It was sometime around 2012—about a year after it launched—when I first saw someone using Snapchat. I was sitting on the seed-filled matted shag carpet of a friend’s living room, and one of the girls next to me was taking an endless stream of selfies. Most of these involved covering half of her face with her shirt or hand, and scrawling some message over the rest with a finger.
She and the person on the receiving end of these half-lit, smoke-filled selfies carried on an involved, nuanced, goofy conversation in 10-second snippets for most of an hour.
Remember when Snapchat was fun like that? Now, Snapchat’s introducing group video calls for up to 16 people, and I barely recognize this app anymore. Yes, you and 15 of your friends can get in a video chat together and add filters or emojis or whatever people would theoretically do in this feature before your phone overheats and dies.
“Today, we’re making Chat even more fun,” the company wrote in an announcement on Tuesday. But the thing is, Snapchat hasn’t been fun in a while, and I don’t think it’s because I’ve aged out—I think it’s because I loved Snapchat before it became this. It used to be so simple, and that’s what made it a good time. It was one button, one contacts list, and the option to scribble some nonsense on there if you want.
When I first joined Snapchat shortly after that house party, I used it (as many probably did at the time) for photos I wanted to share, but didn’t necessarily want in my camera roll, where they would use up precious storage space. I didn’t need to save that photo of myself hungover, cradling a liter of coconut water like a baby—but I did need to share it with three people and then forget it existed.
In perhaps the company’s first and last moment of self-awareness, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel wrote in the inaugural blog post for the app, in May 2012:
Snapchat isn’t about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It’s about communicating with the full range of human emotion — not just what appears to be pretty or perfect. Like when I think I’m good at imitating the face of a star-nosed mole, or if I want to show my friend the girl I have a crush on (it would be awkward if that got around), and when I’m away at college and miss my Mom…er…my friends.
Over the years, Snapchat has gotten more complicated, more schlocky, more about selling us things through Discover and auto-playing ads than the simple act of communicating a quick reaction or message using only the ephemeral expression on my splotchy, hungover face.
Remember Spectacles? Remember Snapcash? Remember “Snap-tchas?” Remember Snap Map? (Snap Map is still going, but this boggles my mind.) Snapchat’s trying to be everything to everyone at once—plus be an innovator, keeping up with the constant, fickle tastes of the coveted Teen Demographic—and the result is an amalgamation of all the worst parts of social media.
Stories was good, until Instagram stole it. Facebook also “borrowed” Snapchat’s face filters, and made better versions. Discover, its feature for news outlets that nobody can figure out how to monetize, was also pretty good for a minute, and now its user interface terrible again. It’s full of people’s stories I don’t know.
Including the 16-headed hydra of conference call video—which most Snapchat employees probably learned about today, too.