The idea that only sexters and teens find disappearing messages attractive has been debunked. More sophisticated messaging services are implementing self-destructive features that go beyond photo and doodle messaging.
Snapchat still owns the ephemeral messaging market, and although the company has yet to release any real user numbers, it claims its users are receiving 400 million snaps a day. The service reportedly turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook.
Snapchat, however, has its flaws. Snapchat’s messages aren’t actually deleted from the device’s memory once they "disappear," and the application, now over two years old, still has a confusing user interface. Of course, if you're less concerned with privacy and more interested in the novelty of temporary messages, then snap away.
Its rivals, however, take that whole privacy thing a little more seriously.
Government Strength Security
It's actually possible to send messages from a smartphone that even the government can’t access.
Wickr, a messaging service that completely erases your communication, uses military-grade encryption called CDH521 to safeguard your messages. The company uses a different key for every message generated on your mobile device, meaning you are protected from both hackers and law enforcement.
“Since this summer and [Edward] Snowden, we’re seeing a huge response; people want private communications,” Wickr co-founder Nico Sell said.
Wickr lets you send texts, picture, voice, video and PDF messages that have a self-destructing time limit of up to five days. When the message expires, a so-called shredder built into the application deletes it from the device’s memory. Wickr’s shredder works in the background of the device, rewriting all the data users trash—including emails, photos, and messages not stored in Wickr.
“It’s ironic because we would even make Snapchat more safe,” Sell said.
Snapchat admits it has passed over snaps to law enforcement, and Sell said the FBI has also asked Wickr for messages and a backdoor to the service. But because the encryption is so advanced, even if the company wanted to, it’s impossible to hand over the information.
The application currently has one million downloads, and although users are anonymous, anecdotal evidence suggests the app is used by human rights activists, lawyers, and journalists. Wickr is also HIPAA compliant, so some hospitals and medical staff use it to communicate.
In order to appeal to a mainstream audience and capitalize on the ephemeral messaging trend, Wickr redesigned its application and gave it what Sell calls, a lighter interface. It now boasts a revamped user interface that's easier to navigate and that lets users add things like doodles and explosions to messages. The new application is available for download today in the App Store and next week on Google Play.
Wickr has also found a way to connect to your phone’s address book without actually seeing the contact information. Unlike other messaging apps, Wickr keeps all users anonymous and never has access to your contacts.
A Messaging Trend
As the popularity of Snapchat grows, so does the number of private messaging apps that aim to improve the ephemeral experience.
One such app, Hash, lets users send text and messages that disappear after seven seconds. The user interface is clean and easy to navigate, and like Snapchat, you can send to individuals or a group. The best feature is that it’s screenshot-proof—the sender is never shown in the same screen as the message, so even if someone snaps a screenshot of a message, there's no way to tell who sent it.
Of course, some apps recognize that not all our communications are meant to go up in smoke. Users of the messaging application Ansa can go “off the record” and send messages that self-destruct in 60 seconds. The killer feature of Ansa is that you can also retroactively delete messages already sent; synced deletion removes the messages from both the sender’s and receiver’s device.
The Future of Ephemerality
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google are all angling to own our message traffic. None of the social giants have yet to implement messages that vanish, but it’s likely that we’ll see similar features come to social networks in the future.
For now, scrappy startups are capitalizing on our desire for privacy, and continuing to provide a safe and secure way for people to connect in a way that goes far beyond pictures.
Godzilla image via Rhys A. on Flickr. Screenshots via Wickr, Ansa