TL;DR: Snapchat rolled out a new map feature, Snap Map, that allows users to see what their friends are up to when in the app. The new featured is intended to bring people together in the physical world when they can see what’s happening via Snapchat.
As the apps race between Facebook’s Instagram and Snap’s Snapchat drags on, Snap has attempted to pull ahead with a splashy debut of its new Snap Map at this year’s Cannes Lions. The new addition allows users to see what their friends are doing in nearly real-time.
“We’ve built a whole new way to explore the world!” Snap shared on its blog. “See what’s happening, find your friend, and get inspired to go on an adventure!”
Once you’ve updated your Snapchat app, you can access Snap Map by pinching on the Snapchat camera home screen to start exploring what everybody’s up to. Friends appear as “Actionmojis” (a new kind of Bitmoji) and others’ public Snap Stories can be viewed where you see “hotspots” on the Snap Map.
By default, Snapchat won’t share your location until you give the app the OK. If you do, you have the option to share your location with everyone (which fits with Millennials trends to share everything with everyone) or just a select group of friends (which fits with Generation Z tendencies to curate what they share with the world). Or you can always choose to keep your location to yourself under “Ghost Mode.” The app will only update your location when you’re actually in the app, to save some battery life and your privacy.
The new feature also promotes Snapchat’s recent rollout of shared Stories (a public Story that anyone can submit their Snap to) and Story Search (a new feature that allows people to find public Stories at a specific location, but also on different subjects). The more activity in a particular location, a “heat” color will appear on the Snap Map where something of interest is happening.
While this is the new, flashy feature for Snapchat, it’s not too far off from locating friends apps and software that have come before. The Find My Friends app — originally released in 2011 and now a staple of iOS — continues to allow you to watch your friends’ every move, if you’ve given them permission to do so. The app Now came out in 2012 and scanned Instagram geo tagging and curated a map of what’s happening in the area. Facebook rolled out Nearby Friends in 2014 to let you see who’s close, and even will alert you about selected people’s whereabouts.
This technology hasn’t failed, but it hasn’t really exploded in popularity either. Looking up what your friends are doing on social media can feel creepy or lonely, if you weren’t invited initially to join in the fun. However, Snap thinks this new feature is exactly what users are looking for now.
"Interestingly, one of the habits we've seen with our users is that they'll take a snap where they are, put on the geofilter, and post it to their story with a caption like 'hit me up,'" Jack Brody, a product designer at Snap, said in an interview with Refinery29. "They're basically saying come hang out with me here. Then, when they leave there they'll delete that from their story."
Actually migrating how we make plans in the real world seems to be a ways off still after seeing the limited interest in current friend locating apps. But it wasn’t that long ago that we actually had to call friends to make plans rather than just send out a group text. Time on app will tell.