Trend Tuesday:  Ephemeral Content

Ephemeral def.

– 1. lasting a very short time

As 2013 unfolded, the word ‘ephemeral’ was increasingly heard at conferences, in blog posts, and in technology news articles.  Typically, the word was associated with digital content but, occasionally, it was used in reference to things in the physical world as well.  We heard it enough, in fact, to begin covering it as part of Sabre Labs Emerging Trends research.

The growing trend toward a variety of ephemeral ‘things’ is essentially a movement that involves the delivery of content and/or capabilities that are, by their very nature, meant to be short-lived.  At its core, ‘ephemeral’, especially in reference to digitally exchanged content, begins to dispel the notion that such content is captured, stored, accessible, reviewable, and shareable forever.

We heard ephemeral used a lot in reference to Snapchat, a popular photo messaging application.  With the app, you can share content, or ‘Snaps’ – photos, drawings, videos, text, etc. – with an audience with a limit on how many seconds the content is available for viewing.  After that limit, the content is hidden from any recipient device and deleted from the company’s servers.  Snapchat has almost single-handedly proven the value of the concept of temporary social media.

Privacy and fraud prevention could be major forces behind the continued evolution of ephemeral content.  Limiting the ability, via browsers, to track users’ online activities has received a great deal of attention recently.  Single use credit cards and other payment related innovations are seen as ways to prevent fraud.  Even the practice of stripping any personally identifiable information prior to permanent storage of data is an example of the need for certain content to be ephemeral.

Finally, though, the concept of ephemeral is evolving far beyond photo sharing and data storage.  The idea of ‘immediacy without permanency’ is permeating many facets of not only digital content but tangible things as well.   ZipCar, acquired by Avis Budget Group, continues to validates the idea of ephemeral transportation.  Mobile produce markets like Fresh Moves provide healthy, affordable food choices to areas considered to be food ‘deserts’.  So-called ‘pop-up restaurants’ are proving that ephemeral can even apply to fine dining.  I’d provide links to those, too, but given the fact they aren’t permanent, there’s a chance the links wouldn’t work!