In July of 2011, three Stanford University undergraduates released an iOS-only application under the name Picaboo, with which you could take and share photos with your friends for up to 10 seconds before they disappeared. Five years later and this app, renamed Snapchat, has become a worldwide phenomenon, taking over the digital landscape one short-lived selfie at a time. With the addition of 24-hour Snapchat Stories, location-tailored GeoTags, a wide variety of creative filters and more, the app with the little ghost mascot has quickly found its place in the hearts (and phones) of many avid social media users today.

With Instagram’s new addition of Stories and Facebook’s attempts to integrate Snapchat-like features into their site, it is clear that the concept of Snapchat is something every existing social media company is itching to market to users. Now it seems as if your social media platform isn’t featuring temporary photos or fun filters, they aren’t keeping up with the times. But what is it about Snapchat that has sparked such prominent changes in the world of social media?

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Prior to the days of Snapchat Stories and dog-filtered photos, there was a sense of permanence about social media. Awkward photos from the 7th grade dance? They’re still on your mom’s Facebook profile, and you’re probably still tagged in them. Those embarrassing tweets from middle school about your Zac Efron obsession? They could resurface at any moment if a friend decides to tap that retweet button. And scroll a few pages down your Instagram profile and there’s no doubt there will still be a few discriminating selfies from your past. But with the invention of Snapchat came a whole new ballgame. The idea of being able to share photos and experiences with your friends for a fleeting moment before they vanished into thin air is something that, before Snapchat, had never had a place in society. But now that this technology exists, for some it is hard to imagine a world without it.

Compared to other social media sites, Snapchat is by far the youngest. Facebook was first launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010, and finally Snapchat in 2011. But in only 5 short years since its launch, Snapchat has surged to the top of popularity charts, surpassing over 150 million daily users according to Bloomberg.com, and now claimed to be the third most popular social network among people aged 18-34, tailing closely behind Instagram.

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The fact that Snapchat, a social media app seeming to still be in its infancy, can surpass Twitter, an app that has been around for an entire decade, in a few short years is astonishing. And seemingly, as Snapchat continues to grow, Instagram is now at risk of being surpassed in numbers and popularity. With Snapchat’s increasingly large daily user intake in mind, in August of 2016 Instagram released a new feature, called Stories.

With this new feature, users can now upload short images and videos accompanied by text or doodling that will last for only 24 hours before being automatically deleted. Sound familiar? It should, because that is the exact same premise as described in the Snapchat Stories feature. There has been much controversy over Instagram’s latest installment, for many claim that they are “trying to copy Snapchat”. And although this may be everyone’s first conclusion, this may be simply the only way Instagram knows how to integrate the idea of temporary media into their application.

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It is no secret that Snapchat’s fleeting, 24-hour long Snapchat Stories have helped contribute to the app’s raging success. Being able to flood your friends with an endless stream of photos and videos and then not have to worry about them once the 24-hour mark passes is a valuable idea. An idea that has caught the attention of a vast number of advertisers, who market their own products and services directly through the Snapchat Stories feature. As well as an idea that Instagram wants a piece of- a concept that they want to harness before the ever-changing teen minds that fuel social media popularity have focused their attention elsewhere. And so perhaps this “Stories” feature, though a blatant imitation of the one within Snapchat, is the only way Instagram knew how to incorporate this money-making, attention-grabbing concept.

Maybe this is only the beginning of a new phenomena; the Snapchat phenomena, or rather, the phenomena of temporary media. Maybe this will be similar to the growth of the direct message- something that started with Facebook and is now a feature included in every major social media site, Snapchat included. Flash forward a few years, perhaps every app will have now installed an outlet for temporary thoughts, taking their own spin on something Snapchat created. This is hard to determine, however, it is easy to see the reasoning behind it all.

Social media itself has taught our minds to work quickly. Our attention spans are ever-shrinking, and with a simple scroll or tap on a screen we can expose ourselves to something brand new in the blink of an eye. And combine this with an incessant need to see what all of our friends are up to at the moment, and Snapchat may as well have created itself. Waking up to a completely blank slate, an empty profile waiting to be filled with your daily stories, is an appealing notion. Every day you have the ability to choose how to define yourself, and you have the ability to choose exactly what people see when they tap your username. And in 24 short hours, you can do it all over again, redefining yourself based on however you may be feeling that day. This sensation is remarkable, and something that has earned Snapchat a $20 billion evaluation (techcrunch.com). Snapchat has genuinely revolutionized the social media industry with its fleeting content; and as long as we continue to actively participate in this phenomenon, the world of social media may never be the same.

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