When Snapchat launched in 2011, it marked the dawn of a new age for social media. It was one of the first apps that was tailor-made for the emerging social media generation, for the teens who bring their phones everywhere with them. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, there was no newsfeed full of minion memes from Aunt Aoife in Kildare. Opening the app greeted you with the camera, putting you and your experiences front and centre in a way that other platforms did not.
Of course, this invited some backlash. Snapchat’s overwhelming success was pinned on its appeal to the narcissism of the selfie-obsessed generation. The inability to live in the moment was bemoaned by adults who struggled to open a new tab. This was followed by sexting scandals that sent fresh waves of panic through parents all over the country. All this did was entice people more, and by October 2012, users had shared over one billion photos on the Snapchat iOS app, with 20 million photos being shared per day. This was before the app was made available on Android devices.
There is no denying that Snapchat took the world by storm. It changed the game for social media and represented the beginning of a new mobile-first direction for designers. Yet, there are increasingly more and more news story detailing its demise. Plummeting stocks and celebrity criticism from Kylie Jenner, whose tweet about the app was widely reported to have cost the company $1.3 billion and the recent resignation of Chief Financial Officer, Tim Stone. Has the social media giant been defeated? Or have the rumours of its death been greatly exaggerated?
“Snapchat has suffered from its numerous updates. The loss of the best friends feature was the first blow.”
In many ways, it seems that Snapchat has been a victim of its own success. When Instagram first debuted its stories feature the Internet exploded with memes mocking how it seemed to be ripping off Snapchat. It turned out to be their smartest move to date, making the app more accessible to users who did not want to deal with the pressure of choosing the perfect photo to immortalise.
However, Instagram stories also boast a range of features which make it more expressive with filters, boomerangs, polls, questionnaires, GIFs and a direct sharing link with Spotify. According to CNN Business, Instagram stories attract more than twice the number of users Snapchat does for its entire app. It encourages users to check the app multiple times a day, and check out other features, such as the explore page which features a constantly refreshing array of posts based on what you have liked in the past.
Meanwhile, Snapchat has suffered from its numerous updates. The loss of the best friends feature was the first blow, where you could check any name on your friends’ list and see the three people they messaged the most. The feature was replaced with emoji tags that were difficult to decipher. The Discover page, which gives users the option to view content created by companies such as National Geographic and BuzzFeed, was another addition which proved to be unpopular. The group chat feature has some merit but can also be difficult to manoeuvre if you are not able to open messages in real-time, as you have to tap through each snap individually to escape the onslaught of notifications.
The obsession with the streaks feature turned talking to friends into a pressurised competition for many. The release of Snap Maps was also met with privacy concerns as you could track your friends’ locations, though it is possible to turn this feature off. The 2018 update included a poorly-received new layout, putting stories and incoming snaps on the same page.
“However, there is one major aspect of Snapchat that continues to attract a user base – privacy.”
Even so, there is one major aspect of Snapchat that continues to attract a user base – privacy. The fact that conversations do not automatically save appeals to many people, who feel that they can be more open when messages aren’t immortalised. It is almost a secret social media platform, that exists in its own little bubble. Generally only interacting with the select few that you’ve decided to interact with, you can hide stories from people on your friends’ list, and it hasn’t been invaded by the parents and relatives who tag you in unflattering photos.
This can also serve as a disadvantage. How many of us have returned to a Snapchat conversation hours later and forgotten what was being discussed? While you can choose to save messages as they are read, does the fact that it is not automatic show a lack of awareness for how the majority of us use social media? We check it sporadically throughout the day between meals, work, classes, watching television, or during a lull in a face-to-face conversation. It is something we multitask with, rarely devoting our full attention to it. Additionally, because it is tailored to you and your friends, unless you are actively messaging someone there is little else to do, unlike Instagram and Facebook where you can scroll through a constantly updating news-feed.
It is hard to deny that we use social media to promote a certain image of ourselves, cultivated through carefully edited, filtered, and tailored photographs. Instagram is probably the most notorious platform for this, particularly with the rise of influencer-culture. While it is impossible for any social media platform to truly be authentic, there is an honesty to Snapchat. This was described by CEO Evan Spiegel in 2012: “Snapchat isn’t about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It’s about communicating with the full range of human emotion — not just what appears to be pretty or perfect.” In this filtered, edited age of impossible expectations and projecting our best selves, perhaps that is something to celebrate. Whether this will be enough for the generations accustomed to finding the perfect filter for their experience remains to be seen.