A few years ago, a friend mentioned Snapchat to me as an app specifically purposed for sending and receiving naked pictures that immediately disappeared after the user viewed it. While I thought this was a great way to make it harder to store, share and publicly humiliate people who send nude photos of themselves to others, my genitalia is quite camera shy, so this was not for me. Only after being told that I could do other stuff on Snapchat by a much smarter friend did I enter the ghost world.
Soon after joining, I discovered just how fun Snapchat is, and with continuous improvements happening, it’s only gotten better. Their filters are frequently updated, unique, silly, and also allow the user to be creative with each one of them. As a proud recluse, the only reason why I’d even consider travelling the world is so I can see all the different geography based filters Snapchat has to offer in each city and town.
No other photo/video based app has those features nor can compete with the up-to-the-second spontaneity of the app. Whether it’s Vine or Instagram, a narrative arc seems necessary within each post in order to even legitimize its existence. With Instagram, it’s nearly taboo for somebody to post more than one image a day. Seriously, I’ve seen countless examples of people prefacing their post’s caption with an apology for sharing, god forbid, TWO photos in one day. Snapchat does not have this problem, all photos or videos that the user chooses to share get bundled up into the their “Story,” so there’s no timeline flooding to worry about. No apologies necessary.
In a surprising development, however, the app championed for its entertaining disposability has decided to make a strong commitment to journalism. Over the past few updates, major media outlets and TV channels like Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, MTV and Comedy Central began popping up at the top of the “Stories” page featuring videos and articles made specifically for the app. At first, they were tiny little circles that were easy to ignore. Now, they’re bulkier rectangles demanding more attention. They’ve also added a new page labelled “Discover,” which is entirely dedicated to those outlets.
At first glance, this can certainly be taken as a blatant “fuck you” to the ghosts of Woodward and Bernstein (neither of them are dead), as well as the distinguished history of journalism as a whole. But if executed well, this wouldn’t be the first time an app created for inane intentions became a hosting ground for brilliant voices who may not have been discovered otherwise.
When Twitter began getting attention, Ashton Kutcher was the first master of the medium somehow. Yes, Ashton Kutcher. This can not be forgotten. He was the first to hit a million followers and it was actual news. Athletes like Charlie Villanueva and Gilbert Arenas used Twitter as an easier way to get in trouble instead of them having to risk a broken hand by going all the way to a nightclub and punching somebody in the face. As the site grew, smarter people began using it in smarter ways. Activists like Deray McKesson and Johnetta Elzie (or simply, @Deray and @Nettaaaaaaaa) used Twitter as a way to organize the Black Lives Matter movement. Comedy writers started getting book deals left and right. And as Twitter implemented new features, writers had better ways to expound on richer ideas incapable of being summed up in 140 characters.
What worries me about Snapchat is how it doesn’t seem to be following the template of Twitter’s template. The potential is certainly there and the Story feature has already been well utilized during major events by prominent figures. The problem is that most of the notable examples of heavily followed Snapchat users are celebrities who were already famous to begin with. Snapchat did give DJ Khaled’s relevance a boost, however, the appeal of his snaps to begin with was that he wasn’t exactly starving for the boost to begin with.
Any good social media app worthy of its over inflated IPO obviously needs some celebrities, though. Just look at how well it worked out for Dane Cook and MySpace. The celebrity base is necessary. But aside from the famous folk and those aforementioned media outlets, there isn’t an easy way for a regular user be shown to a wider audience.
Ironically, this is what made the app such a sensation in the first place. The path Snapchat wants to take gives great hindrance to a user’s drawing power due to the privacy afforded to them. Standard features on social media simply can not be done at this present time because of this. There’s nothing comparable to a Re-Tweet, a Like, a Share, or a ‘Person You Should Follow’ feature. There isn’t even anything in place that allows someone who read and enjoyed a certain media outlet’s Snapchat article to follow the author’s personal account. And while Snapchat Live does show a collection of snaps by individual users pertaining to a major event, none of their usernames are shown there . It’s also kind of a mystery to me how someone gets featured on Snapchat Live in the first place.
Such a lack of accessibility to an organic, non-famous, user’s account really delivers a blow to the whole “social” aspect of Snapchat. The skeezy, yet well intentioned, foundation of Snapchat needs to be reconfigured in order to help make the voices who want heard on there can get exposure without Buzzfeed or Comedy Central press credentials. If left in its current state, there simply won’t be a high likelihood of there being Snapchat’s version of a Vine Star or Twitter Sensation, just a bunch of dicks with dog ears.