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Evan Spiegel turns the tables on Facebook

May 30 · Issue #147 · View online
The Interface
Last night Code Conference attendees got to see top executives from Snap and Facebook speak back to back. Both companies used the occasion to make the case for why they should exist in the world. But from my conversations with attendees afterward, it seems like Evan Spiegel’s vision for Snapchat was the one that resonated more broadly with attendees. 
Spiegel, who rarely speaks to the press, was asked by interviewer Kara Swisher how he felt about Facebook’s routine copying of Snapchat features such as stories and augmented reality lenses. From his response:
Spiegel: Fundamentally, it’s important to understand that Snapchat is not just a bunch of features. It really has an underlying philosophy that runs directly counter to traditional social media. I think what’s why traditional social media feels threatened. Because, fundamentally, if people realize that competing with their friends for likes and attention is kind of unpleasant and really not that great-
Swisher: Agreed.
Spiegel: …then I think they’re gonna look for alternatives. And what we said at Snapchat is actually, there’s this great alternative, which is all about building deeper relationships with people that you’re close to, and we believe that empowering that self expression is really important. … They’ve changed their products, and changed their mission, but I think fundamentally, they’re having a really hard time changing the DNA of their company. The DNA of their company is all about having people compete with each other, online for attention.
I think sort of, as time goes on, I think it will become clear to more and more people that our values are really hard to copy, and I think the reason why, is because values are something that you feel. I think, over time, especially given the relationship that we’ve built with our community, which I feel is very strong, I think that it will be harder to really copy the essence of what Snapchat is.
To Spiegel’s way of thinking, social media to date has largely been about broadcast performances. He sees Snapchat as a vehicle primarily for building social experiences that build intimacy. (This is one reason why I find the broadcast-oriented Discover product to be such a bad fit for Snapchat generally.) In its own way, it’s a more conservative vision of social media — a product that regards strangers with suspicion and is concerned mostly with building stronger bonds with the people you already know.
Given the 18 months that broadcast social media has had, it’s a vision that resonates — particularly among the Code crowd, who were buzzing about Spiegel’s talk during the nighttime festivities. It’s one reason I wish Spiegel would talk to the media more — he’ll have to take his lumps, as he did when Swisher quizzed him about Snapchat’s redesign debacle. But he’s also his company’s most effective salesman by far. 
Later in the evening, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Mike Schroepfer got a somewhat cooler reception. They began the evening, as you might expect, on the defensive. Swisher started where Congress left off — memorably asking why Facebook hadn’t fired anyone over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. (The answer was that Zuckerberg held himself responsible, but wasn’t about to fire himself over it.)
But like Spiegel, Sandberg found time to make the case for Facebook. Here was hers:
We also really want to protect the good. I mentioned this; I was in Houston, I met this guy, he owned a taco store. When Hurricane Harvey happened, he had lots of food but no ability to bring it to anyone. He met a guy on Facebook who owned a taco truck; they were competitors, they didn’t know each other. He put his food in the truck and they used Facebook to see where people are checking in and drove around feeding them. That doesn’t mean that everyday on Facebook something happens, and I don’t mean that to be Pollyannish, but it matters. And we care. We care about preventing that. Now those people were all able to be fed because they had shared publicly on Facebook where they are, and so people have to trust us, that they can share not just in an emergency but in a daily place during an election, during a difficult time for them personally or a difficult time for a country. People have to trust us.
Of course, this wasn’t intended as a complete case for Facebook. In a way, the company’s success — particularly its success relative to Snap — makes a case of its own. It’s all well and good to preach values — it’s one of the main functions of an executive — but ultimately it has to translate into business success. Snap keeps tripping over its own feet
Still, I found the contrast between Snap and Facebook instructive. Spiegel’s case for Snapchat is sweeping, urgent, and personal. Sandberg explains how Facebook helped out in a crisis, and yet the anecdote feels far removed from how most people will ever use the service.
On most days Snap finds itself on the defensive against the leviathan. But on Tuesday night, however briefly, the tables were turned. How does Spiegel feel about all that copying? “We would really appreciate it if they copied out data protection practices also,” Spiegel said, grinning, and the crowd roared.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel's full interview at Code is worth watching.
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Here's the full interview with Sheryl Sandberg and Mike Schroepfer.
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