Snapchat has been taking the world by storm since its creation in 2011, so the million dollar question is: what is Snapchat? Upon first glance Snapchat seems to be a simple image sharing app similar to Instagram, but with its large popularity it’s hard to believe Snapchat is just a reinterpretation of a different app. In reality, Snapchat is a little bit more complicated than just sharing images. The company’s community guidelines describe the app as being about “sharing moments and having fun” (Snapchat Community Guidelines) and I think that’s the perfect way to describe this unique app.
The first step to fully understanding Snapchat is to know how it works and its functions. To do this lets break the app down into its most important parts:
– Camera: At its heart Snapchat is an image and video sharing site, therefore opening up the app brings you to a camera-view screen with some pretty straight forward photo taking controls. Users can switch between the front and back phone cameras by pressing the rectangular button in the upper right-hand corner, change the flash settings by clicking on the lightning bolt in the upper left-hand corner, snap a photo by pressing the large hollow circle, or capture button, in the bottom center of the screen, and take a video by pressing and holding on the same capture button. These photos and videos are commonly called Snaps by users.
One truly unique part of Snapchat’s camera mode, and an aspect that draws a lot of people in, are Lenses. Lenses are essentially a way to take pictures, or Snaps, in augmented reality; users can take Snaps with dog features over their own, with a flower crown, or even with a tomato for a head. I would describe Lenses as almost like picture props in photo booths, but instead of being physically with you, they are digitally put over your face or used to morph your features. To use Lenses users start in the camera screen, press and hold on any face onscreen to make lens options appear, scroll through different lens options and follow any prompts that appear onscreen (like open mouth) to create cool effects, the last step is to snap a photo or take a video to share (Snapchat Support)!
Other features that make Snapchat’s camera feature, and picture and video sharing, unique is that users can edit their Snaps in new and different ways. Users can draw on a Snap in different colors after taking it by clicking on the pencil icon in the upper right-hand corner. Users can simply add a bar of text to Snaps if they don’t want to draw by clicking on the Capital “T” icon. Also, by clicking on the notepad icon when editing a Snap, users can add unique stickers to their image. Users can even “pin” a sticker to a specific point in a video Snap so it moves with the recording (Snapchat Support). Filters and “Geofilters” can also be added to Snaps. Filters range from different colors to make Snaps look nicer, similar to Instagram’s filters, to interactive filters that show users their speed or battery life at the time the Snap was taken. Geofilters are another amazing Snapchat-specific piece of content; users can place filters over their Snaps that show their location in cool designs or even highlight specific events. So if you snap a picture on the Storrs UConn campus chances are there will be a Storrs or UConn filter you can put over your Snap to let friends know where you are or where the Snap was taken. In the same way, if you attend a wedding the couple may have a filter for the event for Snapchatting guest to use. Geofilters can even be created by users quite simply by following the steps outlined by Snapchat’s website (https://support.snapchat.com/en-US/a/odg-howto).
– Chat: Clicking on the small speech bubble icon on the lower left of the screen takes users to the communication side of Snapchat. The unique sharing or Chat aspect of Snapchat is what really made it famous. Users can send a Snap to any of their Snapchat contacts by pressing the arrow in the bottom right, and selecting who they want to receive the content. Contacts appear in your contacts list and if you send another user Snaps often they might get the title “Best Friend” and a smiling emoji next to their name in your list. Where it gets interesting is that any Snap you send to a contact will only last for a certain amount of time from the moment the person receiving the snap opens it. If you send a photo to a friend you can designate, by clicking on the small circle in the bottom left, that the photo only appear on the other users screen from anywhere between 1 to 10 seconds (videos only last the length of the clip you take). Once the other user has viewed the photo or video for the allotted amount of time it can be replayed, but once the user closes out of the conversation the Snap is deleted and can’t be recovered (Snapchat Support). Although, users can still always screenshot a photo or video before It’s deleted. Chat can also be used just to talk in a format similar to texting. Users can comment on Snaps they were just sent, on a Snap from someone’s story, or simply just to chat without any photo or video content. Snapchat also added updates where users can video chat through Chat (Snapchat Support). I believe the temporary sharing nature of Snapchat has always been a big selling point for its users. Snapchat discusses in a blog post from 2013, which also explains temporary social media at length, that users feel fewer consequences in sharing content because it can’t be linked back to them in the future.
– Stories: By clicking on the pyramid of three little circles users can access the more large scale social media aspect of Snapchat. In essence, Stories are just another unique way to share photo and video content in a less personal way. As described by the company itself, “stories are compilations of Snaps that create a narrative” and appear chronologically in the order they are posted (Snapchat Support). Instead of sharing Snaps with only a few people of your choice, like in Chat, Stories appear to everyone who follows a user on Snapchat. For this reason stories are a popular way to keep up with celebrities and notable figures. Celebrities are even awarded an emoji next to their name to verify their identity and status. However, unlike Chat, Stories are watchable for 24 hours, and each Snap individually expires after it has been posted for 24 hours. Stories can also be watched multiple times, even after closing out of the app, unlike Chat. Users can keep up with recent updates in the “Recent Updates” section of the stories screen and only view Snaps they haven’t already seen or watch entire Stories in the “All Stories” section.
Another feature on the stories screen is Live Stories, which appear between “Recent Updates” and “All Stories”. As explained by Snapchat, “live stories are compilations of snaps from Snapchatters at events and locations around the world”(Snapchat Support). Live stories are put together by Snapchat themselves and last for 24 hours like any normal Story. To submit to a Live Story simply click on the share arrow, and if your location services are on, choose the Live Story name you wish to post in from the list of contacts (Snapchat Support).
– Memories: One of the newest additions to Snapchat is one that slightly changes their status as a temporary social media platform. Memories allows users to save Snaps for later use or even upload photos and videos from their phone’s camera roll (Snapchat Support). To save photos to Memories users simply click on the small arrow pointing down in the lower left-hand corner of the screen and to get to memories users just have to swipe up on the screen or click the small circle underneath the photo capture button. Photos and videos in memories can be edited just like normal Snaps and can be added to your Story or sent via Chat at any time.
– Discover: The last main feature in Snapchat is Discover. By swiping left in the Stories screen or by clicking the small globe of circles in the upper right of the screen, users can access Discover. Discover is a feature in Snapchat that allows users to view small entertaining articles made daily by actual publishers. Discover frequently features stories from Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, People, etc. and also from some live events like New York Fashion Week. Press and hold on a particular Story or channel to get a summary of its content, or simply click on it to begin watching (Snapchat Support). Discover content could be either a Story or actual written content, and users can even subscribe to channels, by pressing and holding on the channel, to see that channel’s content as they would another users Story that they follow.
Since its creation in 2011, Snapchat has been an innovator as an image sharing app. It’s no secret that Snapchat has really set itself apart from other similar apps like Instagram. On Instagram users can take photo and video content, filter it, caption it, post it, comment on other user’s posts, and keep content permanently (unless deleted). On the other hand, Snapchat takes a more creative approach to image sharing. Snapchat allows users to really personalize content and Snaps whether that is with a Lense, a filter or Geofilter, by drawing on their Snap, or adding fun stickers. Unlike Instagram, Snapchat isn’t about taking the perfect picture; it’s about taking fun and spontaneous Snaps of your life. Furthermore, as discussed in their 2013 blog post, Snapchat has really paved the way for temporary social media. No other popular app before Snapchat allowed users to share content with friends that would be deleted after a short amount of time. The short lengths of Snaps and their temporary nature make Snapchat feel more fun and have made them popular. So popular, in fact, that in one of Instagram’s latest updates it added a new feature that bears a striking resemblance to Snapchat’s Stories, but I’ll let you make your own opinion on that (Instagram Blog). In my experience, Instagram is where I go to share the beautiful, artsy photos and videos I take, Snapchat is where I go to share random, spontaneous updates about my day with friends or to try on fun Lenses. Furthermore, in a society that values new content and the “next big thing”, I think Snapchat really keeps up with its constant turnover of content; no one day on Snapchat is the same as the next. Snapchat attempts to let users share their life with people who aren’t always by their side, while still mimicking the temporary nature of life’s moments. The app does all of this while also incorporating ways for users to get news, read articles, and see what’s going on in the world with Discover and Live Stories in a fashion similar to Twitter’s “Moments” section. It’s all of these functions and features together that make Snapchat a force to be reckoned with.