The new Snapchat update came for us like a jaguar in a "Planet Earth" clip stalking its prey in the jungle. We knew it was coming — Snapchat announced it November last year — just not when exactly it would show up. We tried to prevent it from happening by turning off auto-update, but it still found itself on our phones.
Snapchat’s reasoning for the update actually makes a lot of sense. In a company blog post, Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s founder and CEO, wrote that “The new Snapchat separates the social from the media.” He argues that the split is necessary because the mix of media and “social” has made us feel like we have to perform for everyone and even produces fake news. The move is an unusually perceptive business decision from the man at the helm of one of the world’s biggest businesses.
I must add that perhaps the real reason for the update is that Snapchat needs more revenue. It had disappointing earnings Q3 of last year, before picking up again in Q4 and losing only $90 million. The company still has yet to turn a profit. Spiegel is desperate to find a way to continue growth in the face of Facebook and its toy, Instagram.
However, the update still dramatically misses Spiegel's hope of creating a more personal app. In its attempts to split up the “social” and the media, it has ceded less attention and space to the real reason people use the app: to interact with friends.
The app has effectively packed in all of the “social” into one panel, putting it on equal footing with Discover and its constant awfulness. All your friends’ stories are confusingly crammed together with your current snaps. The Snaps below your first few constantly churn with new different snaps, neglecting the old sense of stability that Snap had.
Snapchat will not generate the growth it needs by giving more and more screen time to online publishers' content like the Dodo’s “Sea Angels Have The Wildest Sex You’ve Ever Seen,” or your popular friend’s lunch. An increase in curation, as Speigel promises in his blog post, won’t help either.
Snapchat is so popular because of the way it provides a unique, self-expressive way of communication. Snapchat was novel in its ability to let you customize your snaps with everything from lenses, funny bitmojis and a drawing tool. Thankfully, however, Snap’s disappearing feature is preserved. When my friends mourn Snapchat’s update, they complain about not having another platform to send snap-like messages, not its media or curated stories.
Unfortunately, though the ability to do so brings people to the app, the funny faces you send to your friend don't bring Snap any money. The company has to rely on your eyeballs constantly soaking up the brain-softening listicles and videos in the Discover tab.
The company must revive the social aspect of the app. Spiegel was right to say that we shouldn’t mix social and media together, but we don’t need to neglect one to feed the other. To keep Snap alive, Speigel needs to make sure the app fosters the spontaneous and humorous style of communicating it became famous for.
It's the tragedy of the Internet — having an amazing website or app that isn’t profitable — that felled Vine. Hopefully, Snapchat can stay alive.