Once known only as a sexting app, Snapchat is becoming a force in real-time news.
For an app that many—possibly even most—initially dismissed as a trivial tool for teens to send sexy texts that would automatically disappear, Snapchat has certainly come a long way. Not only does it have an estimated market value of about $16 billion, but it is also now seen by many media outlets as a viable platform for their news, thanks in part to its Discover feature.
More recently, Snapchat has started to dip its toes into the world of real-time, crowdsourced news. And the results have been fascinating and/or disturbing, depending on your perspective.
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Snapchat creates stories based around geographic locations such as Los Angeles every day, with random content uploaded by users about the city. The service usually employs GPS location tools to show that kind of story only to those who are in that city.
It’s a little like CNN, except generated by dozens or even hundreds of users in the same vicinity. And the similarity probably isn’t surprising, since Snapchat’s news efforts are being run by former CNN political correspondent Peter Hamby, who joined the company in April.
It’s interesting to compare this with what Twitter did with its Moment on the shootings, especially since Twitter is seen by many (correctly) as the original crowdsourced real-time news service—thanks to the plane landing in the Hudson, the Arab Spring, and hundreds of other news events. The Moments feature is its attempt to up its aggregation game, using human editors who curate tweets, photos etc.
Snapchat, by contrast, collected powerful imagery and reactions from people who were on the scene, or close to it (although it also included official sources). As is the case with much of the crowdsourced information from crime scenes, a lot of it was chaotic and of poor quality. But there’s still something compelling about the immediacy of these kinds of reports that is undeniable—because they are experiencing it live, while we are just spectators. And it isn’t being filtered by an intermediary.