Umm, Snapchat, That Timer Thingy Was Very Helpful. Can We Haz Back Plz?

For years, I’ve heard from different people how confusing Snapchat is. To be honest, I’ve never found it that hard to figure out. But even if you did find the UI a bit wonky, at least watching stories was simple and straightforward. Tap on a friend’s circle and their story starts playing. Up in the top right corner you have a gray circle that gives you two pieces of information: how much time is left on the photo or video you are currently viewing and how long the entire story is. Right away you can tell if a photo is going to last for only 2 or 3 seconds, or if someone is a beginner and posted it for 10. You also can watch the little circular pie disappear as you advance through the story.

Not anymore. Seriously. And people are not happy. A quick search on twitter is proof of that.

As an avid (probably not avid compared to high schoolers, but everything is relative) user, I found this a very odd and backwards step. Because not only did they remove the timer, they introduced two new features: infinite photos and looping videos.

Let me explain how complicated this gets for something that should be totally simple.

Up until the update, you could sit back and watch a story unfold with no interaction. Each snap would play out, whether photo or video, for a maximum of 10 seconds. When the person’s story ended, you would automatically be taken back to the Stories page. If you didn’t like a particular snap or were in a hurry, you could tap on the right side of the screen to advance to the next snap, effectively skipping the remaining time left on the onscreen photo or video.

Before Update (left) and After Update (right). Notice the timer and then lack thereof.

Now here’s a common scenario after the update: Tap to start watching a story and a photo comes up. The timer is gone so I now have no idea how long this photo will last. So I sit. And suddenly it advances. Ok, onto another photo. So I sit and wait for it to advance. I wait and wait and wait. It never advances. Oh, this person has set the time on this photo to “infinite” and thus the ONLY way to keep watching the rest of their story is to tap on the right side of the screen. Now a video is playing. The video ends and another video starts playing. Wait a second, it’s the same video. That’s weird. So I wait. The video ends and starts playing AGAIN. Oh, the person did a looping video and unless I tap, this same video will keep playing until my phone battery dies.

This is confusing and disorienting for me. I can only imagine how confusing this would be to someone like my mom. So here are a few thoughts as to how Snapchat should fix this.

  • Bring the timer back immediately.
  • I honestly don’t think infinite photos should work in stories. It makes sense for DMs but not stories. But if they are going to allow them, there should be a little infinity symbol displayed at the top of the screen in lieu of the timer on that snap.
  • Boomerangs on Instagram are cool and make sense because they animate back and forth a few times before advancing to the next post in a story. Infinite videos are weird for stories. I think it’s an odd feature for most scenarios, but if it is going to exist, it also needs the looping symbol to be displayed on screen, in addition to the timer. That way you know how long the video will play and that it will repeat once done.

Needing to have a sense of place and time is human nature, both in the real world and online. It’s the reason YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter videos show you how much time is left. Snapchat is a great and fun product. I’ve always been a big fan. So let’s keep the good times rolling and make a few important updates to help everyone out in the next release, what’dya say?

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