Snap copied location sharing app Zenly to build Snap Map

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Snap just announced a brand new feature today called Snap Map, which lets you view your friends on a map in real time and browse stories around you.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because French startup Zenly has been working for years on a location sharing app so that you can see what your friends have been up to. According to multiple sources, Snap approached Zenly late last year about a potential acquisition but the talks remained very informal as Zenly immediately turned down the idea.

[Update 3:45pm PDT: Snap eventually succeeded in acquiring Zenly for between $250 million and $350 million in mostly cash and some stock. Snapchat did copy Zenly for Snap Map, but now also owns Zenly and will run it independently. Read our full story on Snap’s acquisition of Zenly here. -Josh Constine]

If you’re not familiar with Zenly, it’s quite straightforward. When you open the app, it shows a giant map with your location and your friends’ location. You can send emojis and messages, but the main content is the location of your friends.

Over time, Zenly got smarter. For instance, the app knows where you sleep and where you work, so it can automatically display a status icon next to your friends. The icons representing your closest friends are displayed most prominently.

More importantly, Zenly knows about friends hanging out together. It can figure out if there’s a gathering, which opens up many social features. For now, it’s used as a way to optimize battery life as you don’t need to figure out the exact location of everyone hanging out together — Zenly can just wake up one of these devices and pull their location.

While Snap is blending together stories, bitmojis and location, so many little details are reminiscent of Zenly. For instance, you can scroll with one hand by sliding your finger up and down the right edge. Snap even copied the animated map scale.

On Zenly, the icon changes from a skateboard, to a bike and then a car depending on how far you zoom out. On Snapchat, it changes from a bee, to a bird and then a helicopter. It’s not the same icons, but it’s the same idea.

Just like on Zenly, you can turn on “Ghost Mode” (it’s called the same thing in both apps) so that you disappear from the map for a while. Finally, Snap also implemented gatherings. But the company isn’t automatically grouping people together on the map. Instead, Snap relies on its “Our Story” collaborative feature.

While Snap suffered from a lot of copying from Instagram, Snap also copies smaller startups from time to time. Zenly is a good example of that, as they probably share the same key demographic. Zenly thinks that location sharing could be a social network on its own. Snap then worked for months on a similar feature to integrate it into its existing social network.