Snapchat has experienced some unexpected growing pains in 2017: Despite the introduction of innovative new features — like the interactive Snap Map and AR world lenses (give it up for the dancing hot dog) — the company reportedly lost millions on unsold Spectacles, and has seen disappointing growth in its user base since going public in March. As it turns out, puppy ears and flower crowns couldn't save the company's stocks from falling after a disappointing third quarter.
In response, CEO Evan Spiegel hinted that a change was in the works: A redesigned version of the app. Now, we finally know what that redesign looks like.
The result is a new Snapchat that doesn't look too aesthetically different from the app you're used to, but feels far more intuitive to use. After getting a sneak peek at the new app, I'm finding it hard to picture it existing any other way. It just makes sense — though it may take a little bit to get used to.
The major, overarching change you'll notice is the separation of social from media. Chats and Stories from your friends will be separated from those that come from brands, publishers, celebrities, and influencers. Think of it this way: Anything that would get a little blue verification check on other platforms gets its own section on Snapchat, too. Previously, there was no distinction between a Story that came from the friend you see every day and one from the celeb you only see on your screen.
Since companies and personalities posted to their Stories so frequently, they always showed up at the top of your feed, pushing Stories from friends further down. The separation of the two categories is intended to confirm Snapchat's commitment to connecting you with the people you're close to, while still offering new kinds of immersive, original content from brands and people in the public eye that you want to hear from.
You'll still open the app to the camera screen— Snapchat has long said this is its foundation and it's sticking to it. Then, the changes start to show. When you swipe from left to right, you'll now see a friend page: This is where all of your chats and Stories from friends will live. New Snaps and chats appear at the top, followed by people and groups you've communicated with recently. Only people that you follow, who also follow you back, will appear here. If someone has a new Story, a Story thumbnail will show up next to their name instead of their Bitmoji.
The real star of the new friend page is a tool giving you more control over which Stories you watch. Remember when one Story would automatically lead to the next? Snapchat is bringing auto advance back, but with a twist. After you view one friend's Story, a screen will appear showing you which Story is "up next." You can tap the Story thumbnail to watch it or swipe to move to the next one.
If you return to the camera and swipe from right to left, you're taken to the Discover page. Here, you'll see some forms of content you're used to, such as the magazine-like Publisher Stories, Our Stories, and Snap Map Stories, as well as some new ones. If you follow Kim Kardashian or another celeb, her story will appear here, labelled as an Official Story. Content from influencers, users Snapchat long shied away from formally interacting with, will appear as Popular Stories. Just because someone has many followers, this doesn't necessarily mean they'll be promoted on Discover: Snapchat's on-staff moderators will still approve everything that appears on the page.
Although Discover is meant to prioritise content you're already watching, you'll also be shown Stories from publishers and creators you may be less familiar with in an attempt to avoid creating a thought bubble. If you're shown a Story you don't like, you can press and hold to indicate you don't want to be shown this type of content anymore. The Discover feed is endless, so scroll to your heart's content.
By basing its Discover algorithm on your interests, and not those of your friends, Snapchat is hoping to avoid some of the difficulties Facebook faced with fake news. Spiegel took aim at these problems in an op-ed published today on Axios: "The personalized newsfeed revolutionized the way people share and consume content. But let's be honest: this came at a huge cost to facts, our minds and the entire media industry."
It will take time to see if Snapchat's redesign is enough to bring large numbers of new users to the app. But from a first look, it's a promising change that makes chatting with friends and engaging with celebs and brands you care about far easier than it was in the past.
Snapchat's makeover will start rolling out to a limited number Android and iOS users at the end of this week, and will continue to roll out in the coming weeks. Don't be concerned if you're not one of the randomly chosen ones to get access to it right away, it'll happen sooner than you think.