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Ephemeral Apps May Have a Place in the Enterprise

By Himanshu Sareen
Oct 13, 2014 5:00 AM PT

One of the hardest-to-decipher trends of the Internet and app world today is what's known as "ephemeral software." Epitomized by popular apps like Snapchat, Frankly and Confide, ephemeral programs revolve around bite-sized, self-destructing user interactions.

Ephemeral Apps May Have a Place in the Enterprise

Since its inception, ephemeral software has baffled many industries, with marketers struggling to develop cohesive Snapchat marketing campaigns and even nonprofits trying to grab a slice of the pie.

It was only a matter of time before someone thought to ask whether we might leverage ephemeral trends for business software use. The problem is that no self-respecting business wants to touch Snapchat with a 10-foot pole. The first wave of adopters were teenyboppers and single 20-somethings, and transience is written into the very DNA of this software.

However, if we look at a social network like Facebook, it's easy to see how platforms that first came off as juvenile eventually can transform into something that suits the enterprise. Platforms like Chatter and Yammer take some cues from Facebook, sure, but they appropriate the correct features in ways that help them to achieve particular business goals.

So, in the same way that Facebook helped the enterprise connect its employees, ephemeral software points to a series of trends that can boost software in the enterprise space. Following are a few lessons that business software can learn from ephemeral software.

The Supremacy of Privacy

The ephemeral software model of "send a message, it's gone in a few seconds" gives users a sense of privacy. While the merit of some of these privacy features has come into question, the idea itself is becoming a major commodity in the software world.

For the enterprise setting, data security is a very real issue. By 2017, "40 percent of enterprise contact information will have leaked into Facebook via employees' increased use of mobile device collaboration applications," according to Gartner.

As many companies opt out of Bring Your Own Device policies, it's important that they still provide secure ways for employees to communicate via personal devices.

Multiple companies are creating software to ensure security in employee exchanges. The PingPal platform allows the exchange of self-destructing employee communications. None of the data in messages is stored, users are anonymized via ID numbers, and the data is encrypted so that not even PingPal can see what's being exchanged.

Other services, like Wickr, are aiming for the same thing, and as the enterprise space becomes more and more consumerized, this emphasis on privacy will continue to grow.

The Internet of Images

Instagram. Pinterest. Tumblr. Five years ago, nobody would have guessed these image-based platforms would be so crucial -- not just as blogging and personal platforms, but also in the business setting as well. Images are the way of the future. They're easier for audiences to absorb, they can be made on-the-spot from smart devices, and they do a great job of rapidly capturing everyday events.

First and foremost, ephemeral software reflects on how important the visual Web has become, and how much it still has yet to grow. With the user experiences of apps like Snapchat and Tinder revolving around quick, one-time appraisals of user-generated images, we see a couple of trends coming together.

Don't like your potential date's height or hairstyle? Swipe. Want to keep up to date with what your friends are doing? Check out their latest Snaps. It's the ideal "what you see is what you get" experience.

While other social networks and dating services have put visual information in front of us before, rarely have they based platforms entirely on these images in a way that's so quick and so intuitive.

Information Overload: A New Solution

The concept of information overload is nothing new, but its most certainly has been helped along by the advent of the Internet. As hundreds of emails, dozens of news stories, and thousands of social media posts scroll through our feeds on a daily basis, it can be difficult, and sometimes counterproductive, to have to deal with it all at the same time.

What ephemeral software presents is a way to ease this information burden. By making a picture last for only a moment, Snapchat places an emphasis on enjoying content while it lasts. Once it's gone, the user never has to worry about it again.

While no business wants to throw away perfectly good data for the sake of alleviating information overload, there are business processes that can be improved by some degree of ephemerality.

Take, for example, email. One new team communication tool, called "Slack," attempts to streamline team communications by allowing employees to collaborate via a chat interface. By integrating with a wide range of services like Google Apps, Dropbox, Asana, MailChimp and even Twitter, Slack allows team members to exchange valuable information with one another, and it lets them interact with that information immediately.

Good software doesn't have to confront its users with too much information at one time. While a program like Slack doesn't aim to replace email entirely, it does integrate email services in ways that make moment-to-moment interactions much more compartmentalized, helping a user avoid information overload in an office setting.

Is the self-detonating Snapchat selfie going to going to invade the enterprise software space? Probably not. Neither did the Facebook Poke. Ephemeral software is still, for the most part, mostly useful for consumer functions.

When we examine the sweeping trends behind the success of apps like Snapchat and even Yo, however, it's evident that there are lots of lessons for business software to learn as we prepare for a more visual, more private, more in-the-moment Web experience.


Himanshu Sareen is CEO of Icreon.


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What's most likely to cost a company your customer loyalty?
a major product fail
major unethical corporate behavior
public advocacy of social or political views I oppose
a really bad customer service experience
stagnation -- I'm attracted to innovation
none of the above -- I'll stick through thick and thin