When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
One of the things that truly made Snapchat what it was—an ephemeral messaging service where nothing leaves the app—has died. The platform’s parent company, Snap, announced today, Jan. 23, that users will now be able to share public Snapchat stories onto the web through a media player it’s built. Snapchat is no longer a private place for watching and sharing images—it’s now a place to share content with the world. Just like every other web-publishing platform.
Snap is in the process of rolling out a redesign for Snapchat that separates your friend’s snaps from content generated by media outlets, creators, and Snap itself. Right now, content from your friends, accounts you follow, and media outlets, is all in a jumbled mess on the right side of the app, and direct messages with friends are on the left side. The redesign pushes everything your friends create, public or shared privately with you, to the left of the app, and everything from creators and media outlets, to the right. The new structure, first outlined by CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel in November, has already gone live for some users in Canada, Australia, and the UK. Snap told Quartz that the new sharing functionality will be available as part of the redesign, and rolling out in tandem with it.
Users will be able to share any public snap they see—meaning ones shared by Snap’s media partners in the Discover section of the app, as well as any collection of videos that Snap curates itself—onto the web. You won’t, however, be able to publicly share your or your friends’ snaps.
Holding down on one of the shareable snaps will bring up a share function within the app, that lets you post it to Facebook or Twitter, or send via email or text, or just about anywhere you might want to share a social link. Snaps shared publicly will be disappear 30 days after getting posted outside of the Snapchat platform.
Snap tells Quartz that after expiring, shared snaps will either show the most recent snap from that account, or a message indicating the link is no longer available. Still, this move seems fundamentally at odds with what Snapchat was when it launched. It makes Snapchat yet another platform for people to consume and share video with their friends on their Facebook feeds as they would anything from YouTube, Twitter, or anywhere else on the web.
Extending beyond the yellow walls of Snapchat is a way for Snap to fish for new users—a potential user could come across a piece of unique Snapchat content on their social feed and sign up for the app to see more like it. Snap is trying to encourage more creators, a group it has distanced in the past, to adopt the platform. But that hasn’t exactly worked for similar services in the past. Vine, the six-second video-sharing site that launched the careers of many current prominent YouTubers—who, on Vine, were creating content similar to the sorts of short videos that Snap is now looking to bring to Snapchat—shut down in 2017 because its owner, Twitter, couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable.
Snap is mum about whether it will look to sell advertising against publicly shared stories in the future, but that could be a way of making money for a company in dire need of new revenue streams—its expenses currently far outstrip its revenue. But given that its user base is small in comparison with competitors like Facebook (around 180 million, versus 1.4 billion, respectively), it’s unclear how much of a difference ad sales would make. Snapchat would still have to convince users its content is intrinsically more interesting than (or, at least, equally interesting as) its competitors’, and convince content creators that it’s worth publishing to its platform over Facebook, YouTube, or anywhere else. That’s an especially difficult challenge in a competitive environment where other platforms, like Facebook, can now seemingly copy anything Snapchat does, rapidly and effectively.
But, at least, now snaps about major events, which truly capture our humanity more clearly than many other mediums tend to, will be far more accessible to the wider public than they’ve ever been.
Correction: An earlier version of this post compared Snapchat’s daily active user count to Twitter’s monthly count. The Twitter comparison has been removed.