A few years ago, Snapchat was the go-to app for millions of people to send and receive short text and picture messages that vanished seconds after you looked at them.
By creating ephemeral social media, they created a unique way of communicating that was more interesting and required more commitment than traditional social media.
The facial tracking filters, now deemed “lenses,” were a viral hit that created their own subculture around the internet, inspiring memes and stereotypes about the people that used them.
Now in 2018, the once highly sought-after first-generation of Snapchat Spectacles, the company’s video camera-enabled sunglasses, fizzled out and Snap Inc. was left with millions of dollars-worth of unsold units.
Snap also reported its first quarterly loss of users since the company’s inception in August 2018, and they are struggling to find solid revenue streams through advertising and its paid “discovery” section of the app.
Snap blamed the decline in users on the redesign of the app that launched earlier in the year.
The change alienated a lot of users as it became hard to distinguish which of the snaps being viewed were from friends and people you chose to follow, or snaps that were paid to be there.
This change happened at a time Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook, was seeing substantial growth in the stories section of their app, with 400 million daily active users in Aug. of 2018 versus Snapchat’s 188 million.
Instagram also implemented facial recognition filters and added new features like looped video and time lapse modes to their story section.
This led to several users, myself included, to start using Instagram as their main app to share temporary photos.
Now Snapchat is playing catchup by reshaping what Snap Inc’s goals are as a company. CEO Evan Spiegal has said they want to be known as a camera company, not an app developer.
Their latest move seems to echo that statement to an extent, revamping Snapchat Spectacles to be waterproof and adding a number of other new features and improvements.
Other moves in the Snapchat app seem to send a different message. Snapchat merchandise has been around since late 2017 and has been an oddly integrated part of the app.
Users could scan a “Snapcode,” their version of a QR code, to enter the store and see items that rotated out monthly.
This month the store has been updated to include custom merchandise of users’ bitmojis, the animated avatar you create inside Snapchat. Mugs, shirts, sweaters and several other items can be purchased with the user and their friends’ bitmojis printed on it.
This move confuses me because I would not pay $36 for a sweater from Snapchat regardless if it had an animated version of me on it.
Snapchat said it never thought it would be “Facebook-big,” but they did say they would be able to make a profit from their user base in the same way Facebook does.
Every time Snapchat updates itself I get more and more concerned with what I will find after I click on that little ghost icon.
Maybe if they focused on making new ways to be creative on the app instead of hocking merchandise at me in a desperate pursuit to be more like Facebook, I’d be tapping the icon more.