At the close of 2016, I wrote that Evan Spiegel managed to prove not only that his company was worth taking seriously, but that it had the makings of a worthy Facebook competitor. Now, I'm less certain.
To be clear, Snap Inc. is still very much worth taking seriously. The company made a number of important updates that materially change Snapchat for the better. Snap Maps might be the best feature they've ever launched, and the company's shift into augmented reality and artificial intelligence prove it has the technical chops to come up with innovative new features.
And, yet, Facebook has proven to be a bigger threat than ever. Instagram's knockoff version of Stories, is not only more popular than all of Snapchat, it's messaging component could now become a standalone app.
What's more, Facebook has managed to shoehorn a version of Stories into just about every service it owns — raising the question of whether or not Snapchat is a service so much as a single feature. And while most Snapchat users, myself included, would be quick to point out that Snapchat is much more than just Stories, the company's current user growth doesn't' speak well to its ability to make that distinction.
So while we've seen some of Snapchat's most important updates to date, it's difficult for those to not be overshadowed by some of its stumbles. To recap:
Snap went public and pretty much immediately failed to meet investor expectations
User growth is more or less stagnant as Facebook continues to double and triple down on Snapchat clones
Spectacles was confirmed to be an epic failure
The company was forced to come to terms with what has been the biggest complaint facing Snapchat for years: it's too damn confusing most people
Put all of that together and things could certainly seem dire. But there are signs of hope, too. Search and Snap Maps are arguably two of the best Snapchat features ever. Context cardscould help reshape the app's search into something even more useful. After years of ignoring influencers, the company is finally beginning to acknowledge the group, with meaningful updates aimed at winning them back.
Snapchat's Android app, which has long been an embarrassment, is slowly but steadily improving. Publishers are still flocking to Discover and Snap-owned Bitmoji was the most popular app of 2017.
The company is doubling down on augmented reality, opening up its Lens Studio to developers (which could result in a lot more ad dollars for Snap as well). And even though version one of Spectacles was a flop, the next version could be much better.
And, despite user growth problems, the company has a not entirely unreasonable argument that its users are more valuable than those of its competitors.
Still, all that only goes so far. At the end of the day, the company needs to prove it can grow its user base and business in meaningful ways. And 2017 was supposed to be the year that it did.