No Time for Snapchat Anymore

Endless Snaps Destroy the ‘Stories’ User Experience

This is a short case study on the issues with the newest Snapchat update, which unfortunately terminated the timer on Stories in favour of introducing Endless Snaps. I address multiple UX problems these new features produce, and give a fix to the situation. (Snapchat, hire me! haha….. no really, please.)

Snapchat is notorious for its 10-second media gimmick. After the allotted amount of seconds given to each snap, the snap inevitably disappears forever, never to be seen again by you, your friends, or your creepy ex.

Except, not anymore.

Endless Snaps brings a new factor t0 the table, where snaps don’t have to disappear after 10 seconds. They can linger on someone’s screen for as long as they want, given you set the timer to ‘endless’. (The snap will still disappear once they tap away. But until then…) This can be beneficial to personal snaps with friends, but causes major issues when incorporated with Stories.

Gone are the days of Snapchat’s automatic storytelling, where you could auto-play all the Stories you wanted to see, and have Snapchat scroll through them without any external interaction needed. Thanks to the handy countdown timer, not only could you expect to sit through a 20-snap rant about Jeff next door, or plug your ears for a couple videos of an obnoxiously loud concert, but you could do so without worrying how long each Story was—because, again, the timer tells you.

What I loved most about Snapchat was I could experience these Stories without tapping or interacting in any way.

Now, tapping is a necessity, and to be blunt, I hate it.

The Bad UX of Endless Snaps

On the left, a good decision. On the right… *shrugs*.

Endless snaps aren’t designed for the viewer, they’re designed for the publisher. Reasonably, no one needs to look at your picture for longer than 10 seconds, but that doesn’t matter because you want the most engagement possible, right? What better way than to make the picture never go away until the viewer asks it to.

Normally if you wanted to watch a snap again, you would simply replay it (if private), or tap the left side of the screen to go back in the Story. Viewers interested in engaging longer than the given time would be happy to tap once or twice to re-experience the content. All was good.

Notice the lack of a timer on Ellen’s story? I watched this lady dance for 40 seconds because it’s on an Endless Loop. That was far more than I planned.

Now, if you place just one endless snap in your Story, all your viewers must tap through your content, and are forced to interact with each snap, whether they like it or not.

This. Is. Bad. User. Experience.

The fundamentals of UX dictate that we should always minimize unnecessary interactions. Snapchat had this mastered since Day One.

Requiring all users to tap to experience other content from what is on-screen is aggravating. It’s an extra form of forced interaction the user has no interest in performing, all just to get away from the endlessly looping content. Now every viewer has to tap through these snaps, not just the interested ones. If Snapchat trains its users to interact with Stories by tapping just to skip through content, users will be more likely to naturally do so even when endless snaps aren’t playing. Know what this means? Users will become tap-happy, and will habitually skip through content even if it’s interesting, purely out of reflex. More skipping = less engagement.

To Make Matters Worse

Many Snapchat users are lax, intrigued, and allow content to play out rather than skipping through, even if they aren’t necessarily interested in it. There’s an off chance, after all, that something interesting may happen from an unexpected Story. Users are not always grasping their phone, ready to tap through the next ad. (I know personally, I let Stories play while I’m cooking, so I’m frequently working hands-free. I don’t want to get sauce all over my phone)

Mixing together the endless and time-sensitive snaps is dangerous territory, especially when users have no idea what’s coming up next in their Stories.

For example, let’s say someone has a couple ‘endless’ picture-snaps in a row, so you’re inclined to tap through. Except that Snap you just played was on a 2-second timer, and you tapped through a second too late, as it switched—thus skipping through the next snap without being able to see it.

See the problem?

Fed up with tapping too many selfies, Ron began his celluar tirade.

Users are now forced to gauge and determine if a snap is going to naturally run out, or play endlessly, with no indicators whatsoever. The Stories experience is immediately more stressful, uncertain, and frustrating. This ambiguity will lead to less interaction, and many users’ thumbs will be hovering over the side of their screen in anticipation, tapping when they shouldn’t be, and overcorrecting in frustration.

Users don’t like being left in the dark. They like transparency. They like knowing how long they should dedicate their time to a snap or a story. Time is precious, especially with on-the-go social media such as Snapchat. Taking away the only symbol of structure to Stories induces mayhem in a major component of the Snapchat experience. Time is extremely important.

In other words, if users don’t know how long to dedicate to a Snap story, they’re more likely to get bored and click away. They will become selective with what they consume, because they don’t want to miss out on better content later. This will narrow how users interact with Snapchat and decrease the amount of time they spend watching Stories.

Users, fearing the commitment needed to tap through so many snaps, will opt not to watch Stories at all.

What’s the Solution?

We need this lovely guy to return.

The answer is simple. Bring back the timer. Obviously, due to the issue of endless snaps existing, the timer will need to behave differently. Endless snaps will need to be assigned a base ‘time’ to contribute to the overall Story timer so it can continue to show an accurate estimate of the remaining Story length.

To determine the ‘time’ to give endless snaps, I considered the average time of 5 seconds per snap. However, considering many users use endless snaps because the 10 second maximum isn’t enough, and they need longer, I thought it would be more accurate to assume an endless snap would take approximately 10 seconds of someone’s time to view completely.

Therefore, endless snaps on the remaining Stories timer will be represented by:

  • 10 seconds for picture snaps
  • the recorded amount of seconds for video snaps

Now that the ‘remaining timer’ is figured out, I need to find a way to indicate when an endless snap is playing. I pulled this off by incorporating an infinity symbol beside the timer, so the total time remaining is still clearly visible. I attempted to overlay the inifinity symbol directly overtop the timer, but it wasn’t aesthetically-pleasing. So I left the symbol beside the timer.

By incorporating the ‘remaining’ timer and infinity symbol into Stories, viewers will be able to determine how long a Story is, and will immediately be able to identify an endless snap that’s on-screen. This should improve the Stories experience for now… at least until Snapchat unveils the next “latest and greatest” feature.

Key takeaways:

  • Keep users informed. Stay transparent.
    (include important timers and indicators of what to expect)
  • Engineer for minimal necessary user interaction.
    (tap only when users are seeking engagement, not when avoiding it)
  • Don’t disrupt the natural user flow.
    (Stories are meant to be experienced as a whole, so avoid adding disruptive prompts throughout)

Thank you for reading! Incorporate these tips into your own UX, and you can build a great product. Stay tuned for more.