Snap wants you back—but will users give it another shot? Read the web version


Snap invented modern social media. Now it's back to claim it.

This week, Snap wanted to make a point: we're here to stay, building original ideas, and Instagram hasn't killed us yet.

At a partner event in Los Angeles, the company unveiled a series of new features, creator tools and ideas that set the stage for the future—and yet again show how bleeding edge the company is at its core.

Landmarkers, the first new feature, was perhaps its most impressive use of the camera to date: the feature leverages the company's huge public image database to understand world landmarks, transforming them into a permanent, 3D canvas for creator ideas.

Along with new creator tooling, anyone can now make a augmented reality overlay that layers on top of the landmark, transforming the Eiffel Tower in real time to vomit rainbows, the Flatiron Building to be covered in pizza, or have a golden lion sit on top of Buckingham Palace.

There's camera filters in social media apps, then there's this, which is one of the most impressive ways I've ever seen of blending the real world with the augmented one to date—in a consumer app—and it's wild. By pinning these filters to specific public spaces, Snap is building an interesting discovery mechanism long promised by augmented reality; visit the Eiffel Tower and flip open the camera to see another layer on top of the world, only available if you're physically present.

Landmarkers was a demo of a feature only Snap could build: with its enormous data set and years of intent focus on blending the camera with the physical world, it was the ultimate demo of the next wave of photography: blending the virtual world with the real.

But, that was only the tip of the iceberg: the message was very clearly that 'the camera is the app' and Snap's building around that. Tap and hold on a pair of sunglasses you like in the real world with the app, and it'll recognize them, then allow direct Amazon purchase without leaving. Point the camera at a math equation in a workbook and it'll solve the math. Tap when you're recording to detect music, and so on: the platform is the camera, and the only limitation is how people find a feature.

Next, Snap changed the rules of how ephemeral stories have come to work: it's breaking them out of its own app and allowing Snap stories to be embedded in third-party developer apps. Soon these stories will appear in Tinder and Houseparty, watchable without downloading the Snap app—massively increasing its reach and potential viewership.

There was much more, too: the company unveiled a gaming platform, built right into the app, allowing friends to launch a multiplayer game within a chat instantly, no download required. There's an array of new Snap original content, and its ad network will expand to the web as well.

The demonstration was an incredible show of force for a company that I had, frankly, not thought about for the better part of a year. It's easy to assume that Snap is dead, thanks in part to Instagram's meteoric rise and the media attention focused on that—but Snap still has over 180 million users opening the app every single day. I went into this event assuming it would be a desperate attention grab, and came away thinking Snap might be the only one innovating in social media and pushing the boundaries of the user interface.

That's not to say it isn't struggling: Snap user growth started shrinking for the first time ever this year. It faces dire threats from Instagram and Facebook, which photo-copy any new feature it launches in what seems to be a matter of hours. But, this event was designed to defy that notion: Snap is building original ideas that can't easily be copied—and it's still able to redefine the norms of social media like it's a piece of cake.

And that's the thing I came to realize as this event unfolded: Snap is responsible for almost every modern day social innovation. The ephemeral format, stories, lenses, vertical video as the default, bitmoji, and so on—now all ubiquitous features in every social media platform. 

In computing's earliest days, Xerox PARC was an incubation lab for the most innovative, outlandish ideas for the digital age—most of which are ubiquitous today. PARC's legacy can be traced from inventions like the graphical user interface, WYSIWYG editors, laser printers, and the MVC architecture. 

PARC created a space in which weird, terrible and wonderful ideas that tested the boundaries of computing were given free reign to figure out if they were worth pursuing.

Snap is the Xerox PARC of the internet age: it's one of incredibly few companies that is able to incubate those wacky, weird and incredible ideas—then bring them to market in a way consumrs understand. Sure, they sometimes flop, but often those ideas have ended up setting the tone for the entire industry.

What it hasn't been good at—ironically in similar ways to PARC—is capitalizing on those ideas better than Facebook can photocopy them. But, it finds itself in an interesting position now: as users increasingly migrate toward private group-focused chat, Snap is poised as one of the few companies that can make the most of that shift.

It's the antidote to Facebook's 'public' platform and newsfeed-focused tools. Snap struggled for years with its lack of public feed or social graph—but it may end up being a surprise strength as users look beyond Facebook's walled garden for something that isn't growth hacking or monetizing their data. 

Snap just has to win them back. That's why it's blowing open the boundaries and allowing Stories into other apps, building flashy lenses and handy shopping features. It hopes to woo users back, and get them to consider shifting back to the way it was before: messaging your friends, not broadcasting to the entire world.

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How Amazon's Eero acquisition screwed employees

The biggest exit for a smart gadget company since Nest, Eero's mesh WiFi system was scooped up by Amazon earlier this year for an unreported sum. What wasn't revealed, however, is that employees who worked on this for years saw their options end up being worth cents—a reminder of how stock options are a hazy benefit that only mint millionaires in the earliest founders of most companies. Also, hardware is hard to do profitably. 

How Amazon's $97 million Eero acquisition screwed employees [Mashable]

More great reading

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Inspiration for getting organized

If you've been following me for a while, you'll know how much I love Notion for organizing essentially every element of my life. I operate my business in Notion, writing proposals there, build CRM databases and collaborate with clients—but also use it to plan trips and save recipes. 

The learning curve can feel pretty high, but this new library of templates from Notion helps demonstrate the power of the product really well, providing a great jumping-off point for diving in. If you used Evernote but craved something more, maybe it's time to check this out (my referral link gets you two months free, if you're a new user).

👉 Notion Templates


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