Snapchat is the darling of technology: for years, we've fawned over the company for being innovative, using daring interfaces and out of the ordinary tactics to get people to pay it.
Despite the fact that the app was always what some would consider "hostile" to new users, full of design anti-patterns, it managed to gain a fledgling user base of 180 million monthly active users. It's an impressive feat, and the company is about to IPO for $20 billion or over, but I think Snap's reign is coming to an end.
Snapchat started as something completely foreign to us all: it was a camera that didn't save anything — if you took a photo, and it was opened by someone else, it was gone forever. At the time, that was alien, but eventually, as we all grew weary of social media and burnt out on over-sharing, it caught on.
Ephemeral messaging, the kind of disappearing messages invented by Snapchat, were a new world: you could share anything — a dumb thought, a nude photo, or a photo of a sunset — all in the same place with little fear that it'd escape once your recipient saw it.
Stories, however, were Snapchat's genius moment. Being able to drop a continuous stream of interesting, or banal, photos into one continuous loop was fascinating at the time that the company released it.
The addictiveness and popularity of Snapchat's Stories feature continue to this day, but the company finds itself at something of a crossroads: Facebook's cloned the entire thing, and it's doing it better than Snapchat ever could, and innovating at a faster clip.
When Instagram Stories launched well over a year ago, I thought it was cute, but couldn't understand why I'd ever jump from Snapchat. Simply put, like you, I was hooked on snapping everything as it was. I loved sharing photos into my story, and rarely send pictures directly to others, because it's a fun way to passively share what I've been up to over the course of the day.
Throughout each day, friends browse my story and fire back a chat message if they like it, and I do the same. Before I switched, I was probably checking Snapchat once an hour to see if anything new had happened. Like you, I was addicted to the service — more than a disturbing amount.
But I've noticed over recent months a shift: less people are using Snapchat around me, and I've stopped entirely. Photos in my stories that regularly got over 5,000 views a day, now get less than half of that — and only a handful of the people I actively followed along with are even sharing anymore.
We've all moved to Instagram Stories. I never thought I'd do it, but eventually, as I used it more, I found Instagram's rip-off of Snapchat to be more authentic. Suddenly, instead of checking one app for beautifully manicured photos, and the other for raw feeds, I could get everything in one place… and it actually worked better.
Snapchat's story feed was fun at first, but the company has tweaked it to the point that it's not as good anymore.
Now you're forced to pick which stories to watch end-to-end before even starting, and it's filled with either advertisements between each one, or s----y clickbait from the likes of the Daily Mail trying to get you to click on Kim Kardashian's boobs again.
Instagram, somehow, has innovated on Snapchat's core ideas at an incredible clip: instead of making you see a story sequentially, you can tap either side of the screen to skip forward or back. You can swipe to get between stories, creating what amounts to an endless loop of content, or you can tap and hold to freeze-frame it on what you're seeing.
Not only that, but Instagram's added other content types already: live streaming, boomerang, hands-free and a bunch more. It cloned stickers, added filters and presumably, will soon launch face masks with that handy acquisition it made a few years ago.
These thoughtful user-experience innovations probably come right from the core of Facebook: the company's been thinking about this for years. Meanwhile, Snapchat's experience is an exercise in a maze that looks something like this: