Credit to Author: Louise Matsakis| Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 12:00:00 +0000
When Hurricane Harvey wreaked destruction in Houston last August, the country turned not just to cable television, but also to Snapchat. Two months before the storm, the social media app had debuted Snap Map, a crowdsourced, interactive feature that displays what’s happening on Snapchat around the world.
At launch, Snap Map seemed mostly like a fun toy, albeit one with potential privacy implications; Snap Map can broadcast your location to your friends if you opt in. But when Harvey hit, the map’s real utility became clear. Houston residents began sharing raw, intimate footage of paddling in canoes, huddling in shelters, and their living rooms filling with water. Snap Map communicated the breadth of the disaster better than a slickly produced cable news broadcast ever could.
The problem: Snap Map lived exclusively inside Snapchat itself. It presented a range of experiences and emotions, but little in the way of context, being divorced from the rest of the web. Users could record or take photos of their screens to bring those videos to the wider internet, but there was no streamlined method. On Monday, Snapchat announced a potential solution to that problem. Beginning today, Snap Map, which has 100 million monthly users, will exist outside of the Snapchat app on a dedicated website.
News organizations, bloggers, and anyone else can embed Snap Map content right into web pages or other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Unlike embedding a tweet or YouTube video—and true to Snapchat’s purpose—Snap Map content will be ephemeral, disappearing after 30 days. That’s far longer than normal Snapchat stories, which only last 24 hours. Users can contribute to the map by opting to share their snap to “Our Story.”
You can embed Snap Map stories elsewhere on the web in three formats: individual stories, a collection from a location or event, or stories in a specific geographic area. For example, in an article about the Olympics, WIRED could choose to embed a specific story from skier Lindsey Vonn, a series of stories about the Olympic Games, or every story from the Pyeongchang area. No matter the format, the stories will disappear after 30 days. The embed won’t break, but will say that the content is no longer available.
The Snapchat staff moderates every Snap Map story in some way. An editorial team curates Our Stories, designated by purple font. Algorithms generate other Snap Map stories—designated by black font—around specific events or locations, though they still have to go through a content moderation process.
Snap Map stories offer some anonymity to users by not including screen names. It’s hard to spoof the system, however, because you can only post from your GPS location; you can’t, say, pretend to be in New York if you’re really in Berlin.
I had a chance to try the new Snap Map at Snapchat’s offices in New York last week. It was easy to see the utility for news organizations, especially because embedding Snap Map stories feels like a new iteration of what reporters have done for years. A hallmark feature of viral web stories in publications like Buzzfeed has always been the inclusion of a smattering of tweets or Facebook posts. That now carries over to Snapchat, with one important difference: The format is short videos instead of 280 characters.
Snap Maps on the web hopes to capitalize on a fundamental shift taking place in how we consume and communicate information online. When the internet first became popular, dial-up connections were too slow to quickly send videos, GIFs, and photos. Today, people increasingly use augmented videos and pictures to communicate emotions. A snap of the State of the Union with a thumbs-down emoji can be a more effective way than a tweet—or worse, an essay—to communicate how much you hated it.
While Snap Map provides rich visual detail, it also makes it difficult to follow up and understand the full context of what’s being shown. Countless stories have been uncovered by reporters who emailed or direct messaged sources after seeing their tweets, Facebook posts, or Reddit comments. With Snap Map, journalists have little information to go off of aside from a user’s location. There’s no way to find more information, at least for now.
From the users’ perspective, this might be a bonus. Twitter is full of people unhappy that their tweets were plopped into a news story without their consent. With a snap, your content might still be featured, but at least your name isn’t attached to it.
The Snap Map expansion is part of Snapchat’s larger strategy to bring its content outside of the app. For years, Snapchat has struggled to communicate the kind of content it offers to potential users. In a previous job, I made daily Snapchat stories for a news publisher; it was difficult to communicate what that was like to anyone who didn’t use the app themselves. In contrast, my mom has never tweeted, but she understands the basics of Twitter from having seen its content elsewhere on the web. Snap Map is just the latest—and potentially most visible—effort to address that problem.
Last month, Snapchat made it possible to share some types of Snapchat Stories beyond the app itself. You can now hold down on any Official Story—meaning it was posted by a public figure and approved by Snapchat—and share it elsewhere on the internet. You can also share Snapchat’s curated Our Stories, edited collections of videos from Snapchatters focused on a cultural moment, event, or holiday.
This also represents a rare moment where Snapchat and Instagram have diverged. Over the past several years, Instagram has repeatedly copied Snapchat’s latest features, resulting in a ongoing one-upmanship between the platforms. The rivalry began in 2016 when Instagram copied Snapchat’s signature feature: stories, strings of consecutive vertical videos pushed to all of a user’s followers at once. Facebook, which owns Instagram, has rolled out stories to its other properties, including WhatsApp and Facebook itself. There’s even a meme making fun of how Snapchat’s beloved feature has seemingly ended up everywhere.
Snapchat’s efforts to share content elsewhere on the web are being led by Rahul Chopra, the former CEO of Storyful, an agency that licenses viral videos and other content online. Chopra was tapped to be the head of “Stories Everywhere” at Snapchat in December.
Embedding Snap Map stories feels like a new iteration of what reporters have done for years.
Snapchat’s latest announcement arrives on the heels of a promising earnings report. For much of the last year since Snapchat became a publicly traded company, its stock has slumped. But last week, Snapchat announced it had reversed that trend. After the company’s CEO Evan Spiegel said the company had made $30 million more than projected, shares rose by 20 percent, to the level they were when the stock first went public.
During the earnings call, Spiegel emphasized bringing Snapchat’s content outside the app. “Removing friction from the way people use Snapchat and view Snaps will help us continue to grow our community over the coming year," he said.
Snapchat also announced that its number of daily users had risen nine million, to 187 million. Instagram may already have more than twice that amount, but it looks Snapchat can’t be counted out just yet—especially now that it’s about to show up everywhere you look.