Starting today, developers will be able to put a little Snap in their apps. The maker of Snapchat has introduced Snap Kit, a full-fledged developer kit that allows app makers to bring core features of Snapchat to their apps. If successful, the platform could help Snap resume growing again by introducing features like Bitmoji and augmented reality lenses to a wider audience. But first, it will have to convince developers that they can benefit from integrating into their apps, while protecting the privacy of the users who are trusting them with their data.
Developers can now integrate with Snapchat in one of four ways. (They are all named “kit” because every developer platform insists on calling everything a “kit.”) Creative Kit lets apps integrate their own stickers, filters, and links into the Snapchat camera. Postmates, for example, will create a dynamic sticker that tells you the estimated time of arrival for the pizza you just ordered (which, in my experience, is around 45 minutes and will cost you $70 with tip). Other examples Snap offers include stickers for bragging about your high score in a game or your workout stats.
Bitmoji Kit lets you bring your personalized Snapchat avatar to other apps. Tinder is among the first apps to adopt this feature, letting you send cute Bitmoji back and forth with your romantic prospects. (No Friendmoji, though, at least not for now.) Story Kit lets apps search and embed stories submitted to the public Our Story feature, such as inside a mapping app.
Finally, apps can choose to let users log in with Snapchat. If they do, the developer will receive only the user’s display name and, optionally, the user’s Bitmoji avatar. Snap says no other personally identifiable information, including age, gender, or location, will be shared with the developer. Developers won’t get access to your friends, either.
If you’re a Snapchat user, that might sound like a good deal. You can sign up for other apps without creating a new password and not worry that Snap is about to give away data about you and your friends, Cambridge Analytica style. The flip side is that it’s not clear what incentive developers have to adopt Snapchat login.
Most developers find demographic information about their user base helpful to build their businesses, and they might prefer the added friction to get a better sense of their user base. (This is one reason why Facebook’s planned anonymous login feature, which operated in a similar fashion, never launched after it was announced.)
Snap says it believes some developers want the convenience that comes from outsourcing logins without building social graphs of their own, in the way that the Facebook and Twitter developer platforms were designed to help them do. “We don’t think that value of getting the whole friends list is as important today,” Jacob Andreou, Snap’s vice president of product, told The Verge. Andreou used the example of an app that books tables at restaurants; such an app might never benefit from getting a list of your friends in the first place, he said. “What we really offer is, by not handing over the friend graph, we don’t feel like we’re pushing the responsibility onto these applications of becoming their own social networks.”
Instead, the company hopes that developers will build stickers and lenses into their apps that encourage users to share them back into Snapchat via the camera, promoting their businesses to Snapchat’s daily audience of 191 million people. It makes a certain amount of sense, particularly for developers hoping to reach a younger demographic. But developers are primarily motivated by greed, and it’s not totally clear where the money in Snap Kit is supposed to be. At least not yet.
If you connect to an app but don’t use it in 90 days, Snap Kit will disconnect from that app automatically. (In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica sandal, Facebook recently introduced a similar feature.)
Snap is approving developers for the platform only after an application process and human review, starting with a handful of mostly well-known brands. In addition to Tinder and Postmates, its launch partners include Poshmark, Quip, Eventbrite, Giphy, Pandora, Bands in Town, Patreon, and SoundHound.
As Snap launches its developer platform, it’s worth noting that most social network developer platforms haven’t turned out the way their creators hoped. Twitter’s developer road map is a boulevard of broken dreams, as the company invited in scores of app makers and let them design incredible new experiences before changing its mind and gradually choking the life out of them. Facebook’s developer platform was historically profitable for game developers — among other things, it gave rise to Zynga — but Facebook changed its mind about them, too. (Zynga is now a shadow of its former self.) Also, y’know, Cambridge Analytica.
Andreou says Snap believes it can do a better job for developers and users, particularly on the privacy front. Speaking of other developer platforms, he said, “Not only have they not worked that well from an ethical and business standpoint, but also from a user standpoint, it’s left our users with a lot of horrible options when they go to use apps other than Snapchat. People have really grown to trust us, and have seen us really set these standards.”