The Snapchat Principle – Why Instagrammers these days need Snapchat
At re:publica in early May many visitors talked about Snapchat as the next big thing. All large – and naturally also all small – Instagram accounts now also have a Snapchat account. Whilst marketing agencies are still pondering over how they can create sustainable impact with Snapchat content which will be deleted after 24 hours, many users already seem to turn their backs on Instagram and turn to Snapchat.
In principle both apps follow a similar idea: To carry the moment – and nothing but the moment – into the world and to share it socially. Instagram has that instantaneous moment in its name; the term Snapchat is just as self-explanatory. Snapchat carries the principle of the instant to extremes with snaps (images and videos) disappearing again after one day at the latest. Snapchat will continuously change as an app: First it was a messenger, then the so-called stories were added until, finally, newspapers, magazines and brands could start placing their contents prominently. When I used the app for the first time in March 2014, you could in practice only chat on it.
Snapchat developed from a program for chatting to a program with which users are able to tell more complex stories. In the process, the program creators seem to have been very willing to adapt to the needs of their users. Their modifications are considerable and would to this extent be unthinkable for Instagram. Instagram’s basic functionality has stayed the same for almost six years; the program has certainly been modified in detail but never fundamentally changed. From the start it was possible to comment and to “like”. Everyone could see these user reactions unless an account was “private”. All Instagram users could see whom you followed and who followed you. A little later Instagram made it possible for followers of an account to see which images that account itself “likes”. This way Instagram practically always fostered social sharing and the building of a social network.
Snapchat lacks a comparable feedback functionality. If users feel like reacting to something, they need to send a direct message which other users can’t see. It isn’t even possible to “like” and to express that way some kind of approval (or disapproval). There is no fundamental interactive component which could simulate a form of communication between those present. Only direct feedback sent to those producing content is possible, which is comparable to viewer mail from yesteryear. The high score seems to tell who is particularly popular on Snapchat. In reality, the high score only indicates that a user has been very active, has been using Snapchat for a long time or even only that they have been chatting a lot. It isn’t possible to see how frequently a particular contribution has been viewed. You cannot see how many users follow an account. Viewing figures stay secret. Snapchat, one could say, is a form of television where each user runs their own channel.
Yet, what about the principle of the instant in both apps? When I started using Instagram in the autumn of 2010, I often saw pictures of other users’ coffee tables with a television in the background and empty packets of crisps. Alternatively, some took pictures of their own car or posted the view from their window. It was about the everyday. Everyone looking at such pictures was assured that the life of the others was well on track. The everyday of the next person is just as mundane as one’s own. I now hardly see pictures of that kind on Instagram. The subject of the everyday has moved away – to Snapchat. There you now find the pictures and the stories which some time ago could still be found on Instagram.
With Snapchat exclusively running on mobile devices and with only very simple filters at its disposal, the quality of the pictures and videos is not particularly high. Videos need to be recorded and photos need to be taken with that mobile device as a transfer from a professional camera is not possible. This creates the impression of everything happening right now and as if things were exactly the way you would see them from the outside. Yet what you see could just be the umpteenth attempt to describe in flowery words the beautiful landscape someone is looking at that moment or the cool situation they are a part of.
Why are so many Instagrammers using Snapchat who otherwise post carefully edited pictures taken with professional cameras? To answer this question, we have to return to the beginnings of Instagram: With the help of pictures it was then possible to develop a visual narrating style where the everyday took centre stage. With the professionalization of Instagrammers these styles became more refined, so that for instance travel accounts were illustrated and longer photo galleries appeared. Three or four pictures a day, particularly on travels, were no rarity. They also seemed necessary to tell the stories of a journey.
Accounts, which on Instagram constantly grow, now only present a photo a day at the most – last but not least if they are from travels and when they are posted whilst travelling. The pictures are drastically different from those which are meant to form a travelogue. The pictures of the new Instagram success accounts show perfectly edited pictures of spectacular landscapes: mountain lakes sit alongside mountain ranges wreathed in mist and sunsets. A cityscape reduced to a minimum is followed by another cityscape reduced to a minimum. They are dream images without context. One now needs an additional app to make it visible that these pictures are not just the reveries of photographers but truly have a relationship with existing spaces. That app is Snapchat. There the everyday stories behind the extraordinary pictures can be told – the view from the hotel window, the drive through suburban deserts, the meals and many other, more or less exciting events in an Instagrammer’s life.