What is Snapchat?

Last updated: October 11, 2016 - 1:11pm EDT

One of the risks of using social media is that someone connected to you ends up seeing something -- especially something that you said or did in the past -- that they weren't meant to see.  Usually, this happens when they become friends with you on a social network, and out of curiosity end up looking through your content history.  There, they find something that you said or did that they feel is unbecoming of you.  This has been a particularly prevalent problem among younger people. 

You may have heard some of the horror stories of teens and young adults who added their bosses, teachers, or prospective employers as contacts on social media websites.  Then, they got fired, disciplined, or turned down from a job because they had previously posted something like an angry rant, or photos of themselves doing immature or unprofessional things at a party (like getting drunk).  It didn't matter that those things were likely only meant to be seen by their friends in the spur of the moment; the paper trail on their social media account came back to haunt them.

This mattered to the Stanford University students who made Snapchat, though.  They were tired of seeing people stressing out over trying to craft the perfect image of themselves on social media.  They were sick of seeing people sharing potentially unflattering content on social networks in the heat of the moment, and then being judged (or even punished) for it later by an authority figure.  They wanted to create a social media environment where information wasn't permanent, and where people had the freedom to be a little crazy, spontaneous, imperfect, and -- above all -- honest.  That's where they came up with the idea for Snapchat.

So, what exactly is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a social messaging application for mobile devices that allows the exchange of stylized photos or videos ("snaps"), as well as text messages ("chats").  Snapchat's defining feature is that the majority of its content deletes itself after being viewed, and/or after a relatively short amount of time.

Snapchat is mostly used by younger people, such as high school students or college/university students.  However, it is becoming popular among older generations as well, as a way to more privately share messages and pictures with their loved ones.

How does Snapchat work: 5 steps to becoming a "Snapchatter"

1. Find friends to communicate with over Snapchat

There are plenty of different ways to add contacts to Snapchat.  You can search for people by their user name, have Snapchat look through your device's address book, scan someone's Snapchat identity code, or even add someone who's looking for Snapchat friends nearby!

2. Send a quick photo or video that deletes itself upon viewing

Take a picture or record a video, and then send your "snap" to your friends on Snapchat!  You can choose how long that you want others to be able to see it, and when that time is up... poof!  No trace of your content!

3. Dress up your "snaps" with special effects

Express yourself through your snaps!  Decide whether or not they'll have audio, add a caption or emoji, draw on them, or apply an artistic filter.  Do whatever you think will help get the point of your message home, because your recipient can only see it once!

4. Send text messages that also self-destruct

Think that words are enough to get your meaning across?  Pick a friend on Snapchat to send a message to, type in what you want to say, and then send away!  When they receive the message, it will be gone as soon as they close the chat window.

5. Share a day in your life with "stories"

You can also add your "snaps" to your "story" to show people what you do throughout the course of a 24-hour period.  Unlike regular "snaps", ones added to your "story" stay there for at least 24 hours, and your friends can view them as many times as they want!  You can also check out stories from other famous companies and organizations!


Well, that's a short introduction to what Snapchat is about, and what it can do!  If you'd like a more detailed look at Snapchat's strengths and weaknesses, check out our Snapchat review.  We also have some tips on how to protect your safety and privacy on Snapchat.  If you want to dive right in, though, then our How to Use Snapchat tutorial will tell you everything that you need to know.  Happy snapping!


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