'Honey, what's Snapchat?' A remedial catch-up for texting grandmothers...

May 16, 2016

 

The reliably entertaining and readable blogger-cum-literati Amy Welborn flirts with Snapchat
(Unfort., the rule is whenever over thirtysomethings start using an app, you know its hipness quotient has already expired... but to those way-too-late to the party, here is what you missed.)

 

“First (er…secondly) – I’m on Snapchat. Amywelborn2.  There is hardly anything there now, but I’ll be using it in Italy in a few days, so I’m in the practice mode..get on and check it out, if you like. No link because you just have to download the app.

 

Snapchat is what the kids all use – obsessively – now, but just over the past few weeks, I’ve detected a Movement of the Moms in the app’s direction. Perhaps this is what we do to try to tame the evil possibilities of things like this? We sense that if we start using it, they’ll all flee? Anyway, it’s an interesting app. Annoying in some ways, and certainly not as easy to find people with as any other. I only follow a few people because I can only find a few people on it. I was really inspired to get on by Catholic Traveler Mountain Buterac, who posts almost daily Snaps (as the kids call them) of his life in Rome as well as his travels with tour groups. He does a great job and offers intriguing and illuminating slices-of-life from another part of the world. Here’s a blog post he just wrote about how he uses Snapchat as an evangelization tool.

 

Randomly, I’m also following an account called EverestNoFilter – a couple of guys who are currently scaling Everest and Snapchatting away. Really interesting and just so amazing to think about what is possible with technology.
Periscope is also on my list for this week – I plan to do a couple of ‘scopes (um…as the kids say) to practice for Italy, although I am not quite sure how I fit in with the bulk of broadcasters who seem to be either 1)Young people whose broadcasts are entitled “Bored….Talk2Me” or 2) MOTIVATOR, PASTOR, KINGDOM-BUILDER, LULAROE CONSULTANT!
It’s just a tool….keep saying it…it’s just a tool.”   https://amywelborn.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/saturday-notes/

 

Elsewhere there is the more basic and explanatory this ...

 

Snapchat, reviewed in PC Magazine 

MAX EDDY   http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2458254,00.asp

 

It's easy to dismiss Snapchat as another forgettable Android app, which is exactly what I did when I first reviewed it two years ago. In fact, I didn't even know about it until I heard a lot of hand-wringing about sexting, but I digress. While many social-messaging apps and photo-manipulation apps have come and gone since then, Snapchat has remained. It's even become more robust, and it now offers voice calling, stickers for messaging, and vastly improved live video chatting. It's not for everyone, but it's not something anyone should ignore, either.

 

Snapchat is available as a free download from the Google Play store. I had no trouble installing it on my Nexus 5X$379.00 at Google Store. There's also a Snapchat app for iPhone, but as of this writing Windows 10 Mobile users are left out in the cold, as is quite common, unfortunately. Note that a recent update to Snapchat has added a veritable cornucopia of features, but your recipients won't see a thing unless they've also updated their app.

 

Snapchat feels very different from other media-sharing apps, and its ephemerality feels fresh compared to other ossified social networks with long memories. You start, not in a feed or a menu page, but rather in a viewfinder. There are no instructions, no teases about where to go next. You just have to learn through experience that you swipe from the left to view all your recent conversations, and to the right to view Snapchat Stories from your friends and a curated list of media outlets.

 

Swipe down to reveal your user info and a handy scannable badge that people can use to connect with you on Snapchat. Does the app mention that you tap and hold the screen while looking at such a badge to add someone to your friend's list? No, it doesn't. But you'll probably figure it out. Maybe.

 

Snapchat outright rejects many of the visual metaphors and design norms that have grown up around smartphones, and that's excellent. This app is its own universe, and learning to master it does grant a real sense of satisfaction. That said, I always favor simple usability over inscrutable minimalism. I use Snapchat in my day-to-day life and have since I first reviewed it, but I'm still not sure that I know every feature.

 

You can share photos and videos taken with Snapchat publicly to your followers, or privately with your friends. Tap the shutter button to take a snap, or press and hold it to shoot 15 seconds of video. Another tap sends it off. You're done!

 

The most important tool is the clock in the bottom of the screen where you set a life span for your image. This is the app's original killer feature; your pictures are only accessible to recipients for as long as you allow them (unless they screenshot them, of course). You can choose a lifespan between one and ten seconds. Snapchat may not have invented this feature, but many imitators such as the not-so-subtlely-intended-for-sexting Obscure have sprung up in its wake.

 

To see the snaps posted by your friends, you swipe from the left to view your inbox. Tap and hold on an entry to display the snap for however long the sender has decided it will last. Once you tap, a counter in the corner runs down the time remaining to view the snap and, yes, you can take screenshots during this time. If you lift your thumb off the screen for even a second, the image vanishes, though the counter keeps counting down. Note that once a video finishes playing, it vanishes.

 

After the image vanishes, a marker indicating that you have seen and read the snap remains for a short time. If you really, really liked a snap, you can tap the marker to replay it. But chose wisely, you only get one replay per day for free. If you want to replay more snaps, you'll have to pay 99 cents. Note also that snaps can only be replayed once, even if you pay.

 

In these days of Instagram filters and live Periscope feeds, just sending plain photos and videos is obviously not enough. Snapchat's filters and text overlays are hidden until you need them. You can swipe in one of six filters only after you take a snap, but be warned that these are lackluster compared to what you find on Instagram or Flickr. You can also add captions over the image in a few, limited styles, or you can doodle in a set of vibrant colors. Only three filters affect the actual color of your image; the other three overlay time, temperature, or the current speed at which you are traveling.

 

But really, filters are so 2010. Instead of entering into a sepia-toned arms race with competitors, Snapchat introduced interactive photo overlays called lenses. Just aim the phone at your face, tap and hold the screen, watch as your face is scanned, and then swipe through a list of dynamic digital masks and effects that you can apply to your face. These aren't anything like the filters you'll find on FlickrFree at Amazon, or anywhere else. One adds dog ears, another turns you into an enraged rabbit, and still another will swap your faces with you and a friend or a notable painting. These all work surprisingly well, and only require you to occasionally open your mouth. I was not, however, able to find the infamous vomiting rainbows lens, but I did find one that replaced my eyes with mouths.

 

When one snap isn't enough, you can organize snaps into Stories. These are collections of snaps and videos that your friends can view during a 24-hour window, slideshow-style. It's a neat feature, and one that PCMag uses with great success (follow us: @pcmagofficial), but I'd rather have something more akin to a traditional picture gallery.

 

Though Snapchat is built around ephemeral messaging, it doesn't just use pictures or video. The app has long supported text chats and a recent update has made instant messaging even more powerful and dynamic through Snapchat.

 

Text messages can be typed out and exchanged between users. Like snaps, they disappear after a few minutes, but you can also pin messages to the conversation. A recent update lets you add images from your camera roll, which is typical for chat services but new for Snapchat. There are also stickers, which are like larger, custom emojis.

 

I normally adore any service that includes stickers, but Snapchat only offers a single, if large and cute, set of stickers. They're also arranged in a very long list, which makes finding the perfect sticker a bit of a chore. Facebook MessengerFree at Amazon has a huge, central marketplace of stickers featuring everything from Adventure Time characters to a businessman with a fish for a head. And although Telegram is best known for offering encrypted messaging, it also allows anyone to create stickers for the service, which is why I can drop pictures of TV's Jessica Fletcher into casual conversation.

 

Snapchat has supported video chat for some time, but it was an obtuse if interestingly designed experience. The process is much simpler now. Just tap the video icon to initiate a video call. A tastefully minimalist dialer screen appears and the recipient of your call will get the option to accept. If she does, your image will fill her screen but her video won't be on by default. She can turn it on, respond with only voice, or send text messages and stickers that appear superimposed over the video stream for a few seconds before vanishing. It's a very slick approach to video chat, and much better than the former incarnation which would startle recipients with a hovering live video without warning.

 

The improvements to video chat also introduce voice-only calls to Snapchat for the first time. As with video calls, a dialer screen appears, allowing the recipient to accept or reject your call. If your call is accepted, it will use your wireless data plan or Wi-Fi connection. Again, this is fairly common for chat apps that include such features. The voice-calling feature has an excellent interface very similar to the video-calling setup. It's a great move for the app, and I'd like to see this coherent design aesthetic spread throughout the app.

 

What you can't use Snapchat for is groups. Group messaging is limited to broadcast messages. Text, voice, and video chatting are limited to one-on-one conversations. Editors' Choice Google HangoutsFree at iTunes Store, on the other hand, allows for numerous people to be in one conversation. Even some secure messaging platforms, like Wickr, allow for group messaging.

 

 

Snapchat is a challenging app. It goes against the classic understanding of messaging, it goes against the modern understanding of how apps should work, and it takes features from a wide variety of categories and crams them into one service. If Facebook defined the previous stage of the Internet, Snapchat is probably emblematic of our current timeframe, perhaps at the end of the smartphone and the rise of wearables, augmented reality, and even virtual reality.

 

But unlike so many services birthed into the wild frontier of an app marketplace, Snapchat has not only survived but has thrived. While apps like Meerkat have given up on their niche functions, Snapchat has doubled down, adding more features and working to refine the features it already has. It's not perfect, and I'm sure Snapchat enthusiasts will be the butt of many more jokes. But it's time that the rest of us start taking this app a little more seriously, since it's probably showing us where we'll be going in years to come.

 

That said, I still feel that there are services that do everything that Snapchat does, but in a better package. Telegram is a better secret messenger, Hangouts a better instant messenger, and Skype a better video messenger. Snapchat therefore doesn't quite merit an Editors' Choice award, but that probably won't stop its rise, nor undo the mark it has made on digital society.

 

PROS 
Ephemeral messaging. Fast, low-pressure, super-easy photo and video sharing. Fun, interactive video effects. Unique interface. Innovative video chatting. Voice chatting. Stickers.
CONS 
Interface is as obtuse as it is unique. Content can't be shared outside of Snapchat. Troubled history.

BOTTOM LINE 
Snapchat is a boldly unique ephemeral messaging and image sharing Android app that offers video chatting, disappearing messages, and digital dog masks. It's as bewildering as it is exciting.

 

 

 

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