Snapchat? But isn’t that for…? Well, we know what you thought Snapchat was for. At it’s heart Snapchat is a photo/video sharing app. With over 200 million monthly active users, it can be used to send both public and private messages, called snaps, including pictures, videos, drawings, emojis, and normal text.
The key difference with Snapchat, compared to other platforms, is that all messages have a self-destruct timer. Direct messages can been seen once before they disappear. This makes Snapchat a service that is instantly more immediate and intimate than other social media networks – because the data doesn’t save, it’s like having a face-to-face conversation. It demands your attention in this increasingly notification-friendly society. However, perhaps fittingly, this ghost hides many sophisticated features and ways to interact behind its simple façade.
Upon opening Snapchat for the first time, you can be forgiven for not knowing how to get started. The interface is very minimal bringing you straight to your camera so that you can take a snap.
From the camera view you can swipe left or tap the square icon to get to your private message interface. Or you can swipe right or tap the hamburger menu icon to get to your public Stories interface. Pulling down or tapping on the ghost icon will take you to a settings interface. This is where you can follow people and see who follows you.
To take your first snap, in the default camera interface, tap the camera button to take a picture, hold the button to take video. The camera icon in the upper-right corner lets you switch between front and rear cameras. Next, is the fun bit. You’re shown a preview of your snap where you can spice it up by adding text to your snap (tap on the image), draw on it, set the viewing length (the amount of time a person will be allowed to see your snap, between one and ten seconds), download the snap to your phone, add the snap to your Story, and send it to other people.
When you’re snap-happy, click the right-arrow icon and a menu akin to an address book will open. You can choose to send the snap to your “best friends” (the people whom you trade snaps with the most), recent contacts, and lastly, anyone else, sorted alphabetically. You can also add the snap to a story from this list. After you’ve sent a snap, you can come back to this view to see who has viewed it, and you can also see who has taken a screenshot of your snap in order to save it to their phone.
Hit the white ghost at the top of the camera view to go to your profile. This is where your Snapchat score lives, which is the total amount of snaps you’ve sent and received. This is also where you can access your Snapcode: every yellow ghost profile picture has a unique pattern that can be used by other Snapchat users like a QR code. If you post it on another social network, your friends will easily be able to find you by saving this image and uploading to their own Snapchat accounts.
Stories are essentially public snaps. They’re a way to share snaps with a wider audience than just your friends. Like private snaps, stories can only be viewed for up to ten seconds, but you can share them with everyone following you. Instead of disappearing after being viewed once though, stories can be viewed again and again for 24 hours before they disappear.
There are currently no analytics for Snapchat but while your story is active, you can see how many people have viewed, and even drill down to see who exactly looked at your snap.
Stories appear as full circles initially, and as the time on them runs out, the circles will gradually deplete. If, on the stories page, you press the purple button in the upper-right, you are taken to Snapchat discover, a dedicated place to see exclusive content from Snapchat partners like Comedy Central and National Geographic. These stories change often, and you can swipe in any direction to explore them.
Just want to send someone a text message without having to take a picture? Snapchat also has its own chat system, and much like snaps, all conversation will disappear whenever you exit the window. Chats offer their own equivalent of taking a screenshot: by double-tapping on a line of text, the font will change, and that text will be saved within the conversation. You can access chat by tapping the white word balloon window in the top-left of your received snaps page. In addition to regular text communication, you can press the yellow button next to the text field to send a normal snap to the person you’re talking to. If you’re both online at once, the yellow button will turn blue; if both of you hold it down, you’ll enter into a live video chat session.
The settings menu, which you can access through your profile, can really extend Snapchat’s uses. Here, you can add filters; once they’ve been activated, swipe left or right after you’ve taken a snap to give it a filter. If you’re in the United States, you can also turn on Snapcash, a feature where you can send money to your friends via Square.
Get Snap Happy
Given the variety of ways you can interact with everyone from those closest to you to stranger who follow you, and the security options that ensure that private messages will only be seen by who you want to see them, it’s easy to understand why Snapchat is used by over 60% of 13 to 34-year-olds in the United States. It’s a social application truly unlike any others. In these days of overly-long status notifications and people requesting longer tweets, Snapchat’s brevity and command of attention are its greatest strengths. Far from a trend, Snapchat has just scratched the surface of its potential, and given its sustained growth, it will be around for a long time.