Snap Inc, the parent company behind Snapchat, recently launched a new feature, Snap Maps. Available globally on iOS and Android, this feature allows Snapchat users to see what their friends are up to and what is happening around the world. For this to work though, users need to give Snap Maps permission to access their current location, which, of course, can be revoked or hidden.
Explaining the new map feature in their blog, Snap Inc says,
It's easy to get started — just pinch to zoom out (while in default camera mode) and view the Map. You decide if you want to share your location with friends, or simply keep it to yourself with Ghost Mode.... If your friends are sharing their location with you, their Actionmoji(a new type of Bitmoji!) will appear on the Map. Actionmojis only update when you open Snapchat.
YourStory fiddled with Snap Inc’s new update to better understand how Actionmojis, Ghost Mode and other aspects of Snap Maps. Let us explore it more in this week’s App Friday’s review.
Talking to YourStory over email, a Snap Inc spokesperson likened Snap Map to ‘a living, breathing map’ -- that is different every day. The goal is to encourage users to chat with each other, discover new places, be more active (in real life) and meet friends in the real world.
Unlike Google Maps and Apple Maps that are positioned as utility services to help people find their way around a city, Snap Inc’s goal is to help people discover what is happening around them and also bring friends together. Facebook, on the other hand, has a Friends Nearby feature which, as the name suggests, notifies people when their Facebook friends are in their vicinity.
Elaborating on the thought process behind Snap Maps, Jack Brody, a product designer at Snap Inc, told Refinery29,
In a lot of ways, we're taking what a map is and turning it upside down.....This map isn't about where am I, it's about where are my friends and what are they up to? It's not about figuring out how to get to your destination, but about discovering where you want to go.
While Snapchat is positioned as a recreational, fun app there have been instances where the app has broken news stories. For instance, when a crane collapsed in February 2016 in New York, Snap Map's "Our Story" submission immediately started popping up in Manhattan. Brody told Refinery29 that these came in even before police and media showed up on the scene. He said,
That was this moment of 'we have something here. We had newsworthy content 10 minutes before the first news company actually arrived....There is a playful purpose to Snap Map, but the tool also has the power to break news in the same way that Twitter does.
The Snap Map is a new layer on top of the current Snapchat experience. To view the Snap Map, users need to pinch to zoom out from the Snapchat camera. On launching this feature for the first time, users are taken through an onboarding flow outlining how the Map feature works and the privacy controls. You can update who can see your location on the Map at any time right from Settings in the Map.
Users have three options: they can share their location with all Snapchat friends, or select friends or enter Ghost Mode (no friends). Location-sharing with friends via the Map is optional (and is turned off by default).
Apart from their main stories feature, Map is another place that Snapchat is using to curate and surface some of the Snaps that they get every day, submitted by the Snapchat community to Our Story. Snaps are available on the Map for about 24 hours, though they may searchable for longer in places like Search. At the time of writing this story, 'Monsoon in Mumbai' was the featured story being played.
Explaining how Snaps are shortlisted and featured under Our Story, the Snap Inc spokesperson said they rely on advanced machine learning techniques to pop up interesting Snaps that are also safe and fun for the community. So not all Snaps sent to Our Story show up on the Map or in Search.
Apart from the featured story, Heat on the map indicates that Snaps are being taken and submitted to Our Story from that area. The more prominent the Heat’, the more likely a special event or breaking news story may be occurring there.
Users can zoom in and navigate maps to explore their city and even strike up a conversation with an active friend by just tapping on their Actionmoji.
Snapchat clarifed that Actionmoji’s location on the Map only updates when Snapchat is opened. If a Snapchatter has not opened the app in several hours, their Actionmoji disappears from the Map entirely. If a group of friends are together on the Map, then the user will also see the option to kick off a group chat.
To infer the best Actionmoji, Snapchat may look at things like your location, time of day, or speed of travel. Examples of Actionmojis today include things like: at the beach, at the airport, sitting and a handful more.
While it is barely 48 hours since Snap Inc officially launched Snap Maps to a global audience, one can see a lot of interesting heat maps across different cities in India and abroad. Stories that show up via the heat map feature include only the location and doesn't seem to include usernames, which is good from a privacy perspective.
The 'heat map' colour varies and get darker based on activity at a particular place. For example, parts of Malaysia and Singapore seemed to be more active on Snap Maps compared to India. While the intensity of the colour indicates activity, including a numerical value for a geofenced area may give users a more objective understanding of the most exciting spots in their city or country.
The chat and meetup with friends is integrated well, but since this is a new feature it may take take some time for people to get a hang of it and network effects to kick in. I was active on it for few hours in Mumbai, but wasn't able to connect with any friends at this stage. This could probably be because Maps is a new feature and my network on Snapchat isn't vast.
One of Snap Maps' aims is to get people to connect more often in the real world rather than only online. Other platforms like Facebook (through Friends nearby) and even Uber are trying to make this more seamless.
In December 2016, Uber announced a feature, ’Uber to Your Friends and Snap Along the Way!' which lets users pick a friend as their destination. Instead of typing in a destination, users needed to type in a friend's name in the 'Where to' box. Then the friend receives a request from Uber to provide their current static location. Once they accept, their location is used as your destination. With the Snapchat integration, riders on their trip could unlock custom Uber filters like ETA or Mystery filters while you ride. This feature is currently not live in India yet.
After connecting people digitally over the internet superhighway, tech companies are now nudging people to actually meet in the real world. Can technological innovations finally bring us closer together in the real world. It will be interesting to see how different startups and corporates approach this pain point and how some of them collaborate to get people off their couches to meet in the real world. But then again, too much technology may take away the surprise involved in randomly bumping into a friend or an undesired meeting with a 'frenemy'.