Snapchat: A Transformation Unlike Any Other

With yesterday’s Snapchat update introducing Auto-Advance Stories and Chat 2.0, I thought it fitting to take a look back at Snapchat’s transformation over the the past few years. Snapchat began in 2011 as a photo messaging app in which its biggest advantage and sole offering was the ability to make photos “disappear.” In a mere four years, the company has developed into one of the most innovative social media platforms ever through its ability to completely revolutionize how a large majority of smartphone users are communicating.

Snapchat’s initial interface was very simple, and the app essentially made it easier to send “selfies” back and forth with someone, without having to worry about the photo being saved. It didn’t take long for the company to release additional features such as the ability to add captions to a photo, or send a video. By 2013, Snapchat had developed the “My Story” feature, and these Stories became like a visual Twitter, allowing your Snapchat followers to view constant chronological updates of your life. “My Story” quickly developed into the “Live Story” feature, and the “Discover Feed” was introduced as well. Somewhere in there Snapchat also managed to introduce direct messaging, or “Snapchat Texting,” enabling the company to create an even more comprehensive platform. Geotags were rolled out, and of course, everyone’s favorite lens filters for selfies (because who doesn’t love a little face distortion?). Most recently, yesterday’s Chat 2.0 introduction made it so that Snapchatters can seamlessly switch between messaging through text, audio, photo and video. And while I have mentioned many of Snapchat’s added features over the years, these are certainly not all of them…we get it Snapchat, you know how to innovate.

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I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, Snapchat is my social media platform with the most frequent updates and added features. It seems like just as I’m getting to know one new feature, a new one is released. But, it is these frequent feature additions that have led to Snapchat’s drastic transformation over time, and have prevented the company from siloing itself as simply a photo messaging app. Thanks to its constant innovations, Snapchat has broadly expanded the its services beyond its initial functionality.

Not only has the application transformed, but with its transformation has come a revolution in the way people, most specifically Snapchat users, are communicating as well. In his somewhat recent “What is Snapchat?” video, co-founder Evan Spiegel discusses this change in communication. He highlights that the app is “all about talking with pictures,” “expressing yourself in the moment” and “the idea of instant expression.” AdAge proclaims that Snapchat’s most recent update combines “every way humans communicate into a single interface — video, audio, text, symbols and drawing.” According to AdAge, this means that “instead of having to choose how you want to connect before you start, conversations can evolve on the fly.”

Snapchat’s transformation of communication as a whole has also forced those who aren’t in its 13-25 year old target market, to take the platform seriously. Brands must now seriously consider Snapchat as an advertising platform if they want to stay relevant, especially as a means of reaching millennial consumers.

In the company’s first ever blog post on its website back in 2012, Spiegel wrote that Snapchat is “about communicating with the full range of human emotion — not just what appears to be pretty or perfect.” I have scoured the Internet in search of a recent comment by Spiegel or any Snapchat execs on the company’s mission, but unfortunately to no avail. So I ask, you, do you think Snapchat has adhered to this mission despite its numerous additions and changes? I would argue that Snapchat’s transformation has been one of the most rapid and drastic in comparison with other social media platforms of its scale. Despite this, however, I think it has still been able to succeed at generally preserving its initial mission. But, can Snapchat sustain this rate of constant innovation while still upholding the company’s mission, or is the company at risk of losing direction? Regardless, I look forward to seeing the future of Snapchat unfold.



  1. It is so fascinating to read about how much Snapchat has changed since it first began. As your article pointed out, there have been some pretty significant changes; some of which I have liked and some I have not. Personally, I am not a huge fan of change. I liked the original simplicity of Snapchat, and now it’s becoming a little complicated. With this being said, I have received a great amount of entertainment from features such as drawing, geotags, and lens filters. Ultimately, I think change and innovation is essential; otherwise people will be become bored and usage will decline. I think the mission of Snapchat showing more than what appears to be pretty is very interesting. I just read a blog about depression linked to social media use because most people portray their lives as being prefect. I agree that with Snapchat, people are much more likely to share the bad or boring parts of their day. I think this sets Snapchat apart from a lot of the other social media platforms, and should be something they continue to foster, amidst changes in the future.

  2. What has caused me to take Snapchat more seriously is its willingness to evolve and innovate. I saw zero business model in their old format, which they are evolving away from. I actually disagree that it’s transformation has been the most drastic. Back in the “old days’ as FB was evolving, there were similar HUGE shifts – some of which that worked (Newsfeed, Timeline) some of which that worked (Beacon, if you remember that). Likewise, LinkedIn has evolved (not in good ways IMHO). I think the ability to evolve in positive ways as the technology enabled new ways of interacting is really the key to success. Static = death…just ask Twitter.

  3. Christina, the way Spiegel puts it as Snapchat being “all about talking with pictures,” is very accurate. I cannot count the number of times that I did not feel like texting someone and simply sent them a picture of myself with a caption. The same is true about how we can use our emotions to communicate. Rather than the many filters and candid moments we capture on Instagram, Snapchat is about being raw and showing your friends who you really are. The app is more personal than the other apps because it is capturing us in the moment and in real time. In response to your comment at the end, I think Snapchat has started to lose their initial mission. An app that was originally meant to send pictures and have them delete after a few seconds has become a way to screenshot that photo and save it. Also, the texting aspect was originally meant to allow people to converse and have it disappear once they logged out of the app. Now you can save the conversation which completely deters away from what Snapchat was originally created to do. I loved reading your post, great work!

  4. Awesome article about something that has really been on my mind lately!! I agree with you–just when I think I’m getting used to one feature, they change the app and force you to update. Then again, it’s also fun to use the new features (like the infamous face-swap) with friends, because you don’t want to feel left out without the update. The emphasis on the visual nature of the app just shows how much that our culture values pictures and videos. But unlike Instagram, there is less of an emphasis on maintaining that “perfect” image.

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