I had an ‘Oh, snap’ moment this weekend about Snapchat. (Sorry, I had to.)
I don’t use Snapchat much because my friends don’t use it. We’re probably old. *sigh*. But then, a few things happened recently that got me back on it.
First, I started following a couple of photographer friends who have been posting stories on Snapchat. I imagine they need something like Snapchat to show a ‘behind-the-scenes’ into their lives. All other networks they use require them to be professional, to show that every photo they take is carefully crafted and better than any you could take. But Snapchat allows them to capture and share as the rest of us do: a behind-the-scenes where the output isn’t being held to a standard, where the lighting doesn’t matter, where they don’t have to behave as if they are contributing to a portfolio of work.
Then, during Jeter’s last game here in New York, I came across stories from other people under the ‘Live’ category. It was actually quite a magical moment to be able to see snaps from all around Yankee Stadium from all sorts of people. What did the moment mean to them? What’s it like to be there in their shoes? It allowed me to live the last game through not only traditional TV, but the simultaneous multicast of so many people who were at the event. Imagine if you were watching a live show on TV and the picture-in-picture showed these snaps from different perspectives. That’s what that felt like. The experience to me was much different than following a hashtag on Twitter, because ‘Live’ is curated and auto-plays all snaps shared. As Snapchat themselves says: “The world has never experienced this before - it’s truly a product of the Snapchat community.”
After these experiences, I started thinking of Snapchat more when out and about.
At the Global Citizen Festival this Saturday in Central Park, I started using Snapchat all day. I saw many kids holding up their phones and capturing the concert, so I figured it was a perfect place for me to try Stories and use it as they would. There’s something about using Snapchat as opposed to your default camera app to capture the concert. For one, photos of the stage you take on your normal camera roll probably aren’t likely to get seen more than the first time. They are also likely to be boring: dark, low-res, with weird angles of the stage and with people’s hands and phones and backs in the frame. But, for the course of the day, it’s nice to let everyone in on your moment and what you’re seeing. They get a quick glimpse of where you’re standing and experiencing and that is enough.
I found myself not really using Snapchat’s send-to-friend feature. In the heat of the moment, it required too many buttons to click and too much decision making. To whom should I send this snap? Why did I choose that person? All I wanted was to capture a scene and, if my friends saw it, then so be it; if they didn’t, that was okay too. No competing for likes, no getting stats on how many friends viewed it. It doesn’t mean I was capturing for “just me” - but if friends saw it, I knew it would no doubt* be a conversation piece for the next time we got together.
As someone that likes to take photos and loves time-hopping back into my past, Snapchat and products like it make me realize that 99% of the photos I take never get seen anyway. Many of them are just bad photos. For every 20 or so photos I take of a particular scene, I post one publicly (like here on Tumblr). All those photos and videos captured at the concert all shaky-cam-like didn’t need to be saved, they just needed to be seen. And then they needed to go away. There were very few photos that I wanted to capture to look back on and when I had those, the rest was just about sending along my moments.
This Stories moment in the evolution of the product reminds me of 2006 when Facebook launched Newsfeed. It fundamentally changes how you use the product and why you come back to it day after day. You don’t use Snapchat like you used to, by choosing people with whom to share. You just use stories - you create your own and you view the stories of others. Likewise, with Facebook pre-Newsfeed, you had to go to everyone’s walls to see what photo they had changed and who was posting on what; post-Newsfeed: well, it brought the updates to you.
Interestingly, as Facebook is attempting to go more and more ephemeral with their Labs experiments, Snapchat is actually moving the other way towards becoming more permanent in a sense. It still holds onto the idea that photos and videos probably don’t need to last longer than 24 hours because you never really go back to look at those things anyway. Facebook, algorithmically, is the same way: you jump into Newsfeed, see what’s what today for everyone and then you leave. You can’t go to Newsfeed and collectively see what happened with your friends last week. Snapchat doesn’t save them past a day because there’s no need to do that for the majority of photos and videos we create casually: we are creating more than we will ever be able to consume.
* See what I did there? yeah, ‘No Doubt’ was on stage too.