An original promise of social media was that it mimicked real life. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offered places to capture and share your memories, but after using them for several years, I feel like someone who was sold a lemon by a used-car salesman.
These social media sites have become a highly edited, cropped and filtered version of real life. And the fact that they promise perpetuity only makes them worse.
But there’s a social media tool that, while it’s been around a while, I’ve recently become borderline obsessed with: Snapchat Stories. Readers under 14 can skip the next couple of explainer paragraphs. The rest of you are probably asking yourself, “A Snapchat what?”
The best way to understand Snapchat Stories is to imagine a short and very personal TV show: directed, edited and starring you. There are technical limitations. The videos are shot and viewed mainly on smartphones. And each clip can be up to only 10 seconds long, though you can record dozens of them in a row, creating an episode that is a few minutes long.
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Snapchat Stories can either be private, only viewable by your friends, or public and seen by anyone. But unlike other social video services, and here’s the best part, Snapchat Stories last 24 hours and then — poof! — they’re gone.
And because your clips vanish after being viewed, you can be as normal or silly as you want. In that way, they mimic real life.
My obsession with Snapchat Stories began about a month ago, when a group of friends visited Japan and recorded a daily Snapchat Story. I saw lots of sushi and sipping from small teacups while nibbling on ambrosial desserts. Each morning, waiting for me on Snapchat was a kind of personal travel channel starring my friends. The stuff they shot was not the highly edited, filter-laden nonsense we all create on Instagram. It was just my friends being themselves. It was, for want of a better word, real.
Snapchatters don’t just watch the people they know on the service. Last year, Snapchat started to offer “Our Story,” which compiles photos and videos from live events. Recent Stories have included the Golden Globes, the National Dog Show, New Year’s Eve and college football. These are so popular among younger audiences that Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s chief executive, has said, “More people are watching college football on Snapchat than they are on television.”
According to Snapchat, 1 billion Stories are viewed each day.
Casey Neistat, a YouTube filmmaker who has more than 480,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, said the engagement of his Snapchat Stories (mostly from teenagers) is unlike anything he’s ever seen. He attributes this to the fact that to watch a Snapchat Story, you have to keep your finger pressed down on the screen.
“When you watch TV, you’re 50 percent watching and 50 percent doing something else,” he said. “When you’re watching a Snapchat story, you’re 100 percent watching.”
Neistat also believes that Snapchat Stories are the future of social media.
“Social needs to be more like real-life interactions,” he said, noting that Snapchat Stories are the antithesis of Facebook posts. “Everything you say on Facebook is in the public record for all of eternity, and I don’t think younger people want that; it scares them. When you send your friend a Snap, it’s a dopey face and then it just goes away.”
This week, I made a short Snapchat story asking people why they use the service, and received a resoundingly similar response. One said, “You can see into people’s real lives.” Another said, “It’s just, real.”
Josh Elman, a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners, who previously worked at Facebook and Twitter, said this was the draw for teenagers who had come of age in social media.
“If you grew up in a world where everything was public, having the option to make something private is an entirely new thing,” he said.
How to sse Snapchat like a 14-year-old
Snapchat Stories are pretty confusing to figure out on your own, so here’s a handy guide to get you started. Remember: Don’t worry about making your Stories pretty or perfect; they’ll disappear in 24 hours.
1. Download the Snapchat app (iTunes or Google Play). The app starts in camera mode. Note the big circle at the bottom: tap it once for a photo, hold it down to record a video.
2. To annotate your video, tap the screen and write a short message.
3. To share your video with the world, tap the square box (with the plus sign) on the bottom of the screen. Voila , you just created a Snapchat Story.
4. To view other Snapchat Stories, tap the hamburger icon on the main screen for a list of your friends. To watch their Story, hold your finger on their name. You can also search for friends to follow. Snapchat does a terrible job at surfacing people to follow, so you will have to search the web for them. Or ask a 14-year-old.