• Michael Weinberg

How Snapchat Continues to Surprise Us

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Snapchat added its signature "Stories” feature in 2013, allowing users to post photo and video content on display for all their friends, until it disappears in 24 hours. In the following few years, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and now Twitter added some kind of “story” feature (“fleet” for Twitter) to their platforms. It seemed Snapchat had become the kid in class whose joke was stolen by another person for bigger laughs.

Snapchat seems to dominate the fun filters industry, though TikTok and Instagram could soon deliver a couple mimicked blows, so to speak, to this advantage. But, to my surprise, Snapchat has other tricks up its sleeve.

While sitting in on a Zoom lecture earlier this week, I learned about Snapchat’s relatively new “TV” shows. They’re called Snap Originals, and they are just that—original.

Now, maybe I’m super late learning about these (the app announced the innovation in October 2018), but these Snap Originals seem to have the potential to make Snapchat a bodybuilder in the social media realm.

After my lecture, I looked up Snap Originals and found a complete list from Snapchat itself, which you can find here. (Use your Snapchat camera to take a photo of the Snapcode in the bottom right of the page to watch.)

There is already a ton of content available from over 30 different scripted and unscripted original shows. The genres are diverse, with comedy, horror, docuseries, thriller, reality TV, and more. Some of the shows allow users to feel like they’re a part of the show by using lenses and filters when they swipe up at prompts during the show.

I wasn’t able to delve completely into the full roster, but here are the few that I checked out. Click the link to find more information on each show.

First Person

Source: Snapchat

Starting in November 2020, “First Person” is a docuseries about exploring the environmental breakthroughs of young people around the world. Host Yusuf Omar uses his zany Snapchat Spectacles (a story in itself) to highlight how people are working to alleviate the deteriorating planet. Throughout the show, visual elements create a distinct Snapchat experience.

Though Omar’s hosting technique is a bit corny for my taste, he does a great job of engaging the viewer. The show is also very informative and sheds light on environmental issues you might never have known about around the world.

Dead of Night

Source: Snapchat

“Dead of Night” is an interesting take on horror (though Snapchat labels it as “thriller”). Starting in 2019, the series is on its second season with 10 new episodes. The scripted show follows a teen as she navigates through a zombie outbreak (timely, am I right?) in Houston with nothing but her smartphone. The story is told entirely from the perspective of the teen’s smartphone screen (with plenty of Snapchat product placement).

“Dead of Night” isn’t going to be the next “The Walking Dead”—the acting isn’t fantastic and the narrative is a bit overdone—but it isn’t without its merit. For one, this show looks like it has a sizable production budget for being streamed entirely on Snapchat. For another, the smartphone screen POV is surprisingly creative, and might even trick you into thinking zombies are in your downtown area. Snapchat may be onto something.

While Black

Source: Snapchat

Also in its second season is “While Black,” an unscripted original show hosted by author MK Asante documenting “what it means to be young and Black in America.” Snapchat premiered the show’s first season in November 2019 and its second in October 2020.

“While Black'' is an ingenious way to engage people of all races to understand the plight, passion, and power of Black people in our country. Now is as important a time as ever to open our ears to stories from Black communities. The topics Asante covers in season 2 are relevant issues, including voting rights, police brutality, racism in the medical field, and marijuana.

In terms of interactivity, the show encouraged viewers to swipe up to register to vote before the 2020 presidential election.

I do have some criticism about Snap Originals, though. While I enjoy the bite-sized glances into worlds I might never have ventured into if not for this blog post, the shows aren’t exactly in your face. I had to Google Snap Originals to get the full list. And, unless you subscribe to the show, it doesn’t seem to appear on your Discover feed. Instead, there are dozens of tiles featuring miscellaneous, click-baity, and just plain weird headlines. But that’s just Snapchat’s in-app marketing of its shows.

Some of the shows themselves include almost neck-breakingly quick shots. Understandably, the shows are trying to fit an engaging narrative within a very short period (about five minutes). But there could be a point where it starts to feel overwhelming. What’s more, the app doesn’t allow you to truly pause the shows, unless you exit the video. Of course, these are minor inconveniences, and I’m sure Snapchat is brewing new updates to fix these types of issues and more.

Overall, Snap Originals are an adventure worth exploring. Much of social media has become overrun with content created by other users and constantly demands interaction. We become depressed on Instagram, nihilistic on Twitter, and angry on Facebook. Perhaps Snap Originals are a happy medium between the brevity of TikToks and the consistency of YouTube channels.

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