Snapchat announced a significant new feature called “Snapchat Stories” today, and an update enabling Stories is available now to both iOS and Android users.
“Snapchat Stories add Snaps together to create a narrative. When you add a Snap to your Story it lives for 24 hours before it disappears, making room for the new. Your Story always plays forward, because it makes sense to share moments in the order you experience them.”
The company blog post underlines how Stories accumulate snaps but maintains the sense of impermanence Snapchat is known for, and it displays a video showing how Stories works.
After watching the promotional video the team made about the feature, I wasn’t sold — composing a slideshow of daily activities seemed like too much energy to expend on a piece of digital ephemera so fleeting. But after experimenting with the app, I realized Stories is a smart move.
It doesn’t really take any extra effort to compose a story. When you take a snap you’d want to share with a wider audience, you can add it to your daily compilation by tapping “My Story.” Over a 24 hour period, each time you do this, you knit together snippets of your life into whatever you want. Then you can set the privacy settings to allow access. Right now, there are two choices: your friends or the public.
Snapchat Stories act as constantly updating and changing profiles for Snapchat users, profiles that privileges what you choose to share at the moment instead of asking for content meant to represent users for a long period of time. The brilliance of this feature is that it allows Snapchat users to check in on their friends’ activities, but it preserves the app’s commitment to an evolving social profile.
This feature’s development may have been influenced by Nathan Jurgenson, a cultural theorist who works for Snapchat. Jurgenson wrote a fascinating post on the company’s blog explaining its abiding commitment to impermanence, and the need for social apps that allow for fluid identity. In an earlier blog post on the company website, Jurgenson outlined what he believes the problem is with the current expectations we have for social profiles:
“The social media profile attempts to convince us that life, in all its ephemeral flow, should also be its simulation; the ephemeral flow of lived experience is to be hacked into a collection of separate, discrete, objects to be shoved into the profile containers. The logic of the profile is that life should be captured, preserved, and put behind glass. It asks us to be collectors of our lives, to create a museum of our self. Moments are chunked off, put in a grid, quantified, and ranked. Permanent social media are based on such profiles, with each being more or less constraining and grid-like. Rethinking permanence means rethinking this kind of social media profile, and it introduces the possibility of a profile not as a collection preserved behind glass but something more living, fluid, and always changing.”
With its Snapchat Stories feature, Snapchat is no longer simply questioning this older mode of profile — it’s offering an alternative.