Snapchat Redesigns Mobile App To Split Friends From Media

(Bloomberg) — Snap Inc. unveiled a sweeping redesign of its mobile photo-sharing application, hoping to lure more users and advertisers to revive revenue.

After three quarters of disappointing sales since going public earlier this year, the company said a simpler design will encourage people to spend more time using Snapchat, increasing the app’s appeal to advertisers over the long term. The main change: separating photos and videos sent to users by their friends from content produced by media companies. Snap touted the move as a philosophical departure from rival Facebook Inc.

“Until now, social media has always mixed photos and videos from your friends with content from publishers and creators,” Snap said Wednesday in a blog post. “While blurring the lines between professional content creators and your friends has been an interesting internet experiment, it has also produced some strange side-effects (like fake news) and made us feel like we have to perform for our friends rather than just express ourselves.”

Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel touted the redesign in the company’s earnings call earlier this month, providing hope that Snap was on the path to fixing its issues, but warning the changes could disrupt growth in the short term.

Spiegel has taken pains since going public to present his strategy as unique and not directly comparable to Facebook, which has seven times as many users and has copied some of Snapchat’s most-popular features. Meanwhile, advertisers and investors are using the social media giant as a benchmark for the much-smaller company’s potential. Los Angeles-based Snap’s shares had dropped 20 percent since its March initial public offering to $13.61 at the close Tuesday.

Snapchat’s new design borrows one important ingredient from Facebook’s strategy: algorithmic organization of content.

The redesigned Snapchat app still opens first to a camera. Swipe right, and users can see photo and video messages from their friends, as well as daily public stories friends share, in the same place. Swipe left, and all the content from Snap media partners, such as television networks NBC and ESPN, is mixed with curated event videos and “snaps” from internet celebrities.

Snap said it will organize the content based on user behavior. Instead of listing friends in the order of whom a person talked to most recently, like in messaging apps, it will organize them based on how important they are to that person. Snap will draw on similar behavior cues for the media feed.

The redesigned app will be available to a small percentage of users right away and roll out to everyone “in the coming weeks,” Snap said.

The application’s past designs listed friend stories in the same feed alongside content from media partners, but the company kept changing how prominently it displayed those made-for-Snapchat mobile magazines — where it makes much of its revenue from advertising. Having the news content in a personalized feed may make it more approachable, Snap said. Or it could be ignored, if people choose to only use the app to talk to friends.

Organizing the content with the use of algorithms also creates the potential for feed ads, a type of advertising familiar to marketers from Facebook and Twitter Inc. The main difference with Snapchat is that its 178 million average daily users won’t be served content based on what their friends like and share. Snapchat posts can’t go viral within the app like those on Facebook. People will see what they like as individuals, not what’s popular.

“Separating social from media has allowed us to build the best way to communicate with friends and the best way to watch great content — while addressing many of the problems that plague the internet today,” Snap said in its blog post.