Every Snapchat can tell a Story for a dayADAM ROBERTS
With a single update, popular app Snapchat has gone from a quirky messaging platform with a dodgy reputation to a social network for the future.
Snapchat is the two-year-old iPhone and Android app that lets you send self-destructing pics or short videos to friends.
Once they've opened the message, they have up to 10 seconds to view the video or pic before it is deleted from their phone forever (unless they screenshot it, alerting the sender).
With Snapchat, moments are forgotten by the software even quicker than they fade from your memory. Because of this, the service has a reputation for facilitating the exchange of dirty messages.
I've written before that using the app is more like a real conversation than any other social app, and reminded me of instant messaging before the services remembered your every utterance.
It probably has the best "administration to fun" ratio of any social app, with no need to spend time manicuring your profile or making sure your updates are reaching the right people.
But the new update has taken it further, moving the app's focus from showing people what you are up to at any one moment, to what you have been up to for a whole day.
The update, which launched about a fortnight ago, added Stories.
Users can take and send snaps as usual, but they now have the option to also add them to their Story.
Stories is a collection of snaps taken in a 24-hour period. They can be watched multiple times by any of your friends, and are automatically deleted at the end of the day.
Stories play back chronologically, so the idea is that by watching a Story, you can watch a play-by-play account of your friend's day.
Snapchat has come out with a series of ads showing off the new service, all highlighting the idea that everyone's days are filled with narrative possibilities.
The app is betting that users are experiencing Facebook burnout, and want a new way to catch up with their friends without having to deal with all of the admin, such as politely "liking" friend's updates, accepting/declining events, posting congratulations on the billionth baby announcement post.
But the motivation behind the change is apparently a bit more philosophical than just a weariness with the Zuckerbergian ideal.
In interviews, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel has rejected the concept of a permanent, static profile, which other social networks have at their core.
Such a profile forces users to consider how each new disclosure or online utterance fits in with the online persona they have created, he says.
I would argue this issue is even more of a concern when it's applied to people who are still creating their (online and offline) identity, like teenagers.
Snapchat wants people to create what is effectively a new profile every day, letting their online selves change as they do, without being weighed down by the past.
It's a nice idea, and the company has clearly put a lot of thought into the feature (Snapchat employs a sociologist), but it is all just theorising at this stage.
It will be interesting to see how users adopt the new feature. When I asked my iPhone 5-toting 18-year-old sister whether she used it, she said she didn't really understand what it was for.
Also interesting will be how brands and media companies react to the addition.
Up until now Snapchat was only of limited use in promotion or broadcasting.
I had heard of some businesses sending personalised snaps containing coupons or ads to every one of their followers, but it was definitely not widespread.
Fast food chain Taco Bell has already created Stories promoting its food (sorry, "food"), and NFL team the New Orleans Saints has also announced it will use the feature to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the team.
I could also see the value in news organisations dipping their toes into the social network. Imagine having a team of reporters all logged into the app, sharing snaps from their assignments or short videos from interviews and giving followers the curiosity to open a browser and find out more.
While the feature, and the app in general, has been contrasted with Facebook's approach to the profile, I wouldn't expect Snapchat to dethrone that social media giant.
Facebook is used for more than just bragging about your life. If your Newsfeed is anything like mine, a significant number of posts are commentary on current events or links to news, blogs and funny videos.
Pending another massive feature update or redesign which fundamentally changes its core nature, Snapchat will never be about more than showing your friends your life as it happens.
That might be enough to capture the imagination of those jaded by other overgrown social networks.
Recent history is littered with the corpses of unsuccessful social apps. But of course, Snapchat, forgetful as it is, doesn't care too much about the past.
- © Fairfax NZ News