Last week, Snapchat launched Discover, a new feature that shows clips of content from a variety of media partners including Vice, Comedy Central, and CNN, and will also broadcast advertising. It's a big move in a new direction for Snapchat that moves it beyond its roots as a photo messaging app.
And yet on the day the splashy new feature launched, teens were freaking out about the fact that the new update had removed a tiny original feature: displaying your "best friend" in your profile. To teens, this weird vestigial feature that I labeled back in 2012 as "the feature that will ruin your life" was a key piece of how they used the app. It was woven into their social fabric. Teens complained so forcefully that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel tweeted that they would bring the "top friends" feature back. In its excitement to debut a new product with strategic business partnerships, they accidentally overlooked a small core feature that made the app so popular among core users.
Now, as any mouth-breather with half a brain knows, Snapchat's most distinctive feature is its ephemerality: post anything and, after the set amount of time, it disappears like forgotten youth.
But ephemerality gets too much credit for Snapchat's appeal. There's something else, here. Snapchat's unacknowledged secret weapon is devilishly simple and has been right in front of your eyes the whole time. Ready? Snapchat's best feature is the simple ability to easily put text over your photo.
This may sound dumb or obvious, but bear with me, here.
No other major photo app or social network with a photo function has this simple feature. And while plenty of niche photo editing apps/pieces of software offer text over image, they're hardly popular.
Even on desktop computers, quick and dirty image captioning has never been totally simple. The popularity of tools like the human-toxic-waste-superfund-site MemeGenerator is entirely due to the fact that placing the classic meme Impact font text with a 2-point strike outline on top of a picture is actually really hard if you don't have or know Photoshop well. (If you think Photoshop is "easy" please do not argue with me on this because you are an outlier. Also I have a question about airbrushing out my crow's feet on my Facebook profile photo, please DM me.)
And, as it turns out, it's the perfect feature for the mobile devices that have effectively replaced personal cameras.
Pairing a caption with an image changes the meaning and dynamic of the communication; that's part of why Snapchat communication is different from more traditional modes of online correspondence. When you send a friend a photo through SMS with a caption, the words appear on a separate line. A Snapchat, on the other hand feels custom tailored to the individual(s) you're sending it to in that exact moment. There's something less immediate and poetic about the description not being part of a glorious LOL palimpsest. Bespoke LOLs.
Most importantly, jokes work differently when you can put a caption ONTO a photo.
The best evidence of how game-changing text-over-photo is to Snapchat is the proliferation of Snapchat screenshots on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. The app isn't just being used as a communication tool within the app itself, it's a way of generating specific images (photos with text) that can spread around on other platforms.
Savvy users are treating it as a photo editing tool to mark up their own content. Wanna make a joke about grapes? Use Snapchat, then post it on Tumblr, like this jabroni did.
Oh, and the most important part? It works with emojis! Think of how obvious that is, but other text-over-image tools don't do that.
Please enjoy this GLORIOUS use of emojis and text along with her actual face to tell this essential human story:
Teens! They're out there snapping away to each other, little teen messages in a bottles with little teen thoughts and teen emotions. And not even just teens! I love Snapchat precisely because of the text over image, and I'm old enough to have a teen of my own.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of one's own penis with a bar of text that reads: "8====👊==D 💦💦💦" is worth a billion.