Today Snapchat announced Discover, a new feature that allows users to find “stories” from big time media outlets like National Geographic, Comedy Central, ESPN, and CNN. For the first time, users can get high-quality, editorially-curated content from publishers the way they would from their Snapchat friends.
The content itself isn’t game-changing. Tap and swipe around on the new Discover page and you’ll see short video clips from The Daily Show, or an update on the blizzard in the northeast, or “5 Genius Eyeliner Hacks.” It even has ads. It’s much like the content you might stumble across on Facebook.
But what does seem like a game-changer (as far as social media and news is concerned) is that with Discover, news orgs like CNN get to retain some semblance of a Front Page again. Instead of users seeing news that is filtered by “friends,” likes, comments, and shares, users see a series of videos and cards curated by an editor. An editor who is trained and skilled at knowing what news matters and what news doesn’t.
Facebook’s success in the news space thus far stems from the fact that users, motivated by checking in on what their friends are up to, also happen to see news links shared by friends or by publishers they follow. Snapchat, as it grows and as Discover evolves, will have essentially the same power. Users check in on Snapchat to see what their friends are up to, and see a breaking news story from CNN sitting next to a story from their friend.
But where Facebook is failing at news right now is that they still let an algorithm of likes and shares determine what news users see. Publishers can post important hard-news stories to Facebook all they want, but if it’s not getting crowd-boosted by user engagement, it will lose out to that cute puppy video in your newsfeed.
And Snapchat is clear about their anti-algorithm stance on content in their Introduction to Discover on the app:
This is not social media. Discover isn’t about what’s most popular. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.
With a resurfacing of the Front Page, perhaps news orgs will feel less of a need to pander their content to the traffic-hose monster that is Facebook. That means less click-baity headlines, less fluffy viral videos, and a reason for publishers to focus on the quality of the content and the experience. And then just maybe news brands can begin to restore some fidelity with their readers.