Snapchat Spacetime: together when we’re apart

Ben Basche
4 min readNov 30, 2016

It would seem to me that Snapchat’s core job to be done is allowing us to be together when we’re apart. This is consistent across both one to one & one to many Snaps, as well as Stories. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a blend of teleportation and time travel (hear me out).

In a Snap, people are able to communicate certain things, particularly emotions, far more efficiently and effectively than with simple text. What might take 15 messages of back and forth to describe to a friend or loved one could be accomplished in a quick photo with a caption or a 4 second video message. If one party is busy, Snaps will accumulate and provide an immersive and serialized update for the receiver. When going back and forth on Snapchat every few minutes with someone, it can almost feel like being next to one another. Snaps are usually for the closest of friends or for particularly relevant moments to be shared privately with more casual ones. Snapchat’s fully private side forms the glue of countless friendships and small groups, allowing people to show their friends what they before could only struggle to tell.

Not only are people able to momentarily suspend the feeling of geographic separateness from someone they’re talking to on Snapchat, but they are also able to maintain a thread of communication asynchronously that still feels synchronized. This time shifted intimate communication provides an experience that live video chat or streaming alone cannot achieve. By packing so much about where we are — literally and emotionally — into such a compact and effortless package, Snapchat chips away at our separation in space and ventures to give us back some time together.

Stories are doing the same job with a slightly different graph, and it is this aspect of Snapchat that probably poses the most immediate term threat to Facebook engagement. Snapchat Stories have been wildly successful, and more recently have been widely copied. The audience for Stories is all of your mutual Snapchat friends. This group is significantly larger than the group that engages most frequently together on the private side of Snapchat, but it is likely on average a lot smaller than most people’s Facebook friends list. It is comprised of pretty good friends, old friends, and perhaps friends that have moved away. We want to feel like we’re keeping in touch and up to date with these people, but not talking to them everyday.

Stories allow us to take the same principles of Snaps — the immediate capture of a moment in space and time, the playful creative elements, the immersive sense of jumping into someone’s experience as Evan Spiegel put it — and combine them with a more explicit element of storytelling and putting forward your “face” to your friends. That face, like Snapchat’s lenses and filters, can be whatever you want it to be that day. And by threading individual Snaps into a story, you are able to do exactly what the feature’s name suggests — tell a story about your experience. Your friends that tune in to your story will get an update from the real you, not because it is tied to a profile of everything you’ve ever done, but because it represents who you are right here, right now. Snapchat Stories are the heir to AIM away messages, only this time it’s backwards; Stories are “here” messages. Friends can keep in touch without exchanging messages everyday with subtle gestures of watching each other’s stories and occasionally commenting and striking up a conversation. Don’t be surprised to see Snapchat roll out a private version of Stories to finally fix the clusterfuck that is group chat.

Fellow observer Alex Danco had an awesome piece a little while back framing the shift happening in social called “From pull and push to here and now,” (come on, how cool is that title?) that you should all check out. He describes a new paradigm emerging in social communication and content that principally is characterized by Snapchat, but also would include things like Twitch, and Houseparty. With things like ubiquitous mobile with high-speed internet being taken for granted, front facing cameras and the advent of ephemeral content, the new kids on the block are competing for the “here and now.” And while from a content consumption perspective there are many other players and factors to consider, I think Snapchat is clearly the best positioned to define how we relate to the here and now with the people that matter to us. As things like augmented reality come into play moving forward, Snapchat will likely further warp spacetime to bring people closer together. Or as Steve Jobs said, make a dent in the universe.


After initially hitting publish, Nikhil made a great point about Discover that I think also applies to Live Stories:

The jumping into experiences of others far from you extends beyond the private side of Snapchat. Discover is, for better and sometimes for worse, a window into the pop culture zeitgeist and has so far been fairly immune from the most pernicious filter bubble effects that tend to develop elsewhere. Live Stories invoke the breathtaking experience of being somewhere else and feeling what the people there are feeling. Spectacles will only intensify this kind of “tourism” as we are able to capture more and more, whenever the moment arises.

On Snapchat, there is here, and it is always right now.