What is Snapchat, and how does it really work?


You have probably heard about Snapchat, the mobile app that allows users to send videos and pictures that self destruct after a few seconds.

Snapchat is a fun messaging application for sharing moments. You can take a photo or a video, add a caption or doodle, and send it to a friend or add it to your Story to share with some or all of your friends. Friends can view Snaps for up to 10 seconds, and then it disappears.

While that’s all fine and dandy, many people have been left stumped by Snapchat. They can’t seem to understand why someone would send brief pictures or videos to friends if they can’t be saved. Well, they can be “saved”. And Snapchat has more to offer than what meets the eye.

If you’d like to learn all about Snapchat and how it works, keep reading. You’ll quickly realize it’s more than just an app that teens use for sexting.

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a photo- and video-messaging app. A group of 20-something Stanford University students developed and launched the app in 2011.

Snapchat is unique in that all photos and videos only last a brief amount of time before they disappear forever, making the app ephemeral in nature, though users can take a screenshot to save Snaps. As of May 2014, the app’s users were sending 700 million photos/videos per day.


Due to the instant popularity of Snapchat, Facebook reportedly offered to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion. One of the app’s cofounders declined the cash offer however. Facebook has since launched a rival ephemeral photo app called Slingshot.

Who uses Snapchat?

Everyone uses Snapchat. It is directed toward teens and adults.

Snapchat is mostly popular among teenagers, according to several research firms, but it is catching on and embracing new demographics every day. Viners – personalities who use the Vine app – even use Snapchat’s Story feature as another means of communicating with fans.

What’s the point of Snapchat?

We could give a long explanation, in which we describe how social media and apps are evolving in order to match the current trends and interests of active users around the world, but we’ll just share the following video instead.

It was posted by Casey Neistat, a popular YouTube personality who is also a creator of the autobiographical HBO series The Neistat Brothers.

Neistat’s video above not only gives a humorous and brief overview of Snapchat but also provides an interesting take or look at why Snapchat is so popular, especially among teenagers. It’s worth watching and might even convince you to try Snapchat if you’re still holding out.

What’s all the lingo mean?

Here’s a quick breakdown of all the common terms and phrases used in the Snapchat world.

Snapchatters: Snapchatters are Snapchat users.

Snap: A Snap is a photo or video taken with Snapchat. You can send a Snap to a Snapchatter (or multiple Snaps to multiple Snapchatters), but it can only be viewed by the recipient for a limited amount of time (1 to 10 seconds, to be exact).

Snapback: A Snapback is a reply to your Snap.

Story: A Story is a Snap you can mass-send to friends. Recipients can view it an unlimited amount of times in 24 hours. You can also send multiple stories in one day, and they’ll be compiled to create one viewable Story. In other words, you can add many stories to your Story.

Scores: Your Score is the total number of Snaps you have sent and received. It appears next to your name in friends’ contact lists and vice versa.

Chat: Chat is a feature that lets you privately message with friends on Snapchat.

Here: Here is a video chat sub-feature within Chat, in which you can broadcast live video and audio to friends while Chatting.

How does Snapchat work?

We’ll be the first to admit that Snapchat is so simple it’s almost confusing.

The app’s main screen is your camera view and that can be initially a little jarring or weird to navigate around. Try to remain calm however and keep reading to learn exactly how Snapchat works. By the time you’re done browsing our mini tutorial, you’ll be snapping like a 14 year old.

Main screen

First thing’s first: Download Snapchat (it’s free) and create an account and user ID. Once that’s done, the app will always open and show your camera view straightaway. The camera view actually serves as the main screen.

The top left-hand corner has a Flash button for toggling your camera’s flash, while the top-right hand corner has a Camera button for toggling the camera between front-facing and rear-facing mode. And of course the center of the main screen shows you whatever your camera sees.

On the bottom of the camera view there is a big round Camera button in the center for taking a picture or video (aka Snaps). Hold the Camera button down to record a video with sound or tap the Camera button to take a picture. Simples.

The bottom left-hand corner of the main screen has a square-shaped Notification symbol that will display in numbers how many unread Snaps are waiting for you. Tap it to go to your Recents list and begin viewing unread Snaps.

The bottom right-hand corner has a Contacts button. You can tap it whenever you want to find a contact, view a Story (more on that later), or add new Contacts (again, more on that later).

UPDATE (January 2015): The main screen now has another button: a Snapchat logo button, found at the top of the screen. Tap it to see who has added you and your contacts. You can also use it to find friends.

Adding Contacts

Tap the Contacts button from the bottom right-hand corner of the main screen. Your Contacts screen should then open, with a Camera symbol in the top left for going back to the main screen and an orange Add Contacts button in the top right for adding contacts.

Tap the Add Contacts button in the top right of your Contacts screen. You will then see a list of Snapchatters (aka friends) who have added you as well as three symbols – from left to right – for viewing who has added you, finding Snapchatters in your contacts, and searching for Snapchatters.

Select the Find Snapchatters button, which looks like an address book, and tap the + icon next to your friend’s name if you’d like to add them. You can also tap the envelope icon next to a friend’s name to send a request to join Snapchat.

If your friends aren’t in your Snapchat contacts, which were pulled from your device and other social networks, select the Search Friends icon. It looks like a magnifying glass. From there, type in your friends’ usernames to find and add them.

You can also add contacts by using the Snapchat button found at the top of the main camera screen. Tap it to see who has added you and your contacts. You can also use it to find friends.

Making Snaps

While on the main screen, tap the large Camera button to take a Snap or hold down the Camera button to record a video with sound. Once you’re finished, a preview screen will appear with options for customising Snaps, adjusting Snap length, sending the Snap, and more.

The preview screen has an X symbol in the top left-hand corner. Tapping that symbol will take you back to the main screen. If you tap the Customisation button, which looks like a pencil, in the top right-hand corner, you will then see colour slider.

Simply use your finger to select a colour and then start tracing or drawing whatever you want on the Snap displayed in the preview screen. You can also tap anywhere on the preview screen to access your keyboard and add text, but only after you tap-to-close the colour slider.

When everything is ready to go, you will see a Snap length button in the bottom right of your screen. It should be a circle with a number in it. The number represents how many seconds the recipient has to view your Snap. Tap it to adjust length time from 1 second to 10 seconds.

Next to the Snap length button is a universal Download symbol. If you select it, your Snap will download to your device. The next symbol at the bottom of the preview screen is for Stories, but we’ll address that in a bit as well as how to send snaps.

Sending Snaps

The only button on the preview screen that we haven’t discussed yet is the arrow-shaped symbol on the bottom right. Tap it to send your Snap. More specifically, a Send to screen will open. You will then need to select recipients. Once done, send your Snap by tapping a second arrow button.

You might have noticed that one of the recipient options listed on the Send to screen said “My Story”. This option will add your Snap to your Story, but again, we will discuss that below.

Viewing Snapbacks

To view your unread Snaps, go to the main menu screen and select the Notification button on the bottom left. A Snapchaeet feed of all your sent Snaps and Snap replies (aka Snapbacks) will be listed, including any new Snaps from friends, and you can just tap any one to view it for a limited amount of time.

Remember: Snaps disappear… so be ready to take a screenshot if you want. You will also see a list of your sent Snaps. An arrow icon will appear next to a Snap if it’s been read, along with a notice about whether the recipient took a screenshot of your Snap. Handy, right?

From the Snapchat feed screen you can also search for Snaps, adjust Snapchat settings via the Settings icon in the top right, or simply go back to the main screen by tapping the Camera button in the top left.

Sending Stories

To send a Story, which is basically a Snap that exists for 24 hours and can be mass-sent to all your friends, tap the Story button the Preview screen. It’s right next to the Download button. If you send a Story, your friends will be able to view it an unlimited number of times in one day.

Another way to send a Story is by simply taking a Snap and then tapping the Send button. But instead of selecting every friend individually on the Send to screen, you can simply select the My Story option. You can also change who can view your Stories under Settings.

In addition, the interesting thing about the Story feature is that you can add multiple Stories to your Story throughout the day. It’s like a visual, temporary journal of sorts that all or some of your friends can view – an unlimited amount of times in 24 hours – at their leisure.

Viewing Stories

You can view Stories by tapping the Contacts button on the main screen. You will then see a Stories page, with a list of your contacts and maybe even Recents if you have unread Stories. Once you view all the Stories under Recents, the Recents category will disappear.

You can still find read Stories however by scrolling through your contact list and finding the contact who posted a Story. A Story symbol will appear next to their name, and you can just click it to view that Story again.

Viewing Scores

Scores are the sum of sent and received chats. To view your Score, tap Snapchat under the Snapchat feed screen. You will then see your sent and recieved score numbers individually. You can view friends’ total Scores by tapping on their name in your Contacts.

Chatting with friends

Apart from sending Snaps and Stories, you can also privately communicate with a friend by Chatting. To access the Chat feature, swipe right on a friend’s name in the Snapchat feed screen, then enter text, and tap send on your device’s keyboard.

While Chatting with a friend, you can also send him or her a Snap. Just tap the yellow camera on the right of the text box to take a Snap and send it to the friend (you can also select an image to send from your device’s photo gallery by selecting the small photo symbol on the bottom right).

Using Here

You can live video chat with friends while in Chat, using a sub-feature is called Here.

Simply press the blue camera button on the right again to access Here (the camera button will turn from yellow to blue when they’re available for video chat). Make sure to press and hold the blue camera in order to immediately broadcast live video and audio of yourself to your friend.

Video chat works when your camera is facing toward you or even away.

Sending money

Snapchat partnered with Square to launch Snapcash in 2014. It lets you use your debit card to pay for goods or simply send money to friends.

Snapcash works like this: enter your debit card, then swipe into chat, and type a dollar sign with an amount (like $11.50). Once you’re done, hit the green button.

Your card details are securely stored by Square – a mobile payments company co-founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey – so you don’t need to worry about a Snappening-type hacking scandal that will result in you losing money.

Snapcash via Square is available to all Snapchatters in the US with a debit card. They just have to be 18 years or older. Watch the video above for more information.


Snapchat Discover is a new way to find stories from specific editorial teams. To get to Discover, swipe from left on the main screen to you’ll see the Stories screen, and then tap the new Discover icon (circle symbol) in the top-right corner.

You will see a grid of all the available “editorial teams”, including Snapchat’s own Snap channel, CNN, Cosmo, Daily Mail, People, etc. Tap on one to open an edition, then swipe left to browse Snaps, and swipe up on a Snap for more.

Every edition is refreshed after 24 hours, thus maintaining Snapchat’s whole ephemeral vibe.


What is Literally Can’t Even?

Snapchat is now making original series content for its app.

Sasha Spielberg, daughter of the well-known film director and producer Steven Spielberg, and Goldwyn, daughter of film producer John Goldwyn, are the co-creators and writers of the first new series, called Literally Can’t Even.

They’ll also star in the series  as “comedic versions of themselves” in Los Angeles. Each episode of Literally Can’t Even will run under 5-minutes long. The show is scheduled to premiere on 31 January through Snapchat’s new Snap Channel.

New episodes will debut every Saturday, and again, you’ll only have 24 hours to watch them. You can also expect the series to feature a split screen, which will reportedly include scene details for each shot.

This post was brought to you by http://mashable.com/2015/03/12/snapchat-youth-wisdom/

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