attention. It was the update that released Discover.

But why does when it’s released matter? Well, that gives us the context of its release, and the context points us towards the idea of user retention. The thing about user retention is that it acts like a curve, with the number of users decreasing over time, and the amount of monthly active users sharply decreasing and then flattening out to an asymptote.

At this point in time, Snapchat was still there barebones, and it needed a way to increase marketshare, and retain the users they currently had. So for this I need to talk about user retention. User retention is like a curve, with the number of users decreasing over time, and the amount of monthly active users sharply decreasing and then flattening out to an asymptote.

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At this point in time, Snapchats user growth rates were beginning to flatten out. If they didn’t grow fast enough, they would begin to lose users. So they needed to make more users become daily users, as a way to combat against market competition and reduced overall growth.

Discover acted as a way to make Snapchat more ubiquitous, making it a source of news, entertainment and a place to become more informed about what’s happening in the world. But Snapstreaks acted more subtly. They were a way to see who you’re talking to and how often. They’ve amalgamated into another way to give value to a friendship. But more importantly, it’s made socialising a game.

Users are now enticed to add social weighting to friendships based on their Snapstreak. And the longer the streak the more value a friendship – supposedly – has. Therefore, users try to have the biggest number possible.

This is good for Snapchat, as by encouraging users to use their app daily, it increases the chance they’ll use a feature like Discover – now the monetary powerhouse of the app – and it decreases the amount of time a user spends on a competitor’s app.

Due to this Snapchat has some of the highest DAU rates of any app. This feature would have increased retention rates at a crucial time and allowed the company to earn the revenue needed to be sustainable. It’s a small feature, often ignored as not important economically for the business, but the positive externalities it has for them has been extremely beneficial in the long run.

So, when I see people maintaining hundred day streaks, I no longer see what to me is a waste of time, but rather, clever use of design and behavioural psychology.

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