Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard someone mention the social network/chat app Snapchat. Depending on how you measure things, it’s now more popular than Twitter and Pinterest, with only Facebook and Instagram having more users daily. The difference is that most of Snapchat’s users are millennials and teens, so it’s flown under the radar of a lot of older internet users.

Snapchat is a photo sharing app and social network, where you can send disposable photos and messages called Snaps to your friends. As soon as they open your messages, they vanish. You can also post Snaps to your “Story”, where they stay for 24 hours.

Here at How-To Geek for example, I’m the only writer who regularly uses Snapchat—it’s no coincidence that I’m also the youngest (and most immature).

So if you’ve been wondering what exactly Snapchat is, as How-To Geek’s resident millennial ambassador, I’m here to help.

What Does Snapchat Do?

Snapchat started out as an app for sending temporary pictures and, although it’s expanded, this is still its core feature.

Let’s say I want to share an awesome selfie with my editor Whitson. I open Snapchat and take the “Snap”. When I do, I set a timer for between one and ten seconds and hit send. Whitson then gets a notification on his phone that I’ve send him a Snap. As soon as he opens it, he’ll only be able to see it for ten seconds. After that, it’s gone.

He could take a screenshot, but if he did, I’d get a notification from Snapchat telling me that he’d done so.

While each Snap can just be an image, you can use Lenses, Filters, Geo-Filters, Stickers, Emoji, text and a drawing tool to personalize them more. Most of these trend toward the silly side of things.

As well as photo Snaps, you can also send short video Snaps and disappearing text messages with Snapchat. A video Snap can be up to ten seconds long. Instead of using a timer, Snapchat’s text messages vanish as soon as the person reading them leaves the chat.

Stories and Discover

Since it’s launched, Snapchat has gone from messaging app to including some social networking features as well.

Everyone on Snapchat has a “Story” they can post image and video Snaps to. Anyone on their “Friends” list can see their Story, much like a Facebook or Instagram feed. Each Snap sent to the Story stays live for 24 hours before it disappears. A lot of popular celebrities use Snapchat’s Stories.

Occasionally, for special events like Christmas or the Super Bowl, Snapchat has a curated Our Story which every user can submit Snaps to. Snapchat’s editorial team pulls out the best one and creates one big story for everyone.

Discover is like Stories except for a small group of publications. Media outlets like The Daily Mail, The Sun, Buzzfeed, Sky News, Mashable, Vice and National Geographic are all in Snapchat’s Discover program. They use it to share popular articles, videos, and the like.

Snapchat Memories

Although Snapchat’s appeal is mainly that everything is temporary, sometimes people use it to record things that they actually want to keep. Snapchat Memories is a way for you to privately save your own Snaps and Stories so you can view or share them again later.

Snapchat Isn’t Just for Naked Pictures

Snapchat has picked up a less-than-salubrious reputation because of how it started. A few college kids wanted an app that made it possible to send pictures that couldn’t be saved by the other person. Almost by accident, they created something that really hit a nerve with millennials and teenagers. And as Snapchat’s grown, its become more mainstream. Although it’s incredibly popular with millennials and teens, they’re gaining more older users. Even my mother is now on Snapchat!

While some people obviously did want a platform for sending nudes, far more wanted a way to send temporary messages. When every single thing you do online is tracked, when every message you’ve ever sent can be dragged out to haunt you, it’s really freeing to have messages that just…disappear. (And don’t take up space on your phone!)

Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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