Snapchat is a mobile application that encourages the exchange of pictures and videos between friends. The differentiating factor between Snapchat and other media exchange methods is the temporary nature of content availability. Though the demographics are similar, the unique way content is shared on Snapchat makes using the app slightly less intuitive than other social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Below we will discuss Snapchat’s roots and original form, its transition to the modern app (including new features and how to use them), the primary users of Snapchat, and the future of the app.

The Old Snapchat

Snapchat was first released in 2011 under its former name “Picaboo.” At this time, it’s main focus was to provide a platform for the exchange of ephemeral images that would “self-destruct” just a few seconds after they were viewed. A few months after the initial release, Picaboo was rebranded by co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy as Snapchat (though the brand retained its signature ghost logo). This name which garnered much more attention from the app-downloading public. After the rebrand, Snapchat took off, moving to the top of the app store charts in the United States.

About their ideas, Spiegel and Murphy said, “We’re building a photo app that doesn’t conform to unrealistic notions of beauty or perfection but rather creates a space to be funny, honest or whatever else you might feel like at the moment you take and share a Snap.” The idea was to create a new type of media, one with less permanence and therefore less social risk.

Current users of Snapchat may find the original version of the app hard to recognize. Snapchat’s early versions offered only the exchange of pictures (not video) with no ability to screenshot incoming messages or to save outgoing ones. In 2012, when Snapchat expanded to video exchange, and the app gained even more popularity.

How to Use New Features: The Transition to Modern Snapchat

After video was added, the next features to arrive in the Snapchat community were “Stories” and “Chat,” respectively. With the release of each feature, Snapchat became slightly less temporary and increased the amount of time users spent on the app. The Snapchat “Stories” and “Chat” functions are expanded on below:

  • Stories: This feature allows users to post an image or video on their account for other users to view, though this story lasts for only 24 hours. 
    • Quick how to: To access friends’ “Stories” swipe right from the main camera screen and click on the rectangular image containing a friends name. To post a story of your own, take a photo or video, click on the little white square with a plus sign in the corner, and make sure the “My Story” option is selected.
  • Chat: This function allows users to send messages back and forth, (similar to texts) though the messages disappear once they are read.
    • Quick how to: To access the “Chat” swipe left from the main camera screen and tap a friend’s name.

In 2014, Snapchat updates began to take off. Users may recall feeling like new features were added monthly, and this is nearly accurate. Between 2014 and 2016, Snapchat added the following features:

  • Filters, Geofilters, and Community Filters: Filters are stamp- or banner-like additions that can be placed over photos or videos. Geofilters are specific to the location in which the photo or video was taken, and community filters and specific to individual businesses, events, or communities (for example, a filter for Black History Month).
    • Quick how to: To access “Filters” take a photo or video and then swipe right. To see more available filters, keep swiping right.
  • Discover: This feature allowed different “channels” and publishers to create stories of their own. Discover regulars include Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, CNN, The Food Network, and more. These publishers can create their own “Stories” containing relevant content, and users can view these stories for up to 24 hours.
    • Quick how to: To access “Discover” swipe right from the main camera and scroll down to the section titled “For you.” To watch an individual “Discover” story just tap the image.
  • Lenses: Likely the most recognizable feature of Snapchat, these lenses use facial-feature recognition technology to attach fun accessories to the subject of a photo. Some of these lenses include dog ears, a rainbow tongue, and a flower crown.
    • Quick how to: To apply a lense to your photo, press and briefly anywhere on the main camera screen to make the lense options appear below. Choose a lense by scrolling through the available options, and then take a picture as normal.
  • Memories: This function allows users to save pictures and videos they’ve taken to a memory library. From the library, these images can be saved to the camera roll.
    • Quick how to: To save a photo or video to the “Memories” library, take a photo or video as usual and then tap the icon with the arrow in the bottom left corner of your screen. 
  • Bitmoji Integration: Snapchat teamed up with the creators of Bitmoji (an application that allows users to create a cartoon version of themselves to send via text) to integrate the use of Bitmojis on the Snapchat app. In order to use this function, you must download the Bitmoji app.

In 2017, the most significant feature of recent times was added to Snapchat – the SnapMap. The SnapMap allows users to see the location of their friends on a map, often represented by their Bitmoji. Of course, privacy settings are available, and the feature can be deactivated entirely if desired.

  • Quick how-to: To access the “SnapMap” pinch your fingers together on the main camera screen.

Snapchat Users: The Demographics

Snapchat has perhaps one of the most specific demographics of social media sites to date. It is estimated that about 85% of Snapchat’s regular users are between the ages of 18 and 34. This makes sense given the fact that Snapchat is not the most effective means of communication, and serves primarily as a time-filler for its users. Also, the interface Snapchat presents has become increasingly complicated with the onslaught of updates, and with this complication has come a decrease in users over the age of 35.

The Future of Snapchat

It is almost guaranteed that Snapchat will continue to roll out new features over the next couple of years. Over the past couple of years, Facebook and Instagram have each released “story” features to compete with the popularity Snapchat has garnered. It is likely that Snapchat will seek to keep its share of the social media market by expanding it’s features, creating more fun and creative user experiences, and allowing advertising for marketers to appear in Snapchat (as it does now) in the least intrusive way possible.