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Snapchat doesn't want to put us all in the metaverse

Loading player On April 28th Snap, the company that owns the Snapchat social network, presented Pixy, a small drone equipped with a camera designed to follow whoever is maneuvering it. This “flying camera” is not the first device produced by the company, which launched Spectacles in 2016, glasses with which to record videos and view elements in augmented reality (the kind of “reality” that is enriched, usually through a viewer , of virtual elements, different from virtual reality, which instead is a completely artificial environment).

The drone was announced at a time of growth for the company, which in the first quarter of 2022 increased its daily users by 18% to 332 million worldwide. This makes Snap more used than Twitter, which has 217 million users, while still being at the center of media attention.

Founded in September 2011 by Evan Spiegel (who is its CEO), Reggie Brown and Bobby Murphy, Snapchat was born as an app with which to send and receive photos and messages that disappeared shortly after being viewed. The idea was immediately successful especially among younger users, who rewarded its ephemeral nature also represented by its logo, a white ghost on a yellow background.

In 2013, the social network added a new function with which to share photos to all your contacts, keeping them visible for twenty-four hours. The “Stories” were born, a format that has since spread to many other services. Around the same time, Snapchat – which would change its name to “Snap” in a few years' time – began attracting the attention of its competitors, especially Facebook.

In 2016, in fact, the social network led by Mark Zuckerberg offered three billion dollars to acquire the company, an offer that Spiegel turned down. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook tried again three years later, in 2016, always in vain. A few months after this attempt, Instagram – owned by the Facebook group, now known as Meta – presented a “new” feature with which users could publish ephemeral content, which remained available for only twenty-four hours: the Instagram Stories.

It was the culmination of a long process by which Facebook first tried to buy and then to remove users and relevance from the competitor. In his book How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story, writer Billy Gallagher recounted why Zuckerberg took action against the company: “Snapchat kept growing, attracting more and more users and stealing more and more photos and videos. that users used to post on Facebook or Instagram ». When Zuckerberg decided to copy the Stories, he had to prod his developers by asking him to “not be so proud not to copy” the competition.

Despite the passage of years, the visions of Zuckerberg and Spiegel still remain in stark contrast today. The Facebook founder has spent a good part of the last year investing in the metaverse, a futuristic reality that inspired him for the new name of his group, Meta. By presenting the new drone, however, Spiegel underlined the absence of the concept of metaverse from the company's future projects, calling it “ambiguous and hypothetical”.

The distance between Snap and Meta's visions seems to have become a communicative strength of the company. Spiegel even pointed out that “people will spend most of their time in the world because it's a wonderful place.” According to the CEO, in fact, the next new frontier will not be virtual reality to be visited using an avatar; the future, according to Snap, would be in augmented reality, in the enrichment of what surrounds us with digital and fun elements. The difference is substantial: while the metaverse wants to “replace reality”, Snap wants to “increase the world around the user”.

This is why the company relies on devices such as viewers and drones. Snap, after all, defines itself as a “camera company”, a company in the photographic sector, which deals with both hardware and software. One of the strong points of the social network are the photographic filters with which the app modifies the facial features by adding often funny or absurd elements. The company's filters and “lenses” are considered to be among the most creative in the world, also thanks to the moves made in the sector with the acquisitions of startups such as Looksery and AI Factory, which deal with facial recognition and real-time animation, and in which Snap has invested more than three hundred million dollars.

After a period of severe crisis, in 2018, Snap returned to growth in the midst of the pandemic, like many other digital companies. The end of the restrictions linked to the pandemic and the return of many social activities have not questioned what has become the company's mission: “Our fundamental bet,” he told the Guardian Spiegel, “is that people really love the real world: they want to be together, in person, with their friends “.