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Art by Clark Miller
Art by Clark Miller

A Visionary Afloat: Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Helped Create the Social Web as We Know It. Now He’s Sinking Under It.

It’s been a dizzying decade for Snapchat, which now faces its most difficult period yet. Can its founder lead it out of another abyss?

Art by Clark Miller
Sept. 2, 2022 9:00 AM PDT

Evan Spiegel published his first blog post about Snapchat in 2012. Ten years later, it is still the most coherent description of an app that has proudly confused the tech world ever since.

“Snapchat isn’t about capturing the traditional Kodak moment,” the 22-year-old future Snap CEO wrote. “We’re building a photo app that doesn’t conform to unrealistic notions of beauty or perfection but rather creates a space to be funny, honest or whatever else you might feel like at the moment you take and share a Snap.”

Reading it now, Spiegel’s blog post has the unmistakably twee techno-optimism of the early 2010s—there’s a whole passage about taking a picture of yourself “imitating the face of a star-nosed mole.” But it’s also Spiegel at his most visionary. He accurately predicted the future of the social web, the one we currently live in. He understood that social media wasn’t about managing bloated profiles of ourselves, but about experimentation and play. And it’s also clear now that TikTok, an app that has become the most important in the world for a new generation of internet users, didn’t come from Facebook’s evolutionary branch, but from Snapchat’s.

Spiegel’s platform has never conformed to what users, investors or the tech media expected it to be. In fact, 10 years after he, current Chief Technology Officer Bobby Murphy and classmate Reggie Brown first launched Snapchat as a bunch of Stanford University students, there’s still not a real consensus about what it is or how to use it. It’s a weird app, run by a weirder CEO.

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