This article was published on February 8, 2016

Snapchat seemed pointless, but suddenly I love it and it all makes sense

Snapchat seemed pointless, but suddenly I love it and it all makes sense

I used to be one of those people – the people who don’t get Snapchat. But now that’s changed and I’m embracing it with open arms. Maybe you can learn to love it too…

Like many others, I used to get frustrated by:

  • The weird UI with a learning curve that looks more like a mountain range.
  • The way that you’d post something into your ‘Story’ and get no real feedback about it from others. There are no ‘likes’ or comments in Snapchat land.
  • The way you lose everything after 24 hours, so it’s not like it’s even like you can use your Story as a kind of diary.

I’d tried Snapchat a few times and those were always the sticking points. I just didn’t see the point.

Then, last week, I was at a conference in Dublin organized by Ireland’s Sunday Business Post and suddenly it started to make sense. I watched a talk about Snapchat marketing, and while my concerns about the platform weren’t directly addressed, the speakers’ sheer enthusiasm for it was enough for me to give the app another try.

Suddenly, I got it.

Yes, the UI is weird, but on the plus side, it rewards experimentation. When, for example, you realize that you can see who’s looked at each post in your Story by tapping the dots next to ‘My Story’ and then the eye icon, it’s a revelation.


No popularity contest, just fun

The lack of feedback is liberating. It gives you freedom to experiment without worrying about the number of ‘likes’ you’ll get. There’s no real popularity contest in Snapchat. The closest thing is the ‘score’ on your profile, and that goes up the more you share – it’s a participation trophy, not a medal based on how cool you are. The fact that the ability to see how many people viewed your snaps is so downplayed in the UI speaks to this, too.

Similarly, losing everything after 24 hours is annoying until you realize that it reflects the fact that nothing lasts forever – it’s okay to share a fleeting moment for a day and then for it to be gone.

I pulled a penguin out of the microwave on Snapchat. Don't ask.
I pulled a penguin out of my microwave on Snapchat. Don’t ask.

There are plenty of places online where you can share photos and videos that last forever. Snapchat is about making the most of right now, whether you’re doing something amazingly interesting or just snapping a picture of your pet dog. Share, have fun, don’t worry.

Once that ‘clicks,’ the silly little moments everyone else shares make more sense – you’re all just sharing snapshots of life, and that’s addictive.

The local elements can be fun too. The different filters you get based on your location are fun, as are shared Stories. For example, on Saturday afternoon, I could drop in on what was happening at the Manchester City FC match near me, and on Sunday I could watch quick clips from the Super Bowl stadium, as well as a separate feed of people enjoying the game from around the world.

Lady Gaga warming up for her Super Bowl performance, as shown in the Super Bowl story on Snapchat.
Lady Gaga warming up for her Super Bowl performance, as shown in the Super Bowl story on Snapchat.

Some cities, like New York, have their own ongoing shared Stories that you can watch and take part in – but only while you’re in the area. This can feel a bit random if you travel around a lot, but hey – life is pretty random too.

Snapchat isn’t perfect. User discovery is a problem – it’s hard to find the people who are using Stories in a way that might interest you. For new users it can feel a little awkward to add a total stranger as a ‘friend’ just because you’ve heard they post good stuff. Once you realize that that’s okay, you’re over another small hurdle.

The Discover section, where select publishers have their own space to share news and features in a Snapchatty way, is patchy. Some publishers are better than others at making the most of the medium. But hey, Stories is where the ‘real’ fun is.

Snapchat is a celebration of life. Once I understood that, it clicked and I’m going to keep using it.

Maybe my colleague Ben will finally get it too.