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06 July 2017

Snapchat is turning into the social network it never wanted to be

Even though Snapchat tends to get lumped in with other social platforms, it’s never really been much of a social network — until now.

While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like thrive off the vast amounts of (often public) frenetic sharing that happens on their networks each day, Snapchat has made no secret that its users turn to it for a different type of interaction.

Rather than the megaphone of Twitter or the popularity contest that’s Instagram, Snap has prided itself on the large volume of private sharing it sees, its users’ “creativity” and the fact that its app enables a kind of authenticity not found elsewhere on social media.

Snapchat has embraced this with an app that’s been far more closed off than any of its counterparts. Until Stories launched in 2013, there was no way at all for users to publicly share any updates at all and even then the feature got off to a slow start. The app eschewed other common “social” features, too.

While select publishers (including Mashable) can produce content for Discover, and advertisers can sell ads in Discover or between Stories, the company has done little to court influencers and smaller outfits. Snapchat still lacks a formal verification system, other than the emoji-based “official stories” that’s still reserved for the app’s biggest names.

But if Snapchat is still embracing its role as the anti-social network social network, you wouldn’t know it from its recent updates. On Wednesday, the company announced that it would allow anyone to share links within any snap they share with friends or post to their Story. 

That may not sound like a huge change in itself but it stands to be hugely significant to brands, publishers, and any influencer not well-known enough to be verified or part of Discover. On a philosophical level, it also raises questions about whether Snap is finally starting to admit that it is, in fact, a real social media company after all (despite Spiegel’s insistence that Snap is “a camera company”).  

Snapchat's new "Snap Maps" feature.

Snapchat’s new “Snap Maps” feature.

Just look at Snap Maps, another recently launched feature that would have once been unthinkable for the company run by the notoriously private Evan Spiegel. The feature, which essentially allows any of your friends to know your exact whereabouts and who you are with at any given time (you can opt out, too), is a far cry from Snapchat’s roots as a private messaging app for teens sharing naughty photos. 

Creepy as it is though, Snap Maps serves an important purpose to the company. It makes it easier than ever for users — and advertisers for that matter — to actually find all that public-facing content Snapchat 166 million daily users are making each day. 

Yes, some of this could be explained away as the natural evolution of a newly public company now faced with meeting investor expectations. Even so, it’s difficult to not see these types of changes as part of a bigger shift toward becoming just like every other social network. 

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. Just look at how much Instagram has grown since deciding to take on Snapchat in earnest.

Whether Snap will be similarly successful is another matter. What is clear, though, is that there is a transformation underway.

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