Discover: Snapchat’s New Feature is Genius

They might just beat everyone else at news, and we should all be worried


Snapchat just launched Discover, a feature that lets you switch from your stories to news and entertainment provided mostly by outside publishers like CNN, ESPN, and Vice, but also by Snapchat’s in-house team of journalists and videographers.

It’s beautifully designed, and the user experience is great: Snapchat seamlessly disappears to allow each company to push their custom full-screen experience. Each page teases a story, complete with video and sound, and swiping brings you the article or a full video. It’s gorgeous, and shames the competition.
Wait… what competition ?

1950's TV great come-back

Discover is not social. And the people at Snapchat say it loud and clear:

This is not social media.
Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.

This actually says two things: first that Discover is 0% social, content is authoritatively chosen by Snapchat and their financial partners (yes it is ad-supported), fed to a captive audience that never signed up for news coverage and has not chosen Snapchat as a media source. Furthermore, it’s a very young audience. This may be the media establishment’s big come back: just like with 1950's television, you don’t really get to choose what you learn and who you trust.

The second thing this new feature shows is that Facebook is failing : they have been awkwardly, painfully toying with and testing social media for months now. The guy that influences what piece of news shows up on your timeline is 26 years old, and definitely doesn’t make us feel like we’re getting quality journalism. It’s a shame because with 1.4bn active monthly users and with all the great content that emerges both from traditional media outlets, and internet sources, we could definitely have a better experience.

The nature of social media

Let’s go back to that one sentence it Snapchat’s blogpost, about social media companies:

Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular

That’s a terrible misrepresentation of what social media is. Social media companies don’t tell me what to read: my friends do. Even is Facebook and Twitter struggle and often fail to understand what is most valuable to me, at least when they show me stuff, I know the person who shared it. This is not the case with CNN and The Daily Mail.

Furthermore, there’s the business model issue: Discover’s mission is not to push smart and interesting stuff my way. It is to grab some of my available brain time, and feed it the stuff Snapchat gets paid to push. My friends, on the other hand, don’t work like that, and that’s why I believe in social media.

Yes, it’s full of crap, but still, just thinking of all the great stuff I’ve discovered over the past year, that was published on Medium, LinkedIn, and the myriad of places you can now share information, opinion and art, makes my head spin with joy.

Now what ?

As I said earlier, Snapchat just shamed the competition again: taught them another lesson about design and user experience, and exposed how slow and inefficient they’ve been at doing their job. Now I want the next iOS and Android to look like this natively, but let me choose who I want to follow and trust.