The Power of the Screenshot
M.G. Siegler

Yesterday MG posted some thoughts on “The Importance of Screenshots” (above). TL;DR MG is a fan, particularly when it comes to sharing on Twitter. While I agree that screenshots are a quick and useful way to capture content for alternative use, we disagree on several other points.

First, I absolutely believe that screenshots should be automatically parsed from the main camera roll into a separate folder. This might seem like a minor detail, but in a world where Apple and Google are battling for our photo libraries and applying image recognition and photo enhancement technology to make everyone beautiful and organized, screenshots are a bug. They don’t map to a person or place and are rarely personal mementos of a moment in time to be cherished forever. The screenshot of a map or a friend’s funny text is usually ephemeral in value and doesn’t belong in the photo journal of your life. It’s valuable, to be sure, but it should be corralled with other screenshots into their own organized space.

Second, I dislike textshots on Twitter. Part of the reason is the aesthetics — every media outlet now has their own textshot brand, color, and signature in addition to the half dozen other textshot services that have emerged recently or are built into apps for sharing. The kaleidoscope of colors (I guess coloring the rails of text is a feature?), designs (skeuomorphic paper “ripping” is baaaack), resolution (do I have to click to expand or is the whole thought there?) breaks the clean constraint of Twitter that makes it easy to flip through. I also don’t think textshots are great lead-gen for actual reading. More often than not, I see the idea or thesis captured in the image, and don’t click the link. The punchline is given away. I bet I’m not alone.

Twitter is a product that is famous for being shaped and shifted by its users, so I don’t think the textshot is going anywhere. My only hope is that it is standardized and integrated into the product before the MySpace-ification of the feed takes hold.

Finally, I do agree that screenshots-as-a-metric is an interesting idea that signals not just engagement, but enchantment. It might sound silly, but screenshotting is a multi-hand maneuver that is far more involved than a quick fave or like. I recall talking with Jonathan Wegener, the founder of Timehop, about how their users screenshotted Timehop moments to share via text and social media, and how that eventually led his team to view screenshots as their own content capsule. This in turn guided them to prioritize screenshot features like the content year and Timehop watermark to help users tell their story via the captured image. Screenshots can be a useful signal of what people value — fleeting information they want to hold on to just a bit longer.