Snapchat's been the hot social network in 2015. Growing from somewhat controversial roots, where the app was seen as a facilitator for sexting and the sharing of controversial content (as, theoretically, it disappears upon viewing), Snapchat's evolved into a serious player in the social landscape, one with, arguably, the strongest hold on the wider attentions of the much vaunted Millenial market. Indeed, Snapchat claims that more than 60% of US 13-34 year old smartphone users are snapchatters, an audience that's now viewing more than 6 billion videos on the platform, every day. And while there's been some speculation around whether the company's actually worth the $16 billion price tag placed upon it after its last funding round, what is clear is that Snapchat is an important platform, and one that needs to be taken seriously, particularly as they evolve their monetization strategy and develop their core offerings, providing brands with new, engaging ways to reach their target audiences.
Along this line, Snapchat's today announced the addition of a new tool that aims to help boost discovery and engagement on the platform. Called 'Story Explorer', the new feature allows users to get more snaps on a particular moment within a story.
It works like this.
More Sides to Every Story
Snapchat live stories are collections of curated snaps around an event or issue which are made available to all users, or those within certain regions. For example, via my Snapchat profile, I can currently access two live stories, one on the AMAs and another on the arm wrestling championships currently being held in Queens.
Stories provide a great way to experience these events from the perspective of Snapchat users, and some events will have a wide range of related snaps and angles, giving users a real sense of what it's like to actually be there in attendance.
Snapchat's new Story Explorer adds a new element to this - now, when you're viewing a story, you'll be given the option to swipe up on specific posts within a story set to discover more content on that particular element.
As highlighted in the video, Story Explorer provides access to a range of related snaps, giving you multiple perspectives and angles on the details that interest you most. These different versions can provide new context on a moment and help enhance the Snapchat experience by presenting a more connected and deeper view of such events. The basketball shot is a great example - now, you can experience that final exhilarating moment as it was viewed by many different users, giving you a more complete picture of the action.
Of course, the success of this feature will be dependent on the relevance of content provided when a user swipes up, whether it's beneficial and adds to the context. Interestingly, Snapchat's using automation to identify these additional perspectives - as noted in the Snapchat blog:
"Story Explorer relies on technology developed by our research team to provide more depth to every Snap in a Story."
This was further confirmed by the Los Angeles Times, who, as part of an interview with Snapchat on the new feature, noted that:
"An expansive and expensive array of computers analyzing video submissions chooses the content shown in Story Explorer. They'll consider objects in videos, submission times and locations, and other data Snapchat's keeping quiet about."
Of most interest in this equation is the implied use of some form of image recognition and identification, an element which, if deployed successfully, could have wider implications for Snapchat in future. One of the key elements lacking in the current Snapchat experience is search. That makes sense given the ephemeral focus of the app, but much like Twitter, Snapchat can be difficult to understand for new users, particularly those who are more interested in viewing content, as opposed to creating it. Adding in a discovery process like this - a means of immediately showcasing Snapchat's strength in capturing personal experiences - could function much like Twitter's hoping their 'Moments' feature will, giving non-users a way into the Snapchat experience and, hopefully, enticing them to explore further.
In this context, automating the content detection process could play a big part - if Snapchat's successfully able to categorize and compartmentalize snaps, that could lead to a wider range of content discovery opportunities around more events, boosting audience engagement. For example, right now there are only a certain amount of live stories every day, but what it Snapchat's automated detection systems could identify clusters of uploaded content around specific images and alert the content team, enabling them to create more regionally focused stories in real-time? It's possible that they can do this in some form already, but by releasing their automated image recognition system, and refining its results based on user feedback, Snapchat will be able to accelerate the accuracy and functionality of their detection tools, improving their process and boosting opportunities on this front.
The function would also enable Snapchat to gather more data on what people are viewing - at present, Snapchat's lack of in-depth analytics are a concern for some advertisers as the app doesn't provide in-depth tracking to better target or measure their results. The suggestion that Snapchat's utilizing some level of automation on this front indicates that they may have more data available around more specific user habits sometime in the near future.
However you look at it, what is clear is that Snapchat is evolving and working towards the next level, which, right now, involves an eventual IPO. As the platform matures, its data tracking capabilities and audience insights will become increasingly important, as will its ability to maintain user growth and provide longer term strategy and guidance for how they intend to maximize their current strong position. While it may seem like a small addition in the scheme of things, Story Explorer is a good signal on this front, and may be an important step in the development of Snapchat's expanding business model.
Story Explorer will go live on New York and Los Angeles Live Stories today with plans to roll out the technology across many more Stories soon.