Confusingly jamming Stories in between private messages has sparked backlash amongst the first users of Snapchat’s sweeping redesign. In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data provided to TechCrunch by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars.
The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include “new update”, “Stories”, and “please fix”. Meanwhile, Snapchat’s Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting “It’s not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat”, and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users.
Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat’s soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.
Scattering Stories In The Inbox
A recent leak of Snapchat’s user stats published by The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz shows that from late-April to mid-September, Snapchat saw zero growth in the number of users posting Stories. That’s compared to the roughly 7 percent growth in the app’s total user base, which was already seen as disappointing for what’s supposed to be the hot teen social app.
Daily Snaps sent grew much faster with users sending an average of 34 Snaps per day, which is much more promising. But it’s hard to monetize messages with ads without feeling interruptive, so Snap’s strategy appears to be mixing ad-laden Stories into the inbox. And users are rebelling.
Snapchat smartly began algorithmically sorting Stories to show ones from your favorite people and closest friends first, instead of ranking them purely reverse chronologically. TechCrunch strongly advocated for this algorithmic sorting back in April, as a similar move proved to significantly boost engagement for Twitter and Instagram by making it easier to quickly get value out of opening the app.
But what seems to annoying users is that Stories from friends who follow you back are now scattered through the inbox with message threads in between, rather than all laid out together. Snapchat also pulled out Stories from social media stars, brands, and other people who don’t follow you back and pushed them into the other side of the app alongside professional Discover content. For users who enjoy a more voyeuristic experience, or aren’t popular at their school, that could make it difficult to know who has posted a Story in the last 24 hours.
Snapchat’s redesign also prevents users from auto-advancing to lay back and watch lots of people’s Stories in a row. Instead it forces users to tap a preview of the next person’s Story before it’s shown.
While that might ensure you don’t watch anyone’s Story you don’t care about and end up in their view list, it also makes the app much less relaxing to watch for long periods like you can with Instagram’s auto-advancing Stories. Perhaps Snapchat wanted to ensure you were still looking so it can sell advertisers on the concept of undivided attention. But it’s further pissing off users.
Snapchat’s response regarding the negative reviews is that “Updates as big as this one can take a little getting use to, but we hope the community will enjoy it once they settle in.”
Change can certainly elicit emotional responses, as we saw with users protesting the launch of Facebook’s News Feed in 2006…before it became one of the most popular and well-used products in the world.
But the reaction to Snapchat’s redesign seems more warranted because it doesn’t add new functionality they just need time to grow accustomed to. It jumbles existing functionality in a way that seems driven more by Snapchat’s intent to increase Story usage by piggybacking it on messaging as a reaction to increased competition from Facebook.
An algorithmic Stories list? Great. Grouping all professional content creators together? Okay. Muddying its core use case with an upsell to money-making Stories? A risky bet when dealing with fickle teenagers.