Now You See it, Now You . . . Still See it?

SadchatAlmost a year ago Facebook offered $3 billion for Snapchat, a tiny company that had made almost no money since its founding in 2011 – and in typical hubristic Silicon Valley style, Snapchat’s founders told Facebook to fuck off. Now, based on an investment by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the so-called “Street” values the upstart company at a whopping $10 billion. Who couldn’t feel a bit sad to think that a company that offers an app for sending photos that self-destruct after 10 seconds is worth more than Nikon, or Kodak, or both together?

The Snapchat app was developed to enable users to send content (photos, videos, text, drawings) that would have an ephemeral lifespan – presumably addressing a pressing requirement of people seeking to shock, titillate or offend someone else without leaving an embarrassing trail. The market for such a tool is large, as Snapchat boasts that its subscribers are sending about 700 million “snaps” a day.

Apparently those fecund Snapchat users operate in blissful ignorance, because anyone with half an imagination can see how the promise of temporariness cannot fundamentally be guaranteed. Recipients of “snaps” must keep their finger on the touchscreen while viewing the content which hinders their ability to take a screenshot. But if the recipient takes a screenshot anyway, the only protection for the sender is to receive a handy note from the Snapchat app announcing that the video of his girlfriend in the shower has been captured. But forget all that. As anyone can plainly understand, the recipient of a snap can easily take a picture of the “temporarily visible” picture against the wishes and expectations of the sender.

Such a breach befell a Brooklyn high school teacher in East Flatbush in June. It seems that 44-year-old science and math teacher Sean Shaynak sent a “snap” of his Johnson to a 16 year old female student – presumably relaxed in the confidence of knowing his lascivious photo would soon and forever be expunged from the universe, courtesy of Snapchat, leaving behind not a scintilla of evidence. Unless of course the student took a picture of the snap which she most surely did. Because Shaynak trusted the word of the $10 billion company, he faces up to seven years in prison.

Which begs the question: how can a company whose sole value proposition can be sidestepped with ease be worth even a million bucks, let alone ten thousand times as much? I say it can’t be.

In addition to offering a specious product, Snapchat has also been a conduit for “snap spam” consisting of bullshit weight-loss ads and bogus contests, and for child pornography. And this past May they were the dubious recipient of a lowly, one-star rating from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that ranks internet companies on how they respond to government data requests. More stars are rewarded to those that rigorously guard user data. Basically, with one star to its name, Snapchat can be expected to bend over to every government request for users’ personal data, which could be voluminous, and in many cases embarrassing at least and possibly incriminating.

Soon enough, the founders and investors in Snapchat – like their cohorts at Groupon – will rue the day they turned down Facebook’s generous offer.

Pitfalls and Prodigies

A couple weeks ago the world was captivated by the performance of 13-year-old Mo’Ne Davis in the Little League World Series, one of a just a handful of girls who have played in the contest, and the first to pitch a shut-out. Then yesterday at the US Open Tennis tournament, 15-year-old CiCi Bellis became the youngest player since 1996 to win a match there, defeating 12th seeded Dominika Cibulkova in three sets. All of this is good for the games’ sponsors and the networks that broadcast the events (ESPN reported record-breaking viewership for Davis’s final game.) But is it good for the youngsters?

Based on what I’ve seen and read, I would say yes in these particular cases. Both young women seem to have poise beyond their years, and supportive families. But too often the urge to move the kids along the fast track to fame and fortune ruins it. Parents become greedy, professional handlers interfere, trainers get aggressive.

Consider Michelle Wie, the golf phenom who debuted in 2000 when at ten years old she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. A few years later in 2003, she became the youngest player to make an LPGA cut, and then later that year she became the youngest to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. The tall, big-hitting Wie was on such a tear that in 2004 she got a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Sony Open – a men’s tournament on the PGA rotation. Although she missed the cut, she shot a 68 on day two, the lowest ever carded for a woman in a men’s event.


From there, it seemed Michelle Wie could go anywhere, and no doubt pressed by parents and advisers, turned pro just before turning 16. Hell – she was touted as the female Tiger Woods. Then in what seemed to me to be an attempt to make some kind of statement, Wie got one sponsor exemption after another to play in men’s tournaments. Unfortunately, despite her tremendous talent and skill, the experience was humbling. She missed cuts by wide margins and I suspect her confidence suffered. Soon, Wie was in a slump, unable to perform well even when playing against other women. No doubt the low point came in 2007 when she withdrew from the LPGA Ginn Tribute tournament citing a wrist injury – oh, and she happened to be 14 over par after 16 holes at that moment. The move was controversial because had she played the final two holes she may have put up a score that would have disqualified her from playing in LPGA contests the rest of the year.

Today, Michelle Wie has recovered her game and is a solid, mature player sticking to the LPGA – but in the intervening period her performances seemed more like a sideshow spectacle, which certainly set her back. The pressure on her to beat the men must have been tremendous.

The fate of childhood stars often turns out grim after a certain age (think Danny Bonaduce); let’s hope Mo’Ne Davis and the other talented kids coming up through the ranks get a chance to enjoy the game before middle-career cynicism sets in.

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