Snapchat Blurs the Line Between Past and Present

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Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

In a small tweak that appears to be rolling out, Snapchat is minimizing just how apparent uploaded content is in user Stories. In the current mode, any photo or video uploaded for the app’s Memories repository or from a camera roll is enclosed in a big, obvious, white background. It lets users reflect on old content for Throwback Thursdays, while also transparently signaling that “this is old.”

In a change noticed by The Hill’s Taylor Lorenz, the big, white border is gone. Now, more discreetly tucked in the upper-left corner, there’s a note about where uploaded content originated from.

When Snapchat first announced Memories, the notion of it seemed antithetical to the service itself, which is based on feeling “in the moment.” Uploading content always leads to a more polished and often homogeneous feel on social networks, once best practices are established. The compromise then was the big, ugly border. It felt like Snapchat was saying, “We’ll let you do this, but we’ll make sure all of your followers know what’s up.”

Since Memories was announced, however, Snapchat has felt the squeeze from Facebook, which introduced a Stories function to every one of its products. The effort is mostly a flop, except on Instagram, where it’s been wildly successful, thanks mostly to the fact that Instagram accounts are usually linked to Facebook’s social graph. Instagram lets users upload content from their camera roll to Stories, provided they were saved locally within the last 24 hours, which is a nice compromise — but it doesn’t differentiate between what’s uploaded and what’s recorded live in the viewing experience. In short, it lets people pretend that what’s recorded is live, adding artifice to a social-media format that’s supposed to be inherently authentic.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it obviously runs the risk of minimizing what makes the Stories format appealing: that it feels spontaneous.

The biggest winners here, of course, are the brands — media operations and publishers that don’t have one of the coveted Snapchat Discover slots, but still want to add slickly produced photo and video to the service. Now they can, and it runs the risk of making every Story look samey similar to how each Facebook cooking video is indistinguishable from the next. The ability to plan and produce breed “best practices,” and something intangible is lost in the process.

Snapchat Blurs the Line Between Past and Present