Dec 10, 2013 · 3 minutes

On the one hand, we have Snapchat, an immensely viral app that lets people send disappearing messages to each other. It has been in the news recently for turning down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook, for having no clear revenue model, and for an increasingly ugly dispute between its frat-brother founders.

On the other hand, we have SpaceX, an 11-year-old company that makes and launches rockets. Last week it launched a rocket that put a satellite into orbit a quarter of the distance to the moon for a price of just $55 million – compared to the price of $100 million to $260 million offered by competitors – potentially setting off a space price war. In the process, it also cemented itself a revenue line independent of NASA contracts, which will accelerate its goal of sending humans to, first, the International Space Station, and, later, Mars. In September, SpaceX completed a flight test that proved it had all the parts necessary for reusable rockets, a development that would drastically reduce the cost of space travel. In October, SpaceX sent its test Grasshopper rocket 2,400 feet in the air, let it hover for a bit, and then brought it back down to land on its launch pad.

So, who do you think gets the most online attention?

I wondered this yesterday after reading a Foreign Policy piece on Elon Musk written by Michael Belfiore. In the article, Belfiore suggested that Musk’s work with SpaceX gets less notice than his work with Tesla Motors, the electric car company. That might be true, I thought, but the more interesting comparison would be with Snapchat, the app du jour, and seemingly a daily fixture in the news.

Messaging app vs rocket company. A computer program that enables connections vs a space program that aims to make human life multi-planetary. Or, as my colleague Erin Griffith puts it, a kid’s game of telephone vs ROCKET SCIENCE.

Which do we Internet beings care most about?

Well, let’s look at some stats.

In the last year, the New York Times has published about 540 articles that contain the word “Snapchat.”

Snapchat NYT

Over the same period, it has published about 100 articles that contain “SpaceX.”

SpaceX NYT

Google Trends shows that over the past year people have been searching for the word “Snapchat” more than they have “SpaceX” by a factor of 21.

Google Trends Snapchat vs SpaceX

SpaceX has 278,000 Twitter followers, compared to Snapchat’s 120,000, but according to Topsy, there have been 3.9 million tweets about Snapchat over the past 30 days.

Snapchat Topsy

For the same period, SpaceX has seen 40,000 tweets.

SpaceX Topsy

A search for “Snapchat” across multiple tech blogs – Pando, TechCrunch, TechMeme, AllThingsD, Mashable, Engadget, The Verge, Business Insider, Engadget, Ars Technica, Venture Beat, and GigaOm – returns 73,600 results.

Tech Blogs Snapchat

The same search for “SpaceX,” which has been around nine years longer than Snapchat and therefore accounts for a wider period of coverage, returns 44,600 results.

Tech Blogs SpaceX

Data gathered by PageData suggests that SpaceX, with 32,000 people “talking about it,” is more popular on Facebook than is Snapchat, which has only 2,500 people “talking about it,” even though there are multiple other Snapchat accounts on Facebook that people seem to be interested in.

PageData SpaceX

PageData Snapchat

Google News turns up about 30,000 results for “Snapchat”.

Snapchat Google News

But “SpaceX” beats it with 39,000!

SpaceX Google News

The Google News anomaly aside, it's clear that humans prefer to talk about Snapchat more than about Elon Musk's long-game effort to spread human consciousness to others parts of the universe.

The lessons?

  • Pop culture is easier than Mars

  • A story about a fight between founders sells better than a story about Space Race 2.0

  • Disappearing photos are more compelling than a disappearing ecosystem

Optimize your website for pageviews accordingly.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]