Discover is Snapchat’s big new play in the world of media. It’s a special tab in the app powered by content publishers like ESPN, Yahoo, etc., offering daily long-form content with videos, articles and, of course, advertisements.
Brands can buy advertisements against these Discover “Editions,” which play every three or four swipes. It’s really not all that bad. It’s what we’ve grown accustomed to. It feels like a magazine that you would read in the future. But with the launch of Discover, one small piece of the app disappeared. Best Friends is gone.
This disappearance is small, but it signifies something bigger in the grand scheme of Snapchat’s evolution.
One For All
Snapchat launched as a personal messenger, where people were supposed to “be themselves,” and then opened up the potential for it to become a broadcast tool, where people could become “Snapchat stars.” Some are artists and some are comedians. Some are just random, everyday people, and some are celebrities. Focus shifted from creation to consumption.
And now, Snapchat has gone beyond even that. Snapchat is now a messenger, a social network and a media network, all in one.
Sounds good, right? The “unbundle” doctrine hasn’t necessarily played well for companies in the past, especially in Facebook’s case, and Snapchat has become a place where users can do anything. They don’t need a full inbox to check the app. They have Discover. Snapchat stars don’t have to worry about connecting directly to their fans. Snapchat gives them the tools necessary to distribute their content, like Stories, as well as tools to communicate, like the messenger and video chat.
The app now has the flexibility to be whatever you want it to be. If you use it only to message close friends, dive right into that. If you use it to broadcast your life to a broad list of followers, you have new filters and drawing tools for that. And if you want to use it as a reader, hit up Discover. You can do whatever you want, but something small is missing.
Best Friends is a feature that goes all the way back to the beginning of Snapchat. In fact, Snapchat Best Friends (the three people you messaged with the most) used to have web profiles as well that you could search by user name. Snapchat fiddled with the feature a bit, adding fun little tricks in the app to expand your Best Friends list from three to five. It wasn’t a prominently displayed feature, but once you found it, it was easy to become addicted to watching it.
When it disappeared in the Discover update, I saw a bit of a reaction on Twitter and thought little of it. Best Friends was never a feature that I really understood. The whole purpose of the app is that you send these snaps and they disappear. They live only in the memories of their recipients, and even then they don’t know if they are the only recipient. To list Best Friends seems slightly counterintuitive to the whole philosophy of the app.
A Numbers Game
Then I started thinking about my early interactions on Facebook and MySpace. I used to send friend requests to as many people as possible. It wasn’t the people. It was the number. Seems silly now, thinking about how overpopulated my friends list on Facebook is, and how it makes the network nearly useless to me. And still, the desire to accumulate more followers on Twitter and Instagram persists.
Those numbers — friends, followers, favorites and likes — are a big part of the addiction. The dopamine hit we get when we receive a like or get a new friend or follower is part of what drives us to use these networks.
On Snapchat, Best Friends was the only “metric” for a user that gave any context to their popularity or status. In an app where the goal is to be true to your real life, the Best Friends metric could be an important tool for monitoring their relationships with their friends.
It’s also the only identity that the app gives you. On Snapchat, you have no profile. You can build a daily Story for your friends, that can act as a sort of living profile, but that means snapping all day long. You have a username, and that is all. The Best Friends list was a profile. It was a sort of context.
Luckily, Best Friends isn’t gone for good. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel tweeted out that the BFF feature will be back soon. Seems reasonable.
But as you can see from the responses to the tweet, there is just one small issue with this announcement. In some small way, Snapchat is prioritizing the broadcast portion of the app, “the higher-profile friends,” over regular users who want to see their best friends.
It’s entirely possible that this media network empire that Snapchat is building was the goal all along. But in a landscape where the messenger holds the key, and where other social media giants have taken up so much space in the content broadcast space, it seems counterintuitive to in any way neglect Snapchat’s messenger roots.
Social media giants who have come before, Facebook and Twitter, have followed the same evolutionary path, from personal messenger tool to powerhouse media network. Snapchat entered the scene promising to do things differently, during a time where the most coveted spot of all is the messaging space. The ability to pay friends with Snapchat is a more useful and unique feature introduction than almost anything Twitter or Facebook ever offered users.
Discover is a beautiful product. And finally, so is Snapchat’s traditional messenger. But for Snapchat as a company to reach its highest potential, it must continue fostering the messenger — the part of the app that is personal and intimate — just as much as it does the glitzy, shiny new Discover network.