Snapchat released another big app update this week with Memories, a feature that allows its users to play photos and videos from the past. While the update keeps Snapchat in line with competing social networks, the company may have taken it too far this time.
Memories lets users post old snaps to their stories. Users can rearrange saved Memories to create unique narratives on their stories for their followers to enjoy. The feature also lets you save your snaps to Snapchat's servers to be replayed or reposted in the future. For example, I post a variety of Snapchats about platform news, startup mistakes, my recently published book, and reviews of up-and-coming applications. With Memories, I can repost or re-watch my saved content whenever I like. I can also string together different pictures or videos I've taken to create posts for my follower base. Other features within the update include a "My Eyes Only" location on the app to save private images in a password-protected space and a thick white frame to differentiate Memories from regular snaps.
So where does Snapchat's fault lie with this update? Memories allows users to post photos and videos from their camera rolls onto Snapchat. Snapchat has become one of the most successful startups due to its unique nature--spontaneous content that disappears after a short amount of time. With this update, the platform diminishes what made it so appealing in the first place.
CEO Evan Spiegel has said for years that Snapchat is a camera company. He's been successfully training people to open Snapchat to take photos or videos instead of their standard camera app. I'd made the same switch in user behavior, from native camera to Snapchat's custom camera--until now. With the Memories update, users will be less inclined to take pictures on the app. If you can post a snap from your camera roll, why bother taking a picture in Snapchat first?
This new behavior will cause users to spend less time on Snapchat because content does not have to originate from the app. Taking photos or videos with the Snapchat app compromises the content in numerous aspects, including photo resolution, time limits on videos, and restrictions on taking multiple photos at once. However, Snapchat's network is the key that has caused users to justify these sacrifices. Or at least it was.
Numbers show that Snapchat has been growing like mad. As its growth continues, the network strengthens exponentially, making it more enticing for people to use Snapchat as their default camera app. With the new update, this decision just got a lot more complicated, and Snapchat's value proposition as the default camera has become heavily diluted. What was once a camera company has now become a content-sharing social network. Snapchat is at a perilous crossroad with its original strategy conflicting with the strategy behind its latest update.
Why would Snapchat make such a move?
Snapchat created Memories mainly for advertising purposes. It can be predicted that content production on Snapchat will increase exponentially because there will be less regulation as to what you can upload. With more content being uploaded onto the platform, more availability for ad placements are presented. Especially with the carefully planned narratives that Snapchat hopes its users will produce, the potential for ad partnerships is huge. While this may have been a profitable move for the company, it was not a user-friendly one.
One of the main functions of a platform is maintaining a liquid marketplace of producers and consumers. For Snapchat, in order to keep the liquid marketplace of content producers and consumers that currently exists, the company has to keep its users happy. Regardless of how much advertising could be gained with the help of Memories, Snapchat has to be wary of adjusting its main strategy too much to the point where users become uninterested.
Within the platform environment, competition is intense. Most modern monopolies follow a "winner-take-all" stance, making it very difficult for competing platforms to stay afloat. Snapchat's update is an attempt to become more like other mainstream social networks, particularly Facebook. Memories targets an older audience and completely alters the purpose behind Snapchat. If the update is successful, Snapchat has the potential to become a real threat to Facebook. While Snapchat is staying up-to-date with its competition and trying to gain platform dominance, it is putting its core values at risk. The more Snapchat attempts to compete, the more Spiegel's vision of Snapchat as a camera company fades away.
Three Ways Snapchat Could've Done It Differently
Here's how Snapchat could've positioned its update to conflict less with the company's original strategy:
1. Add more "camera-app"-like features
Instead of adding the camera roll feature, Snapchat should have added more features to make it operate like a fully functional camera app. For example, it could have provided more editing tools so you could touch up your images. The app had the potential to fully replace the native iOS Camera app and become the default camera for millions of users but misused this potential. Adding camera-app features would make steps towards the original vision of Snapchat as a camera company.
2. Better UX design
The white border around Memories might be the biggest blunder of the update. A thick, disturbing white border is set along an image that's uploaded from your camera roll, which distinguishes a regular Snapchat from a Memory. Having a better design for this feature could have made Memories more aesthetically pleasing.
3. Relocating the Memories button
If you've downloaded the new update, you know that the button to access Memories is placed in the bottom-middle of the screen, underneath the capture button. For the many avid Snapchatters who have committed the process of taking a Snapchat to muscle memory (guilty), the Memories button is a huge inconvenience. Snapchat Memories can be seen as a separate, distinguished feature from the original app, so its location should be separate from the original photo-taking button as well.