Snapchat’s solution for making Snap Map more fun, useful, and ripe for partnership opportunities — without making it too cluttered — has finally gone live.
First announced in May, Snapchat’s new “Layers” feature launches Wednesday. Layers are pretty much what they sound like: Enabling a layer superimposes all sorts of content or information about locations on the map, giving the user an at-a-glance view of specific categories of things, that they can turn on or off, instead of just dots.
Snap debuted the concept of Layers with upcoming layers from food reviews site The Infatuation and ticket sales platform Ticketmaster. Those partner layers will allow users to check out restaurants and events, respectively. However, those are still in the works and will be available “in the coming months.” The two going live Wednesday, “Explore” and “Memories,” come in-house from Snap.
Explore is an expansion of the “Heat Map” which shows photos and videos from certain locations and serves as the portal for viewing stories featuring user-submitted content. Without the explore layer turned on, you’ll see icons for popular places, with the ability to click in and watch the stories. Turning on Explore makes those icons larger and dynamic. For example, I zoomed out to see the whole U.S. map, and an Explore preview in New Orleans showing a brass band caught my eye. I clicked in and got to watch a street performance. I probably would not have been enticed to dive in with a static icon that just said “New Orleans.”
The Memories layer also adds some unexpected joy to the Snap Map experience. Snapchat already sends notifications telling you when you have a memory from one or five or however many years ago. I usually ignore these (and most other) notifications from apps that are trying to get me to engage. But again, zooming out on the map allowed me to hop into memories from short trips I’d forgotten about or fun days in different neighborhoods.
Credit: Snap, Inc.
Other apps, notably Apple’s Photos app, organize photos by location on the map. That’s actually a super useful feature for finding photos. But Snap’s take on the concept shows the silly or memorable moments you chose to post on Snapchat, so it’s a different and more playful vibe.
“Places are a huge part of what makes a memory special,” Bryant Detwiller, Snap’s head of map product, said over email. “There is something incredible about panning the Map and seeing my Memories appear like vignettes that help me relive a fun night out, an old neighborhood I once called home, or a specific chapter of my life. When I see my Memories on Snap Map I’m transported back to that moment in time, to the friends I was with, and the places we went. It’s nostalgic and wonderful.”
You can find layers in the upper right hand corner of Snap Map. When you open Snapchat, click the far left Map Icon. Then you’ll see available layers: Explore is signified by a blue globe, Memories by a yellow circle with photograph drawings.
Snap Map rose to prominence shortly after its June 2017 launch when it became a fascinating portal through which to view student gun control walkouts in early 2018. It was a totally new way to visualize a movement, and it showcased Snapchat’s ability to plop viewers into a first person view of something happening across the country, or world. Since then, use has grown: Snap says more than 250 million Snapchatters engage with the map every month. However, the feature that allows users to broadcast their locations to followers and friends drew criticism as a teen safety hazard. Sharing your location is opt-in and customizable, but that’s not necessarily something a teen user would be smart about.
Still, Snap has continued building out the Map. In May, it launched “My Places,” a Google Maps-esque feature which lets users see popular locations (and information about those places), save favorites, and view places they’ve tagged in previous Snaps. Like Layers, My Places only show up when you click on the Places icon, which is at the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, typically only places with stories linked to them appear on the map.
Snap has stressed that Layers takes the Map to the next level by evolving it “from a product to a platform.” Basically that means partners — or maybe one day, users — can build upon the Map. Snap didn’t answer whether it would begin monetizing layers or the map, with Detwiller saying it is “still early days for this platform.”
“In this phase we are hyper focused on developing helpful and useful experiences for our community,” Detwiller said. Essentially, it’s not monetized now, but never say never.