What Snapchat’s Map update means for journalism

snapchat maps browser
Snap Map in the browser.

Snapchat has made its Snap Map feature available outside of the app, allowing publishers to search user-created photos and videos on their browser and embed them into articles. The company has a strong record for introducing changes that benefit journalists. So is this another masterstroke or are journalists being given a tool that users didn’t respond to?

The move, announced last week, has promising implications for journalism. Now, real-time content can be easily accessed and verified. Then, publishers can embed snaps on their websites for 30 days. It is another sign that Snapchat is one of the most innovative platforms for sourcing and publishing journalism.

As Snapchat started out, journalists gradually became aware of its potential to connect with readers and show the news in real time. Personal stories could show the reader what was happening during an event before writing their article. Before long, Instagram and Facebook introduced their own Story features.

If Stories were intended for personal use, the Discover tab was aimed at publishers and offered a more interactive way of showing news. By taking news to the reader, these selected publishers benefitted, and Snapchat became more than just a photo-messaging service. It’s no coincidence that Instagram’s search tab resembles Snapchat’s Discover, and now Google AMP has followed suit by introducing their own stories feature for publishers.

Snapchat’s app update separates social content from publisher content. Credit: Snap.

Now Snap Maps is evolving, journalists are again set to benefit. The ability to search by location for first-hand source material has huge potential, as does the heat-map display where areas with a high volume of snaps are clearly identified.

There are issues to consider though, before relying on Maps as the next big source of breaking news. First, in order for Maps to be an effective tool for journalists, users need to be uploading content as public stories. There are suggestions that Maps has not been well received by users, so the move to browser could be Snapchat’s attempt at keeping it alive. If so, journalists will only benefit as long as there is user content to see.

Secondly, and most importantly, snaps appearing on Maps are chosen by either an algorithm, or by editorial staff for certain events. Is this content wholly representative of what is going on?

It is important to remember that Snapchat, like any social media platform, is not helping news organisations out of kindness. There is money to be made from connecting people’s personal social networks to news organisations, and these companies can change the game overnight. Just look at Facebook’s ability to send the news industry into a panic with one algorithm change. As a result, many publishers are looking to other platforms – like Snapchat – who are clearly making their move.

Although editorial questions should be asked, Snapchat’s latest innovation should be welcomed by journalists. The company has a good track record for introducing new ways to practice and consume journalism, even if these changes are met with scepticism at first. When Snapchat introduces a new feature, other platforms follow.

If organisations are starting to turn away from Facebook, is Snapchat where they should be looking?

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