Say it with Snapchat: a snap-filled guide to the hottest messaging app

15 May 2014

Snapchat on Google Play via Gil C/Shutterstock

Everyone’s talking about Snapchat, the ephemereal messaging app that rejected a US$3bn offer from Facebook and is now the top third-party messaging app by volume in North America – but what is it, and why should you be using it?

According to network traffic specialist Sandvine, Snapchat is now bigger than WhatsApp in North America when it comes to traffic. While this measurement is easily skewed by the volume of data in a Snapchat video compared to a plain text message in WhatsApp, the figures accounting for this app’s growth in popularity are unambiguous.

So, what is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a photo and video-messaging app that launched in September 2011. It was developed by Evan Spiegel and friends while at Stanford University in California and, at 23 years old, Spiegel is now CEO of the company. The friendly ghost in the icon is Ghostface Chillah, the app’s mascot.

Snapchat snaps

Using Snapchat, users can take photos or record videos, add text captions or even drawings, and send as a message to a controlled list of recipients. These ‘snaps’ can be viewed for a time limit of one to 10 seconds, as defined by the sender, after which they will be deleted from the recipient’s phone and Snapchat’s servers.

Snapchat snaps

Because of the image-caption format on Snapchat, puns are common

And are the messages gone forever?

This is the idea behind Snapchat – and key to its popularity for sexting – but there are always workarounds. Despite Snapchat’s best efforts to restrict in-app screenshots, hackers keep on finding ways around them, and there are also low-tech solutions, such as using another device to photograph the on-screen message.

Snapchat snaps

Don’t share your sex tape on Snapchat, because screenshots will find a way

Why is Facebook trying to snap it up? (See what I did there?)

Snapchat users are sending 700m photos and videos per day and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just sexts and selfies – though these are extremely common. Not only does Snapchat have a fast-growing userbase, it has captured the imagination of young people – the very users that are reportedly leaving Facebook in droves.

Snapchat snaps

Parents: a probable reason for teens leaving Facebook

And it’s not just Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s US$3bn offer that Snapchat has reportedly turned down. Rumour has it that Google has also expressed an interest in buying out the app, while Yahoo! simply decided to take an alternative route and acquired one of its lesser-known competitors.

Snapchat Snaps

Snaps are also littered with pop-culture references, which may deter older and more out-of-touch generations

Are just kids using it, then?

In November 2013, Spiegel revealed that 70pc of Snapchat’s users are female. According to eMarketer’s figures from the same time, 32pc of US teens had used the app in the past 30 days and Spiegel noted that 25pc of UK smartphone users use Snapchat monthly. The app’s demographic is largely 13 to 23-year-olds, but it has a growing over-40 userbase.

Snapchat snaps

House pets are also joining the Snapchat revolution

Is it big in Ireland?

In August 2013, Ipsos MRBI tweeted that 11pc of Irish people have a Snapchat account, which is more than are signed up to Pinterest (6pc) or Vine (3pc), and not far behind Instagram at 14pc. The vast majority of those using Snapchat in Ireland are under 35, with 43pc of people aged 15 to 24 reporting they have an account and half of these use it daily.

Snapchat snaps

Snapchat is also home to some famous faces, such as Darth Vader and Christian Bale

What are they using it for?

The Snapchat app is a bit like a personal broadcast platform with a limited audience. While posts to Twitter and Facebook are viewable by a wide audience, Snapchatters can carefully select the audience for each snap, and group messages account for about one-third of the app’s usage.

Snapchat snaps

As with any image-led medium on the internet, snaps of animals are very welcome

Selfies are a popular format and reckons that 5pc of selfies shared online are going out through Snapchat. That said, selfies on Snapchat can be quite different from the standard pose and pout, and gurning and illustrative transformations abound.

Snapchat snaps

You don’t even have to use personal photos and videos to have fun with Snapchat. The ability to upload pics and add captions is just as fun makes Snapchat a bit of a meme machine, our favourite being Snapchatting Paintings.

Snapchatting Paintings

As with Instagram, you might get the odd photo of someone’s food, but at least they can jazz it up a bit.

Snapchat Snaps

Like Vine, Snapchat has become a comedy vehicle, and users are sending snaps not just to communicate with friends but to inject a bit of fun into the everyday – and just about anything can present itself as source material.

Snapchat Snaps

A good snap can make anything fun

You can even use a series of snaps to tell a story. There’s just no end to the joy that can be shared for 10 seconds or less.

Snapchat Snaps

Main image of the Snapchat app on Google Play by Gil C via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.