Welcome to Snapchat. You may not like it, but at least now you’ll understand it. Promise.
Today is the last day you won’t understand Snapchat.
Snapchat used to confuse the crap out of me.
Though I’d installed the app on my phone, I had no idea how to use it, and little interest in doing so. I found Snapchat’s layout confounding; it didn’t seem useful at all.
My main gripe with Snapchat: I had few friends on the platform, and I didn’t want to send disappearing selfies to any of them. Actually, I didn’t like sending selfies at all. And when I did want to send images to a friend, I used SMS or WhatsApp. So I saw no point in using Snapchat. But I was missing it.
After a bunch of experimentation, I finally figured Snapchat out, and I can tell you there’s a lot more to it than disappearing selfies. Here’s what I learned:
Pick up the pieces of your mind from the floor and listen up.
If you’re an adult and don’t understand Snapchat yet, you need to stop thinking about it as an app you use to chat, message, text, or send nudes.
For you, Snapchat is almost guaranteed to be an app you’ll use to watch video, and perhaps even publish some of your own. That’s why I’m showing you this tab first:
Stories is Snapchat’s killer tab.
It’s filled with a ton of media — mostly video — broken out into three categories: 1) Discover (from media companies), 2) Live (curated by Snapchat) and 3) Recent Updates (mostly from your friends, but also from brands should you choose to add them).
You’ll find Stories by swiping left on Snapchat’s camera screen, the first screen to appear when you open the app.
Stories are important to understand, so let’s spend some time dissecting each category
Hang on to your hat. There’s a lot here.
First, the basics: Snapchat Stories are collections of photos and short videos that your friends (and any brands you might connect with) publish to the app. They appear under Recent Updates.
Anything published to Stories is given a lifespan of 24 hours, and Snapchat is capable of stitching multiple pieces of content together into a single story. To view a story, you simply tap the circle next to your friend’s name, or their name itself. The circle slowly disappears as the 24-hour timeframe elapses, letting you know how much time you have left to view it.
You’ll only see content from people you’re connected to on the app. And remember: This has nothing to do with chat. This is a publishing platform, just like Facebook — except there are no likes or shares and your stuff disappears.
Here’s a story from my friend Maria. The circle with the number at top right shows you how much time is left in the story. You can advance to the next bit of content by tapping the frame. Once you’ve viewed a story in Recent Updates, the app moves it to an All Stories tab.
Live Stories will probably be your favorite part of Snapchat. With the permission of its users, Snapchat curates Stories into larger, themed Live Stories, typically focused on an event or location. The finished products can open windows into different cultures or show you high-quality, on-the-ground video of news events you simply can’t find anywhere else. Like Stories, Live Stories also have a lifespan of 24 hours.
I could keep writing, but I think it would be better if I simply showed you what one of these Live Stories looks like. Here’s a video of a recent live story from Kuwait City:
Snapchat is working with a handful of media companies on a relatively new program called Discover (Disclosure: BuzzFeed is a partner). On Discover, these media companies create content to live specifically within Snapchat.
You can tap each media company’s circle logo to view their Discover content. The companies refresh their content every day. To view the next snippet of a story, photo, or video, you simply swipe left. Some of these story units also let you swipe up to bring up a longer video or article.
This is Snapchat’s camera screen. It’s pretty self-explanatory, with one exception: taking video. You can shoot up to 10 seconds of video through Snapchat’s camera screen by holding down the camera button. Release the button when you’re finished.
After shooting a photo, you’ll see this screen:
(The screen after shooting a video is very similar)
The buttons at the bottom perform the functions you’d expect. The most important is the square-ish one with the plus sign. Tap it and Snapchat will add the photo or video you are looking at to your story. Otherwise there is:
A timer: Choose how long you want your photo to last.
A download button: Download the photo or video you’ve taken.
A send button: Send Snaps to your friends without publishing them to Stories.
Mocking up your photos and videos
Snapchat also allows you to have some fun with your photos and videos. You can swipe the screen once you’ve captured them with the camera to look through all the filters. Some are traditional color filters, others are location specific or display the time or temperature.
You can also scribble or jot notes on the screen by tapping the marker icon. Tap the “T” to overlay text in a bar on your photo, tap it again for a more free-flowing format.
This will bring you to the only screen that says “Snapchat” on top. You can view these Snaps just once. An empty cube means you’ve seen the Snap already. A full cube means you haven’t. (Sorry, Neil, I’ll get to it.)
Using Snapchat for chat offers an interesting twist on text messaging. Sending a picture of your house, for instance, can indicate that you’re home. A photo of the gym can convey you’re busy working out. But be careful: Snaps are easily captured via screenshot.
And that’s pretty much it.