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Snapchat Memories: the photo messaging service is less ephemeral than ever

Alex Hern // 08th July 2016
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Snapchat Memories: the photo messaging service is less ephemeral than ever” was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th July 2016 09.36 UTC

Snapchat is taking on Apple, Google and Facebook, and moving ever further away from its roots as an “ephemeral” messaging platform, with its latest feature: Memories.

Snapchat users can now decide to save their snaps, both still and video, to a new section of the app, accessed by swiping up from the camera screen. From there they can also search for other saved photos, both chronologically and with text keywords – Snapchat suggests “Hawaii” and “dog”, for example. It’s smarter than simple keyword searches, and is able to recognise objects in the pictures, but don’t expect Google-level smart searches just yet.

As well as simply reviewing older photos, and showing them off in person to people who might have missed them the first time, users can also repost pics back on Snapchat. Older snaps (those taken more than a day previously) are explicitly marked out as being from the past, with a special frame, but more recent ones can be reposted as-is: perfect if, for example, you wish you’d posted that one perfect snap to your whole story, rather than just your best mate.

The company’s also built a special drawer for hiding those snaps which you might want to keep, but also keep hidden. The “My Eyes Only” section is locked with a passcode (or passphrase), and even Snapchat can’t unlock it remotely – so don’t forget the key. The company doesn’t exactly say it’s for sexts, but, look, it’s where you store your sexts. Snapchat says it helps you “avoid awkward moments when a friend stumbles upon a Snap meant just for you”, and to be fair, it’s one of the few companies that has recognised that showing photos off in person often involves awkwardly hovering over the screen to make sure the viewer doesn’t swipe too far in either direction.

“We realised that Snapchatters want to feel comfortable showing their Memories to friends while they’re hanging out together,” it said.

The whole update, which is rolling out “selectively” over the next month to individual users, sees Snapchat move ever further from its original roots as an ephemeral messaging platform.

The initial pitch of Snapchat, after all, was as a service which didn’t store anything for long. Snaps deleted after they were viewed, and for much of its early life, there wasn’t even a way to save a Snap you had taken short of screenshotting it before sending.

But in its four years of development, and particularly in the past 12 months, that approach has been quietly undone. Users can replay every snap once; they can post snaps to “stories”, where they are infinitely replayable for 24 hours after they’re posted; and Snapchat first introduced a save button, and now the full-blown memories feature, allowing you to keep your best Snaps forever.

The push signifies Snapchat’s ambitions to move beyond a niche messaging app, and become a fully fledged social media service standing alongside Facebook. The company had always had those lofty aims – best signified by the fact that it turned down a $3bn acquisition offer from Facebook itself back in 2013 – but it has approached them slowly and methodically, often from angles competitors never expected.

The principal effect of Memories could be to push users to consider Snapchat their “main” camera app and photo storage system, which would strike a damaging blow against Facebook and Instagram, as well as traditional photo storage apps such as Apple and Google Photos. Snapchat is even backing up all the photos in Memories to the cloud free of charge, with no cap on storage mentioned.

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