Impermanent Data Apps, The Newest Weapons In The War For Messaging

Earlier this week, Josh Constine wrote an epic piece on Facebook, Google and Apple’s impending messaging war. As Constine explains, we have most likely reached “peak SMS,” that is, text messaging is on the decline and another form of messaging will take its place.

But as the major empires wage total war for glorious messaging spoils, there are far smaller, distant tribes that will make their own windfall of riches from the battle. Man, I miss playing Age of Empires.

As these tech giants extend their reach even further, it is quite possible that users will seek to regain control over their information and embrace applications that quickly erase or encrypt their messages and pictures. Especially if the companies’ battle reduces their respect for users’ privacy—like Facebook’s aggressive email change last month.

The real gold mine for these impermanent apps is that they aren’t in the war. None of them can come close to these giants and none should try. But while the big three will likely engage in a winner take all battle, one or multiple apps can win side battles.

Take a look below at three popular iOS apps and the different ways they are filling the impermanent data space:


An app that sends text, picture and video messages with military-grade encryption and allows users to set a time limit for when the message erases itself, Wickr is probably the most secure app out there.

“Email is for traceable and Wickr is for untraceable,” co-founder Nico Sell tells Venturebeat. “We have won the big fight once all online communications are untraceable by default.”


A mobile video and picture-sharing app designed for families, Burst recently raised $3.45 million in angel funds. The app lets users un-send pictures and videos at any time, revoking access to the recipient.


Snapchat, an app that allows users to send photos with a time limit (1-10 seconds) for the recipient to view the photo before it erases, announced in early June that users had sent over 110 million photos on the site.

“It seems odd that at the beginning of the Internet everyone decided everything should stick around forever,” Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel, my former classmate, tells me in May. “I think our application makes communication a lot more human and natural.”

Of course, it’s strange to think now: Why would I want to have text messages or pictures that erase themselves when my iPhone keeps all of my texts with my best friend, pictures from my cousin, and more? But think about if this was how other communication worked.

What if your cellphone recorded all of your phone calls? How would that change the way you use it?

Text messaging is inherently different from email and even online chats like gchat and Facebook chat. It makes sense to store emails and go back and look them up. But as people talk on the phone, and even in person, less, the importance of quick messaging has risen. Text messages are the closest thing to real-life conversations and, in many cases, it doesn’t make sense for them to be stored permanently.

Whether it’s Wickr, Burst, Snapchat or other companies, the spectrum of impermanent data apps will grow and become more competitive in the coming years. But there’s one giant uncertainty that I haven’t mentioned yet. Astute readers are probably wondering:

What happens if one of the giants integrates impermanent options into their messaging services?

Facebook messaging, Gchat or iMessage with an option for encryption, or an expiration date, or the ability to revoke access to pictures or messages. That would be a game changer for the battle between the big three and for the impermanent data app landscape.

(Age of Empires photo via Fickr/CLF)