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Snapchat risks alienating users with move from chat to social

Recent changes to Snapchat signal a shift from one-to-one messaging to social sharing, and not all users are happy.

Teens make up the bulk of the app's user base

Snapchat is moving steadily from a one-to-one messaging app to a true social media platform. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

Recent changes to Snapchat signal a shift from one-to-one messaging to social sharing, and not all users are happy. 

The latest update to the messaging app brought in new video effects that let you run your video super fast, or in slow motion, or in reverse. That's in addition to Snapchat's strange real-time video lenses that cause you to shoot hearts out of your eyeballs or vomit up rainbows. 

Snapchat also recently introduced Live Stories, allowing users to contribute photos and video to a common media presentation surrounding an event or physical place. 

It's an extension of its Stories feature, introduced two years ago. Typically, a Snapchat user sends a private photo or video to one friend, and it lasts just 10 seconds before it disappears.

After the introduction of Stories, you could send a series of images and video to everyone you know, and that Story is visible for 24 hours.

Snapchat Stories and FOMO

"I've had a Snapchat almost since the beginning, I remember when it was just, like, you could send a 10-second picture to one of your friends," said Ruby Karp, 15, a writer and feminist activist from New York state. 

Last month, Ruby wrote on Mashable about how her friends' adoption of Snapchat Stories changed her relationship with the app. 

"Snapchat became less about being just a thing that you (used to) send pictures of your friends… to a new thing where we all see what we were doing in the moment, 15 seconds ago or 20 minutes ago," she said.  

That use of Snapchat Stories can worsen a teenager's innate fear of missing out on what her friends are doing without her. 

"If I check Snapchat when I'm at home because none of my friends told me they were hanging out… and they're all together or I see something fun going on, it literally makes me anxious, because I'm like, 'Oh my God, all my friends are together having a really good time and I'm all alone.'"

Ruby says Snapchat has fundamentally changed, from a one-to-one messaging app to a true social media app, like Facebook or Instagram. 

"I feel like it used to be a really simple app and now it just keeps adding all these new features and I'm worried for the app that it's trying to evolve itself too much."

Snapchat will certainly keep on changing. There's money to be made selling ads that target its users, and advertisers want lots of eyeballs, so that means less focus on private messages. 

But if it keeps changing, it risks losing its cool and its young users, like Ruby, who may just move on to the next app that comes along. 

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