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With ‘Discover’ feature, Snapchat bucks social trend in news

January 29, 2015

When it comes to the news — what its contents are and how it is delivered — who knows best? This conversation has been taking place as newsrooms go digital and social. This week the messaging app Snapchat weighed in, launching a new feature called Discover.

It allows Snapchat users to access content (called “editions”), consisting of video, photography and text, from 11 media companies (or 12 if you count Snapchat’s own editorial team).

In typical Snapchat style, these editions are refreshed every 24 hours. That said, in most ways Discover is markedly different from what we’ve come to expect from Snapchat.

The videos can be long, the text-and-photo posts similar to what you might expect on any other mobile news app. The difference is that instead of posting all the stories written that day, each organization picks around six or seven to be featured in a given edition.

Within the edition swiping to the right takes the user through the content, while swiping up lets the user view the full video or text piece. The venture is ad-supported, but in a surprisingly noninvasive way. The user is able to skip paid content much in the same way as editorial content.

Want to watch a two-minute video of a jaguar attacking a crocodile? Check out National Geographic‘s edition. Or perhaps you’d like to see a photo essay of Hollywood celebrities on vacation? People magazine has got you covered. And all this without having to leave the confines of the Snapchat app. Other companies currently participating include The Food Network, ESPN and VICE.

Discover is many things — mobile native, attractively designed and, assuming you’re on Snapchat, easy and immediate. For Snapchat, Discover is a way to integrate advertising and monetize its business model. For media companies, Discover is a way to, as a recent Wired article put it, “hook a new, younger audience that doesn’t often connect with traditional media.”

There is one thing that Discover is not, however. As the company declared at the launch: “This is not social media.”

This isn’t a question of semantics. It is a firm position on the question above: Who knows best? According to Discover, editorial teams know best. As the Snapchat team writes:

“Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”

For Snapchat’s key demographic, the 13- to 25-year-old set, this is a departure from the conventional wisdom of the social media age they’ve grown up in. On social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or even Reddit, measuring the impact of a story in “likes,” shares and upvotes creates a second layer of gatekeepers. It puts power in the hands of news consumers to decide what they want to look at, and when.

With Discover, Snapchat steps away from social and returns to a traditional method of delivery — straight from the editorial team of a news organization into the hands of consumers, without a social media filter. But will social-savvy millennials take kindly to this? Do teens trust CNN, The Daily Mail or People to deliver information they care about? And perhaps most importantly, will they come to think of Snapchat as the place to get that information?

Early reviews are mixed. Some praise Snapchat for its innovation, while others find Discover a redundant addition to what media companies are already doing with their own mobile apps. Joshua Benton, writing in NiemanLab, says that Discover “feels like a significant moment both for mobile news and for efforts to reach younger readers.”

A commenter on a TechCrunch article about the platform is similarly positive: “If I could use this to see the news instead of having to turn on the TV or go to my computer then I’ll use it [every day].” But another commenter on the same feed wasn’t as impressed by Discover because “the best curators are not media outlets, but your social network.”

One commenter on a similar article in The Verge, doesn’t understand the utility of Discover: “Anybody who wants real ESPN content is just going to use the ESPN app where they can get the content they actually want.”

Snapchat hopes users will integrate Discover into their daily Snapchat experience. As the team declares, “each channel brings you something unique — a wonderful daily surprise!” And of course once you’re done browsing through what Yahoo! News has to offer today, you can still send that silly, disappearing selfie.

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier is the social media intern at NPR.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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