Instagram Spotlights vs Snapchat Stories vs Twitter Moments

There is a battle raging for curated social media supremacy. When big things happen, each of these apps wants to be where you see the best of and behind the scenes. They’ve all created their own features that take the work off your hands. Just sit back and watch, swipe or scroll.

But how do they feel and what do they do best? Last night we got a rare chance to directly compare Instagram Spotlights, Snapchat Live Stories, and Twitter Moments since they all featured The Grammys. Here’s a look at their strengths, opportunities, and shortcomings.

Instagram Spotlight

What It Feels Like: The Polished Paparazzi Highlight Reel

Instagram stays true to its success theater with Spotlight. The recently launched feature is linked to from atop the feed and promoted heavily on the Explore page (swipe right at the top if you don’t see it). Instagram Spotlights displays an auto-advancing feed of video clips around a theme, artist or, in this case, a live event. You can swipe up to see the next clip or let them slide into place at its own pace.

Arianna Grande waves "Hi Instagram!"

Arianna Grande waves “Hi Instagram!”

For the Grammys, Instagram puts you in the shoes of the world’s luckiest photographer amidst all the extravagance. You’ll see 55 clips like pop starlet Ariana Grande waving “hi Instagram!”, Taylor Swift and her friends freaking out in their dressing room when she finds out she won an award, and a close-up of Lady Gaga getting David Bowie makeup.

At its best, Instagram’s Grammys Spotlight shows you the best moments that weren’t on TV. Yet they’re often polished or impressive enough that they’d fit there as little vignettes before commercial breaks. It’s about the visuals, just like Instagram, so Spotlight sticks to high-definition video the whole way through. The experience feels crisp and alive without being rushed.

At its worst, the Spotlight seems cold and overly fabricated. The reliance on professional outside photographers like Polk Imaging that shoots for Getty makes you feel a bit detached. You’re so close to the stars, but most of the time they don’t seem to notice — like you’re watching through a one-way mirror. It’s corporate; it’s the version of the stars that the stars want you to see. A few more giddy, wacky views would humanize it.

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If you want a deeper look and exclusive access to special event, Spotlight does it well. But don’t expect to feel like you attended yourself.

Snapchat Live Stories

What It Feels Like: The Raw, Intimate, First-Person Perspective

Snapchat retains its goofy, off-the-cuff vibe in its Live Stories. The oldest of these curated social media formats, Snapchat combines user-submitted footage, shots by the stars themselves, and clips from its own in-house correspondents. You can fast-forward through the 65 snaps that compose the several-minute sequence that’s promoted above your Story list.

IMG_5379Snapchat’s Grammy’s story casts you as a celebrity’s best friend. You’ll see Justin Bieber warming up in his trailer, Diplo playing with Snapchat’s facial recognition selfie animations, and shots from the crowd and side stage of stars accepting their awards. Decorated with emoji and annotated with text exclamations, Snapchat’s story is funny and fawning.

Done right, Snapchat gives a sense of the excitement of being there. It’s unfiltered and far from perfect. Grainy video and over exposed shots from the nose-bleeds aren’t always vividly entertaining. Instead, they’re relatable. Getting all the angles from stars shooting selfies and giving speeches to fans just trying to catch a glimpse of their heroes or cheering at home makes Snapchat’s Story immersive and well-rounded.

Plus, seeing stars use Snapchat lenses and graphics gives it a uniqueness. This isn’t generic media reposted here. It was shot for Snapchat. The startup’s video editors deserve their own award. The best sequences seamlessly link related shots. From the side stage you see Bieber introduced, then from the front row he’s dancing, from the crowd his producers Diplo and Skrillex are rocking out performing their hit single, and then the music is synced so the song continues but you’re suddenly with Diplo hearing it blasted at an after-party.

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Then again, Snapchat’s Story is the only of these curated experiences to include ads. Every few clips, you’ll be interrupted by promos for HBO’s new rock’n’roll drama Vinyl. Luckily you can skip right past them. These don’t fit as well as the Samsung-sponsored backstage shots from the American Music Awards Story. Yet overall even the low-quality shots give Snapchat an endearing roughness compared to Instagram’s manicured tone.

Snapchat is vying to be the first screen for a generation that’s largely given up on television in favor of mobile. It captures both the behind-the-scenes and the stage so you feel like you consumed the Grammys without actually having to watch it. The fact that the Story manages to replace rather than just complement existing media is a testament to Snapchat’s ambition and potential.

Twitter Moments

What It Feels Like: Cheering And Jeering From Home

Immersion has never been Twitter’s strong suit. So rather than trying to transport you to the Grammys, Moments makes you feel like you’re watching alongside the world’s most talented peanut gallery of commentators. Promoted at the top of the Moments tab, The Grammys review cues up 50 GIFs, videos, photos, and reactionary tweets to swipe through.

IMG_5337Twitter’s Grammy Moment is the only of these curation formats to use still images, immediately making it feel less vibrant and coercive. You’ll see photos of Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s outfits in all their glory, GIFs of performances taken from the TV broadcast, hater tweets requesting you not compare The Weekend to Michael Jackson, and fans chastising CBS for screwing up Adele’s sound.

The silent GIFs of people singing feel awkward and incomplete. Twitter’s attempt to crop landscape media into portrait mode leaves certain clips looking pixelated, and you wouldn’t know you were missing the sides of a video or photo unless you tapped. Twitter did the best job capturing the night’s most emotional moment: a long video of the Hamilton hip-hop broadway musical cast delivering a passionate acceptance speech in rhyme. Instagram missed it and Snapchat caught just a tiny snippet.

Moments feels natural when it’s giving you the best of Twitter, not the best of the event. Bubbling up the funny reactions from people you probably don’t follow shows the network’s depth. By zooming out a bit from the chaos, Moments makes sure to cover the…moments that people will be talking about the next day. It’s more about laughing at or with the Grammys than simulating attendance.

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Still, Twitter’s size and deficiency in rich media drags down the Moments experience. It just doesn’t get as many great videos uploaded as the others, so it feels static by comparison. At least you can enjoy Moments even if you have to scroll without sound. But it feels distant and foreign, closer to a newspaper digest than virtual reality. Stronger video and more intimate content from the stars themselves would make Moments more enveloping.

Twitter’s take will augment your experience if you watched the whole Grammys on TV, but being merely a second screen is limiting. Moments feels considered and intelligent, but might not be snazzy enough to addict people.

Different Swipes For Different Folks…That Snapchat Though.

IMG_5413There’s no one right way to curate social media, though I think Snapchat comes closest. Instagram’s Spotlight is stately and refined — perfect for the mainstream audience and TV ad dollars it’s trying to attract. Twitter’s Moments are a pundit’s paradise, sparking reactions and discussion of the triumphs and controversies.

But Snapchat Stories feels like the future of secondary media consumption. You feel like you were there, but you also feel more special than if you were just stuck in the crowd. You see every perspective on the celebrity-paparazzi-fan spectrum. It’s both earnest and wise-cracking, offering immersion as well as context.

And as Snapchat gets more popular, its Stories will just get better since they’ll absorb more custom-made content. More stars laughing in private, more front-row seats, and more zany Snapsterpieces that take advantage of its drawing, text and emoji tools. Snapchat just needs to stay real and risky to keep kids and everyone who wants to be as cool as them coming back.