Snapchat does what Facebook couldn't: Get publishers to trust it with their content
Snapchat has introduced a new feature which allows its users to view articles, images, and videos from a variety of publishers inside the company's messaging application. It's called Discover, and it's a major departure from the company's ephemeral beginnings.
Discover separates content into a variety of "channels" from media organizations like Comedy Central, Vice, National Geographic, and other well-known publishers. Users see previews of this content, decide if they're interested in it, then view the entire thing in Snapchat's application. (There will naturally be advertisements to swipe through, too.)
Snapchat says in the blog post announcing Discover that it's "not social media," which tells people "what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular," and is instead focused on making it easier for publishers to distribute their content to as many people as possible. It's the work these organizations are proud of, not the work that's most viral.
That's probably for the best. Snapchat doesn't encourage its users to cultivate their brands (ugh) or take part in some popularity contest every time they open its app. The whole idea behind its supposedly-ephemeral messaging service is that people want to use the Internet to share things without having to worry about it haunting them later.
Publishers will certainly be quantifying how well their content performs in Discover, but Snapchat is positioning the feature as a tool meant to create a real connection between media organizations and their audiences. It won't require the perfect headline, or the right mix of hashtags guaranteed to make something go viral -- it's all about the content.
Snapchat is essentially asking these publishers to make the things they want to make and use its platform to distribute all that content to people who are already opening its application. And, unlike its reaction to Facebook's efforts to become the publisher used by every online outlet, the media seems to be embracing Snapchat's publishing tool.
Perhaps that's because Snapchat won't hold the stories in perpetuity: they're obliterated 24 hours after they're posted, just like the Stories shared by non-professional Snapchat users. Or maybe it's because they don't think Snapchat is as threatening as Facebook, which is trying to effectively own the way publishers are able to reach online readers.
I suspect it's a little bit of both. Sharing something to Snapchat that is by its very nature current and accessible seems promising, and so long as the company features some kind of ephemerality, whether it's measured in seconds or hours, it's not a threat to the ideals upon which the Web was built. Discover, like the content it hosts, is a temporary thing.
Discover is a calculated risk. Snapchat has hired its own journalists, photographers, and videographers to contribute to the feature, so it's unlikely to shutter it any time soon. And a variety of publishers have signed on to give the tool a shot. Now they'll have to see if people who downloaded Snapchat to message each other also use it to read the news.
Either way, Snapchat has convinced publishers to do what they wouldn't for Facebook: trust a tech company with their content. Given how important Facebook is to the media, and the mistaken perception of Snapchat as a sexting application, that's no small feat.