At a time when its social networking rivals are racing to promote more real-time sharing, Snapchat is turning its attention to the past. The company today introduced Memories, a way of saving and sharing old snaps in a private archive inside the main app. It’s a living, social camera roll in which photos and videos can be organized, edited, and shared long after they are taken. The introduction of Memories represents a significant shift for the famously ephemeral Snapchat — and reflects the app’s growing status as the default camera for millions of users.
Memories, which begins rolling out today on Snapchat for Android and iOS, is a new section of the app that you access by swiping up from the camera screen. In the past, you’ve been able to save your photos, videos, and stories from Snapchat to your phone’s camera roll. ("Stories," of course, are what Snapchat calls the rolling 24-hour collection of photos and videos that you take throughout the day.) Now you can save them to Snapchat’s servers as well, and revisit them later in the Memories section of the app.
A significant shift for the famously ephemeral app
Open Memories and you’ll find your saved snaps in reverse-chronological order. Rectangular posts are individual snaps; circular posts represent stories, and offer live previews of the snaps they contain. Memories also contains tabs for viewing just snaps, just stories, or your phone’s complete camera roll. From any of these tabs, tap and hold a snap to enable a variety of new interactions: You can edit the snap, adding geofilters and timestamps even if you’re far from where and when you took it. You can share it to your current story, where it will appear with a white frame and timestamp to indicate it’s an older snap. Or you can select multiple photos to create a new story, which you can then send to friends as an attachment inside a message.
A search feature allows you to find photos based on when and where they were taken. Search will show you snaps on their anniversary dates, a la Timehop. And the company has built object recognition into search, and can detect "hundreds" of objects to start with: sunsets, surfing, the ocean, and so on. But the object recognition is done on your phone, not in Snapchat’s cloud, for an additional layer of privacy.
Memories also includes a section called "My Eyes Only" where you can put embarrassing or explicit snaps that might accidentally kill your grandma, if she ever saw them. You have to type in a PIN code to access those memories, and if you forget your PIN, Snapchat won’t recover the images. The company says Memories started from the observation that people often tell stories in person by physically sharing their phones with one another, letting them swipe through photos of a vacation, or prom, or some other event. My Eyes Only is meant to allow people to share their phones with one another more comfortably.
At a high level, Memories represents one of the biggest changes to Snapchat in the company’s 5-year history. The app’s disappearing messages encourage users to share more candid glimpses of their lives than they might elsewhere. At its best, Snapchat has felt like the most authentic social network — and that has been driven in large part by the fact that users feel safer sharing there, because there is no permanent record of their activity.
Snapchat is increasingly used to film major milestones in people's lives
At the same time, the app’s reported 150 million daily users increasingly use it to film major milestones in their lives. They’re capturing graduations, family vacations, engagements, and weddings — for which they’ve designed custom geofilters for their friends and families to use. Those are moments that many people want to remember, and saving them to the smartphone camera roll is an imperfect solution. Phones get lost or stolen; photos and videos fail to back up; and what does get saved is often buried under an avalanche of new photos, making old moments hard to find. (Apple is attempting to address some of these issues with a product of its own, also called Memories, in iOS 10.)
Given Snapchat’s continued growth, the release of Memories will likely raise questions about what it means for Instagram and its corporate parent, Facebook. Recent reports in The Information have suggested that both products have seen a modest decline in the volume of posts that people are sharing, and Facebook has become notably more aggressive in recent months in suggesting things for users to post. Photos remain one of the two or three most powerful tools to turn people into daily users of social networks, and many will likely prefer Snapchat’s private archive of photos to Facebook’s publicly browsable one.
But Memories’ real competition is the default place for saving photos: your smartphone’s camera roll. Memories was designed to make organizing, editing, and sharing photos and videos faster and more fun than the standard camera roll. In a brief demonstration on Tuesday, the new feature set appeared to be reasonably intuitive. At the same time, it introduces another layer of complexity into an app that can already feel forbidding to newcomers. (Snapchat says it will walk users through Memories by sending them a link to a special Discover channel when it becomes enabled on their accounts.)
There are no ads or other revenue-generating products inside Memories at launch. Snapchat is taking a slow approach to rolling it out, given the high volume of photos and videos that it is about to ingest: it could take up to 30 days for you to receive the update, the company says. In the meantime, the app that became famous for what it forgets suddenly has a powerful new capacity for remembering. With Memories, Snapchat has entered a new era — and I suspect we’ll be sorting out the implications for quite some time.