Snapchat's Discover is long overdue but it's far from perfect

Snapchat: introduces Discover
Snapchat: introduces Discover

Grace Regan, co-founder and editor-in-chief, Clippet, celebrates Snapchat's latest media launch, but finds room for improvement.

It's no secret that the way news is being delivered is changing. Ask a room full of 20-somethings where they get their news from and you'd be lucky if more than one answered, "I go to the [insert national newspaper] website every morning."

It's a safe bet that the vast majority of them would cite social media as their main source of information.

I don't need to speculate – the facts speak for themselves. A recent Business Wire survey revealed that a whopping 60% of US millennials depend on social media to keep up-to-date with current affairs, while only 18% of 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK said they trust mainstream media.

It comes as little surprise then that social networks are creating new ways to engage millennials with the news.

The most recent development comes from Snapchat, who have just launched their Discover feature. The instant messaging app has partnered with the likes of CNN, Vice, Yahoo News and National Geographic to create smartphone–friendly news stories for the young, time–starved user–base of Snapchat.

I'm personally thrilled to see a social network innovating to provide a news service that directly appeals to young people. Traditional media has failed to do this in recent years.

It's dominated by an older generation who haven't grown up with mobile content and often includes complex language and lengthy phrasing that just don’t work for on–the–go news consumption.

Traditional media companies urgently need to innovate in order to engage the smartphone generation.

Snapchat Discover promises to do just this. It provides young people with a quick way to get news in a format they understand and appreciate.

The media partners using the service are required to present their stories in a short, highly visual format making their content all the more appealing to the app’s audience.

Moreover, alongside format changes, publishers are encouraged to put "narrative first". Snapchat have stressed that the Discover technology was built "to serve the art".

Storytelling is therefore prioritised above anything else. This is long overdue. For years the actual quality of news content has been pushed aside in favour of aggregation technology.

Snapchat are seeking to reverse this, having realised that, in order for young people to take an interest in the news, it has to be written in a compelling way (not just adorned with high-tech features).

Snapchat has the right idea, but have they managed to execute it? They've nailed the UX. The app is visually appealing and provides a highly addicted user experience.  However, if we focus on the content, the part Snapchat have spoken so confidently about, flaws begin to appear.

Whereas some news companies have obviously created content specifically for the app (Cosmo and Food Network), much of it is simply the same you'd find on the mobile sites and apps of the content partners, it's just been repackaged to look good on Snapchat.

For example, the MailOnline's page provides the same images and text you'd find elsewhere and, from what I can tell, Yahoo News is just rehashing the algorithmically-produced text on its Digest app (albeit accompanied by a bespoke short video clip).

I'm not sure how content produced by a computer can profess to put "narrative first".

Moreover, does Discover actually abide by Snapchat’s two main principles of ephemeral and bite–size? The stories are certainly temporal, they disappear after 24 hours – a clever move in a world of information overload and a sure–fire way to keep elusive millenials coming back for more.

However, "bite–size" I'm less sure about. I happened upon at least three Vice videos that averaged around 20 minutes long and a Daily Mail article on Michelle Obama took me about ten scrolls to get to the bottom.

This isn't practical for an on-the-go time-starved smartphone user.

My final issue with Snapchat Discover is the lack of peer-to-peer element. The interaction between friends via technology is not only intrinsic to Snapchat but social media content as a whole, particularly with regards to news.

This is why we all use Facebook and Twitter as our main source of news. They allow us to comment, share, like etc. From my brief experience with Discover there is a noticeable lack of this and it's a shame.

Snapchat has developed a tool that seeks to bridge the gap between traditional journalism and a young, tech savvy audience and this can only be described as a good thing.

However, I think more can still be done to make news accessible and engaging to a younger audience. Bring on v.2.

Grace Regan is co-founder and editor-in-chief, Clippet

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free