Spiegel hopes to save Snapchat with an algorithmic feed

Josh Constine

Snap got destroyed by Wall Street today after a horrible Q3 earnings where revenue and user growth fell well under expectations. So to get things going in the right direction, CEO Evan Spiegel says Snapchat will make some bold moves not everyone will like. Specifically, it's redesigning the app to be easier for older people to use, and its using data to power an algorithmically sorted Stories feed instead of the strictly reverse chronological one it uses now.

In the prepared remarks for today's earnings call, Spiegel wrote about these changes:

Redesign

"One thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback. As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use. There is a strong likelihood that the redesign of our application will be disruptive to our business in the short term, and we don’t yet know how the behavior of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application. We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial longterm benefits to our business.

Algorithmically-Personalized Stories

"We are developing a new solution that provides each of our 178 million Daily Active Users with their own Stories experience, leveraging the tremendous benefits of machine learning without compromising the editorial integrity of the Stories platform that we have worked so hard to build. As part of our efforts around Search and Maps, we now index millions of Stories every day, meaning we have the long tail of content necessary to provide a truly personal experience. We hope that showing the right Stories to the right audience will help grow engagement and monetization for our partners and for Snapchat."

Snapchat currently uses a strictly reverse-chronological feed for Stories

With only 2.9% user growth to 178 million daily users, Snapchat just isn't growing fast enough to satisfy investors or keep up with Facebook's clones. Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status both now have 300 million daily users, dwarfing the app they cloned.

In April I implored Snapchat to move to an algorithmically sorted Stories feed to make it easier for people to find their best friends and things they care about, instead of using the reverse chronological feed that shows what happens to have been posted most recently.

Right now, Snapchat's content is scattered across the Stories list, the Discover channel, search, and Snap Map. Snapchat could benefit from using all its data on what people watch to curate a personalized feed of the most relevant content from across the app. That could be best friends, influencers, premium Shows, topic-based Stories Search compilations, and peeks into interesting nearby places, landmarks, and events.

But if Snap screws up these redesigns and new features, it could see even more teens abandon the app. There's a big risk that teens say they liked the old Snapchat better, and might as well just use Instagram. Spiegel and Snap have historically relied on instincts rather than data to design products. But now those instincts have led Snap astray, and it will require a philosophical shift as well as a product one to save the company.

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