SpaceX Snapchat

Snapchat today announced Geofilters, a new feature that allows users to add location-specific watermarks to their photos when they share images from specific places, such as New York and Disneyland. Geofilters demonstrates two important changes to Snapchat’s product: a new focus on where a picture was taken and the difficulty of introducing new features without sacrificing simplicity.

The new focus on location was made evident with Our Story, a feature introduced in June that allows Snapchat users at an event to share photos in a public feed anyone can view. Our Story is all about being somewhere that other Snapchat users aren’t, a tool that has the benefits of broadcasting a (general) location without constraining the content to a simple check-in like Foursquare.

Geofilters renews that focus by making it easier to share a location without having to make an image public or resorting to bragging about visiting Disneyland in an image’s caption. Think of it as the millennial’s take on the postcard, with ephemeral but personal images taking the place of the stock photographs that used to appear on the front of the cards sent from one fuddy-duddy to another.

Focusing on location-specific features like Geofilters and Our Story could allow Snapchat to cast aside its perception as a sexting tool once and for all, assuming most people aren’t going to mark their nude photographs with a Disneyland filter or share them to a public image feed. It could also allow the company to sell branded filters to businesses or event organizers, too.

It’s the increasing complexity of Snapchat’s design that might lead to some issues. It used to be a simple service that allowed people to send self-destructing images to each other. Now it offers Stories to give users a public feed of their recent images; messaging tools that make it easy to send ephemeral text messages or have a video chat with a friend; and now Geofilters.

For some users, being able to navigate this added complexity — particularly with the lack of visual clues — feels like knowing a secret handshake that allows them to access things that most people will never even find. For others, these features have taken a simple application and made it a convoluted mess that is easier to avoid. Snapchat’s evolution shows that the company is thinking long-term, but it also risks confusing users.

Geofilters highlights these two truths, both of which could either help Snapchat thrive as an independent company amid Facebook’s imposing social media shadow or alienate users who just want a simple way to share images with their friends. Finding a balance between those two is Snapchat’s grand opportunity; slipping too far in either direction could become its greatest downfall.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]