What are the advantages of ephemeral social networks? Why are people so keen on them? Spontaneity is not the only reason.

‘Ephemeral’ Social Networks born of a “desire not to keep content stored”

Why are ‘ephemeral’ social networks becoming so popular? Some answers from sociologist Laurence Allard, who is Assistant Professor of Information and Communication Sciences at the University of Lille 3, and Ofer Attali, CEO of participative web solutions design company Popsi’IT, in a joint interview which took place during a ‘L’Atelier numérique’ (L’Atelier on Digital) broadcast in January.

L’Atelier: Laurence Allard, you’ve noticed this preference for ‘ephemeral’ communication, the desire to leave no traces.

Laurence Allard: It’s about more than just not leaving any traces. The attraction of ephemeral social networks stems from a desire not to keep content stored. We’re now seeing applications of the Snapchat type, which don’t store images in phones, starting to replace MMS/SMS messaging. In the UK, for example, we see for the first time in the last thirty years that the number of SMS/MMS messages has fallen below the use of OTT (over-the-top) applications such as Snapchat, What’sApp and so on.

Why is that?

It’s partly that people don’t want to store message content because we increasingly communicate through the intermediary of images or images with comments, and this triggers a mass of pictures which would ordinarily be kept in photo albums. Communicating through pictures via these ephemeral applications means there’s no need for archiving.

Isn’t there also the idea of storing only what’s really useful?

Yes, what’s useful, what’s meaningful to us. It’s certainly true that we’re now communicating with our networks and contacts more and more through images. Mobile use is becoming a little bit introspective, in the sense that when you take and send photos with a mobile device, what you’re doing is synchronising emotions and expression. Here the ephemeral aspect is in the spontaneity, the synchronisation between your thoughts and your ability to express them through various means, such as through photography.

Ofer Attali, you’ve created an ephemeral social network for companies, called S’bubble. Are you also seeing the same trend?

Ofer Attali: Yes, absolutely. And I believe we also need to set this trend against the issues of Big Data and data analysis. There are now real issues as regards the ROI on all this connected data. Nowadays, at least in the business world, one of the major challenges is how to process the huge quantities of data. The more data-storage systems a company has, the more data it has to process and try to ensure a return on its investment. This is a great cause for concern and companies are finding it difficult to analyse the situation. So, yes, it seems to me that using communication processes that leave much less of a footprint would simplify the issue for companies when it comes to information analysis.