If recent trends are any indication, the future of social media lives in Stories—those short bursts of customizable, compilable videos and images that stay online for just 24 hours—and every platform wants to make their version the one you use exclusively.
Last week, Facebook announced a desktop upload tool for its Stories feature, hoping to entice Facebookers to create content on more than just their mobile. Today, Instagram rolls out a new GIF integration, which lets users animate Instagram Stories with selections from Giphy’s library. Even WhatsApp makes a Stories feature now, which as of this month integrates with Instagram Stories so you can cross-post content.
It’s easy to imagine Snapchat fuming at all of this. The platform didn’t just popularize the concept of Stories—it pioneered them. And now, in a social media landscape crowded with copycats, Snapchat is slipping behind.
Today, Snap is taking a new tactical approach: It’s making it possible to share some types of Snapchat Stories beyond the app itself. You’ll be able to hold down a tile on any public Story and send it to someone in a text, an email, or even through other social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook. (“Public stories” include those from Snapchat’s verified users, like celebrities and sports teams; those featured in the curated Our Stories section, which shows a selection of Snaps from the community at large; and those discovered through search.) The company hopes that by moving some Snapchat content beyond the fortressed walls of the Snapchat app, it can attract new users and give its content greater longevity. But it’s also a signal that the Story Wars are only just beginning, and Snapchat isn’t ready to throw up a white flag just yet.
When Snapchat launched, it looked like a strange experiment. It had little in common with Facebook or Twitter or the other apps duking it out to be your primary source of news and lulz. Instead, Snapchat suggested a social media future that was immersive and camera-first, immediate and ephemeral.
It turned out people loved the idea of an app that privileged the camera over the keyboard. As Snapchat climbed in popularity, it came up with new ways to share photos and videos, including the introduction of Stories in 2013. Unlike the disappearing snapshots you could trade one-on-one with your friends, Stories’ consecutive strings of videos showed up to all of your followers. It quickly became the app’s most popular feature, and opened up the platform to new creations like Our Stories, public-facing Stories that compile footage from Snapchatters focused on a cultural moment, holiday, or news event.
But Snapchat has been losing its foothold on Stories ever since Instagram brazenly copied the feature in 2016. At the time, an Instagram spokesperson told WIRED that the feature was less about replicating Snapchat’s success and more about claiming a stake in what was clearly the platform of the future. “Stories are a new format that’s just starting to see broad adoption,” the spokesperson said. That broad adoption would soon follow: Facebook and WhatsApp announced their own versions of Stories last March.
You can see the current race playing out in the constant stream of one-upmanship between the platforms over the past few years: Snapchat creates a place to save your favorite memories; Instagram adopts that feature a year later, with a highlights reel of saved Stories at the top of your profile. Facebook makes it possible to broadcast live videos on your profile; Instagram borrows that idea with its Live Stories feature. Snapchat has mostly come up with new and crazy ideas, trying to become the place you read the news, the place you play in augmented reality, the place you map and explore the world around you. But at every turn, Instagram has responded by fine-tuning the things Snapchat does best and serving them up to its own users.
So rather than inventing something that’s likely to be copied right away, Snapchat’s taking a new approach: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. A Snapchat spokesperson says the company decided to open its content up to users off-platform in order to introduce Snapchat to new markets and to build better brand awareness about all of the cool things you can create with the app. It also wants to show off what you can do with the Snapchat camera.
For now, Snapchat isn’t planning on letting users share their own Stories on new platforms. (You can do this unofficially by saving a story to Memories, then downloading it as a video—but there’s no official “share” feature.) In the future, letting users distribute their own Snapchat content beyond the app seems like a promising option, and a way for Snapchat to take on a second life as a video creation app rather than a dedicated social media platform. It could become the place where you go to slap a weird augmented reality filter on your face and create a funny video, a place where you can take full advantage of the best filters and features to make a video, but not the singular place you want that video to live. If Snapchat loses out to the likes of Instagram and Facebook—if it can’t be the best social media platform, or even the best place to share your Stories—then at least it could be the most-used camera app on your phone.
It’s worth noting that Snapchat’s competitors—Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp—are all owned by the same company, which means Snapchat’s bid to put its public-facing Stories in new places could easily be overshadowed by some kind of integration across those platforms. It’s going to take a lot more than sharing a sliver of its content for Snapchat to become the reigning social media platform. But the Story Wars are far from over, and Snapchat’s not yet done fighting.
© 2018 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.
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