At one point in time, Snapchat was the fastest-growing social media platform in the world. It beat out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, seemingly without lifting a finger. Across the board, Snapchat’s users were evangelical about the app; far more engaged in the content they were watching. Users considered Snapchat to be the most innovative and modern social platform in the world. Growth was steadily increasing, and Q2 2016 saw a legitimate 17.2% growth spurt. For reference, Facebook’s growth in the same quarter was 3.63%, and many news outlets considered that “crushing it.”
For all intents and purposes, Snapchat was on top of the tech world. But in Q3 of that same year (August 2, to be precise), something happened that sucked the wind right out from Snapchat’s sails. That “something” was Instagram Stories. In the official release blog, Instagram billed the new app feature as the result of their desire to allow users to “share all the moments of [their] day, not just the ones [they] want to keep on [their] profile.” And, from day one, users, critics, fans and foes alike praised Instagram Stories as… well, a better version of Snapchat.
What started as a small jab at one of their competitors has since grown into a smooth and detail-rich feature most users probably couldn’t imagine their favorite photo-sharing app without, and the fraction of Instagram’s users that regularly use Instagram Stories has now surpassed all the people using Snapchat’s entire app.
How the hell did it happen, though!? Well, here’s how Instagram Stories made Snapchat irrelevant, step by step:
Instagram Invaded Snapchat’s Niche
Part of the reason Instagram users are so fond of the app is because it allows them to create and catalog memories. They aren’t just mashing together selfies or food pictures; they’re creating digital keepsakes that they can revisit later.
Snapchat, on the other hand, gained momentum for the exact opposite reason: an utter lack of permanence. Snapchat is an app that allows its users to live in the moment without having to relive anything, while allowing friends and followers to have small glimpses into their every day lives. And, for a while, that concept was attractive, new and exclusive to Snapchat.
The competition between Snapchat and Instagram wasn’t very heated at first, because the types of content shared between the two social apps was completely different. Instagram was about remembering, and Snapchat about forgetting – yin and yang.
But when Instagram released Instagram Stories back in August, the Facebook-owned app made it clear that it was making a play for the temporary photo sharing side of the coin – and that’s when all the trouble started for Snapchat.
Instagram Stories Had Better Ease of Use
If you’re a diehard Snapchat user, you know the app’s features like the back of your hand. But for those who aren’t familiar, figuring out how everything works and where everything is can be a bit of a crapshoot. In fact, that’s been a longstanding complaint about the app for years – way before Instagram ever even contemplated going after it.
How bad can it really be, you ask? Well, so bad, apparently, that Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., included a step-by-step guide on how to use Snapchat in its required SEC paperwork in order to show less tech-savvy investors what it’s all about. No, seriously.
When Instagram released Stories, it did so knowing that people were frustrated with how unintuitive Snapchat was. When it finally rolled out, the concept was simple: share photos and videos periodically throughout your day and they’ll appear chronologically in your story. In 24 hours, they’re gone forever (unless you save the videos to your phone). Poof.
Instagram Stories ameliorated the phenomenon of users “over-sharing” photos and flooding their followers’ feeds, and also incorporated an easy-to-use suite of filters, typing tools and on-image drawing. Its user interface was practically the same as Snapchat’s, but it was tucked pretty discretely into the top header of Instagram’s regular interface.
No goofy tap combinations or awkward screen swipes; just intuitive and easy-to-use features that anyone could get the hang of.
Instagram Stories Continued to Roll Out New Features
Instagram didn’t stop there, of course. Over the last 10 months or so, their development team has made regular updates to Stories in order build up their now robust list of features.
What started as a simple 24-hour video and photo story with a couple filters and type features has morphed into a grandiose, in-app feature that could probably survive as its own standalone app, complete with live video support, DM capabilities (with messages that, like Snapchat’s, disappear once the recipient has seen them), a bunch of stickers, custom geotags, its Boomerang feature, rewind and even a self-timer.
But with every new feature – and here’s how it bested Snapchat – Instagram offers a comprehensive explanation video, so users don’t get lost in the mix. For every new batch of stickers, geo-tags or updates, users usually get a convenient update video that tells them what’s new and how to access it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot more intuitive than Snapchat.
Instagram Stories Is More Innovative
When Instagram first released Stories, it wasn’t exactly difficult to see that it was a blatant play on (read: rip off of) Snapchat’s interface. Aside from the clear visual similarities, all of Stories’ features – the filters, the video button, the writing and drawing tools – were damn near identical.
Over the last few months, we’ve gradually seen more features pop up. The custom filters, the sticker packs, the geotags – all the fun stuff you know and love about Snapchat is now on Instagram Stories.
But part of what has really made Instagram Stories standout over the last few months is that they aren’t just gobbling up and spitting out better versions of Snapchat’s own features; they’re rolling out stuff that Snapchat clearly slept on. And there is where Instagram Stories is the real winner.
Instagram made “@[username]” capabilities possible for Stories, which means that users can now tag each other in their stories. They also added their fun Boomerang feature, which makes tiny GIF-like clips. Boomerang was a feature exclusive to users’ actual feeds, but by integrating it into Stories, Instagram found a huge honeypot. It also rolled out its live video feature back in November, which does essentially what Facebook Live does, but inside Instagram Stories.
And for high profile accounts, Instagram also allowed outbound links on all of its verified users. That doesn’t mean much for Average Joes, but for brands, celebrities, entertainers or influential content producers, it means being able to engage fans and followers on a whole new level.
In short, Instagram Stories made Snapchat irrelevant because the former is looking toward the future, and it seems that’s where Snapchat is falling short.
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- Lead image: Noam Galai