Each sharing medium has its virtuosos. YouTube celebrities, Instagram artists, Vine comedians. And soon, thanks to the private ephemeral messaging app’s new public broadcast feature Stories, we may see Snapchat superstars take the spotlight. Their creations could make Snapchat less about intimate conversations and more of place where the whole world gathers in one person’s shoes for a few seconds.
Stories is a radical shift for Snapchat. For a demo, you can check out mine under my silly handle “Steenboat”. Until now, the app been the quintessential lean mobile product that nails one use case. You take a photo or video, jazz it up with some drawings or text, and send it to one or a bunch of friends with a self-destruct timer that deletes your messages within 10 seconds of it being seen. It felt personal and urgent. You were one of the lucky people selected to gaze through this fleeting window into a friend’s life.
But the startup noticed an odd emergent behavior. What was intended for back-and-forth conversations between two people or to let you share something exclusive with a small group was being used less discretely. Snapchatters were sending their little moments to dozens and dozens of friends — almost like they would broadcast a Facebook post to a large, though still private, group.
Some people were even trying to build a fan base for their Snaps. “The Snapchat Artist” pushes the limits of the app’s rudimentary drawing feature to recreate classic paintings and compose portraits they screenpic and post on their blog. BuzzFeed highlighted the work of James McKenna, who doodles on photos to create surreal visions of his New York Subway commute that he’d share on Reddit.
Meanwhile, Snapchat was looking to become more robust and potentially set up a new way to interact that would increase the time people spent in the app, and create an opportunity for making money. Despite seeing people send 350 million photos and videos a day (stunningly, that’s about as many as Facebook), and raising $73 million in venture capital, it wasn’t making money.
So it launched Stories. Instead of, or along with, having your Snap delivered with a push notification to specific friends, you can post it to your Story. Your friends can tap your Story to see all the photos and videos you’ve added to it over the last 24 hours. But buried in the settings, a new option was added. One that could turn Snapchat into a vector for self-expression to a mass audience.
Who is allowed to view my stories? Everyone
All an aspiring Snapchat star has to do is promote their username and they can build a following for their constantly evolving story. Witty jokesters, steady painters, beautiful models, artsy photographers, and inspiring videographers are just a few types of Snapchat celebrities that could be catapulted to fame by Stories.
I asked McKenna, the closest thing Snapchat has to a star so far, whether he’ll be using Stories. He gave me an emphatic ‘yes’, noting “with Stories there’s a really good platform to have an overarching theme that I think would end up being hysterical. So far it’s just been quick snaps of people with some horrible drawing.” You can follow McKenna on Snapchat at “chillhartman”. As Snapchat-specific artists learn the strengths of the Stories medium, we can expect some full-fledged tales of adventure and daily life to emerge.
Then there’s the potential for existing celebrities to amplify their stardom through Snapchat Stories. The medium could let a celebrity like Katy Perry or Jimmy Kimmel delight fans and make them more loyal by offering quick peeks into their daily lives. And since content disappears from Stories 24 hours after it’s posted, there’s less need to worry if their make-up or acting is perfect.
Stories could also be a perfect vector for advertising on Snapchat. Right now when you swipe to your friends list, you see a “Recent Updates” section that lists friends who’ve added Snaps to their Stories. “Promoted Stories” from brands or public figures could fit naturally there. You could see the tale of a hungry man’s quest for Taco Bell, or clips from recent concerts by a musician performing soon in your city.
If the Stories feature goes as planned, it could make Snapchat something you browse when you’re bored, not just an app you open when you receive a message. That could give it the eyeballs necessary to start making money. The only risk is that by giving users a more public way to share their perspective, it could lose the simple focus and intimacy that made us so excited to get notifications from that little smiling ghost.