Snapchat is probably the most divisive social network going around at the moment. For regular users, it's an amazing tool, serving both personal and business purposes for many. But a lot of people still don't get what all the fuss is about - for many Snapchat still carries the baggage of being that crazy app that kids use to share naked photos of themselves, an initial perception that's it's moved away from but is still associated with, at least to some degree.
And it's kind of both. Not so much a sexting app, but it's brazen, with its bold colors and the ability to scribble on your photos and add filters. Snapchat's focus is on fun, on providing a way to mess arounf and do what you like on social without the ongoing consequences of that content sticking around or being shared amongst your wider networks of family and friends. So you can embarrass yourself, you can be foolish, and you can do this knowing that the content will soon disappear and no one will be digging it up again in future and holding it against you. And while there are tools to capture Snapchat images and you can't just snap with impunity, the platform facilitates humorous, engaging interactions which can be as restricted or open as each user chooses.
Staying true to this path, Snapchat has today announced two significant updates. The first is the addition of 'Lenses'. Lenses enables users to add animations and effects to their selfies, transforming themselves into everything from elderly citizens to horrifying monsters.
Lenses is powered by Looksery, a face modification app that Snapchat acquired for around $150 million. Looksery was originally a video chat app that enabled people to alter their appearance on their videos, making themselves look like cats or a pandas, but it had problems establishing itself as a new platform in an increasingly competitive market. Merging with Snapchat enables them to utilize their technology on a wider scale, within an already established network.
The addition of Lenses is already generating buzz online, with many users (like the ones above) posting pictures of their new looks through the function. Also, if you see people doing this to their phones:
Now you'll know why. It's a great addition to the app and goes completely in-step with Snapchat's style and audience appeal.
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The more significant element of this update is the option to re-view your snaps. In some ways, this goes against the entire ethos of Snapchat - as noted above, while most people know there are ways to capture snaps to ensure they live on beyond the set time limit on each, the concept of disappearing content is still, at core, what Snapchat is about. Or maybe 'was' all about is more accurate. In recent times Snapchat has deviated from this path - the introduction of 'tap to view' back in July acknowledged that people can and will save snaps (the original idea was that people had to hold a finger on screen to view content, which stopped them from taking screenshots) while the 'Replay' function, which enables users to re-watch one snap per day, has been in place for some time. In this sense, adding the ability to re-watch snap content is not really a big change, but it is still a significant step.
Also, while you can re-watch snaps, the option does come with a catch - you're gonna' have to pay for it.
From the announcement:
"Today, U.S. Snapchatters can purchase extra Replays, starting at 3 for $0.99. You can use a Replay on any Snap you receive, but you can only Replay any Snap once. They're a little pricey - but time is money!"
This is an interesting angle for monetization, though one that seems pretty low-risk - if you don't want to use it, don't, just continue on as you always have. The majority of Snapchat's revenue, currently, comes from its Discover platform, which enables publishers to share content with Snapchat's user base via an unintrusive, additional area in the app. Discover has been pretty well-received, with some publishers seeing more than 1 million unique viewers per day. But Snapchat's valuation is high, with recent funding putting the app's value at around $16 billion. A price tag like that comes with expectation, and Snapchat will no doubt be exploring various avenues to increase monetization options with a view to an IPO. If Replays prove popular, this could be a quick and easy win in this regard, whilst also enabling the company to capitalize on its key strength in user engagement.
It's an interesting announcement from Snapchat - a fun addition and a commercial proposition, rolled into one (very short) blog post. Lenses will no doubt get the focus here, which is good for Snapchat as it takes attention away from the slow shift towards monetization, which could alter the user-experience over time. In taking the focus off this aspect, they avoid it becoming a bigger issue - had they just announced Replays by themselves there'd be all sorts of talk of the platform's need to make money and the necessary changes such moves will entail. Instead, regular Snapchatters are focused on morphing their faces, snarling at their phones and, importantly, using the app. And no doubt some of those Lenses-modified images will justify a few re-views.