By: Marzella Sigai
Snap is working on two significant tests that could reshape its flagship app in a critical year. One is a redesign of the app for Android and iOS that provides a new home for the Snap Map and the company’s original video programming. The other is a test of breaking news headlines inside the app that injects timely news briefs into Snapchat to complement the existing magazine-style stories on the Discover page.
According to The Verge, the redesign takes an app that has long been limited to three screens and splits them into five. Snapchat currently opens to the camera, with a space for chats to the left and the Discover page — which features a collection of ephemeral stories from friends, creators, third-party publishers, and Snap itself — to the right.
In the new design, the Snap Map — which displays your friends’ physical locations on an animated map, and was previously accessed by pulling down from the camera screen — is now on the left of your chats. Discover has been renamed “Community.” And Snap’s slate of original series, which includes serialized dramas and reality-style programs, can be found to the right of Community in a new tab that has inherited the “Discover” name.
Perhaps most dramatically for Snap, which once seemed to pride itself in its obscure design choices, Snapchat is getting a navigation bar. You will be able to see where you are within the app at a glance and move directly from the screen to screen with a single tap instead of swiping. It is both a totally obvious thing to do and for Snap, a radical departure.
The test of this new look comes three years after Snap’s last redesign, which was widely panned and spurred by 2 percent of active users to stop using Snapchat entirely. Snap gradually walked back some of the most hated changes, and that combined with new attention to its long-neglected Android app and marketing itself internationally led the company to have something of a comeback last year. Snapchat has added uses for the past four straight quarters and is now used by 218 million people a month.
Still, the company is not profitable. And while it remains a hit with high school and college-age users, adults who try the app still complain that they find Snapchat difficult to use.
And for everything that did to give Snapchat a sense of cool in its early days, there is a good argument to be made where the location of the Snap Map high on that list — it is a clever feature that Facebook has found itself totally unable to copy due to privacy concerns, and today it’s basically invisible inside Snapchat. Giving the map an easy-to-find screen within the app feels like a no-brainer.
Similarly, Snap has invested heavily in premium programming for its Snap Originals. Currently, what Snap calls Shows are displayed in a row next to other publisher content on the Discover page, where they are easily ignored. Giving them a place of prominence within the app feels like a similarly obvious step.
The second test, while less dramatic, is more relevant to our everyday interests here at The Interface. There are two basic ways to put the news on your social platform. The first is to let everyone fight it out in a feed, and do some light curating around the big moments. Think the Twitter timeline plus Moments, or Facebook’s News Feed plus a news tab. The upside to this approach is that you make room for lots of voices, including some who have been historically marginalized.
The second approach, and the one favored by Snap, has been to allow only whitelisted publishers onto the platform. In theory, this should elevate high-quality and mainstream news publishers while limiting the amount of misinformation on the platform. It hasn’t always been perfect — Snapchat’s Discover page has long been criticized for clickbait and sexually provocative stories — but the company has seen far fewer scandals around hosting dangerous and extremist content than its peers.
Snap confirmed the test.