Snapchat to expand Spotlight feed, focus on creator content and AI chat

Faced with a declining stock price and slow user growth, Snapchat announced Wednesday that the company is pivoting away from its focus on close connections and real-life friends in favor of more discovery tools and features aimed at helping anyone become a content creator.

For the vast majority of Snapchat’s history, the platform has positioned itself primarily as a messaging tool for close friends. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel reiterated this strategy often. “While many people view Snapchat as a social media service, it is primarily used to talk with friends,” he wrote in a 2017 column announcing a redesign that separated out content from users friends vs. content from their favorite creators.

“The obvious benefits that have driven the growth of social media — more friends! more likes! more free content! — are also the things that will undermine it in the long run,” he added.

But now, threatened by the growth of creator-driven apps such as TikTok, the company is reversing course, announcing changes that will make it easier for average users to become Snapchat stars, and for regular people to find interesting and relevant creator-driven content.

Beginning today, any Snapchat user over the age of 18 will be able to post public Stories (videos and photos that expire after 24 hours) there. “We’ve made it easier than ever to become a creator on Snapchat and grow an audience,” a Snapchat spokesman said.

Snapchat also announced that it would expand its revenue-sharing program to more creators, making it easier to join. The program places ads within select creators’ Stories, providing recurring cash payouts for their content. To help creators get discovered within the app, Snapchat will be inserting content from them into new areas of the app, such as the Snap Map, a public map that allows users to document their location and discover content from different geographic areas.

The company also announced a change in its use of AI, making its “My AI” chatbot, which it introduced in February to Snapchat Plus users who pay $4 a month, available to all Snapchat users, at no charge.

At Snap’s Partner Summit event Wednesday, Spiegel said that the company will roll out the My AI feature to all Snapchat users around the world. He acknowledged the new feature still has bugs. “My AI is far from perfect, but we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.

Snapchat tried to make a safe AI. It chats with me about booze and sex.

The effort to expand the number of people who can use My AI is recognition that AI chat has become a major attraction for users on other sites. Microsoft reported that Bing — an also-ran search engine before it was overhauled with its own buzzy AI assistant — had 100 million active users daily as of early March. For comparison, the premium service required previously to access the AI chat feature had over 2 million paying customers at the end of 2022, less than 1 percent of the Snapchat’s 375 million daily active users at the time.

To sweeten the idea of chatting with a large language model, the Snap CEO announced a handful of new features meant to make interactions with My AI feel more natural.

Users will be able to give the AI names of their choosing, for instance, and they can customize the Bitmoji avatar the chatbot will use to present itself. Roping the AI into an existing group chat in the app to field questions about where to have lunch won’t take much more than tagging it with the @ symbol.

My AI will even start to respond to users more like a human would. Sending the bot an photo (or a Snap, in the app’s lingo) will prompt it to respond with text that acknowledges the contents of the image. And people who pay for Snapchat Plus will eventually see the AI start generating and sending images as Snaps in return.

In an example shown by the company, a Snap of some tomatoes prompted My AI to respond with a synthetic image of bowls of tomato soup.

Expanding access to My AI and coaxing it to act slightly more human may convince people to spend more time on Snapchat — and they may even enjoy themselves more as a result. But Snap’s announcement comes amid a wave of heightened scrutiny from tech experts and lawmakers concerned about introducing AI agents to young users.

“Although AI-powered chatbots come with risks for anyone — for example, by providing false information, perpetuating bias, or manipulating users — children and adolescents are especially vulnerable,” Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) wrote in a letter last month to the CEOs of Snap, OpenAI, Google, Microsoft and Meta. “Younger users are at an earlier stage of cognitive, emotional, and intellectual development, making them more impressionable, impulsive, and less equipped to distinguish fact from fiction.”

Spiegel acknowledged such concerns during the company’s event Wednesday, saying:,“My AI certainly makes plenty of mistakes, so you can’t rely on it for advice, but it’s definitely entertaining.”

Geoffrey Fowler: Snapchat tried to make a safe AI. It chats with me about booze and sex.

The pivot toward creators is likely driven by Snapchat’s own engagement numbers. The company said that creators currently in the Stories revenue-sharing program have been posting more frequently, and that the total number of users watching Stories from content creators in the United States has more than doubled year over year, further underscoring that interest in creator-driven content is rising.

There have been signs that Snapchat would pivot toward more creator content. In 2019, Snapchat began featuring more Stories from content creators in its Discover media tab. But creators’ public profiles remained separate from their personal accounts, and there was no discovery mechanism for ordinary users.

After TikTok gained traction and the content creator industry boomed during the pandemic, Snapchat launched Spotlight in November 2020. Snapchat offered cash payouts to users who achieved the most views on the platform, at one point doling out over $1 million per day to users. Spotlight now has more than 350 million monthly active users, according to the company, and time spent watching Spotlight content grew over 170 percent year-over-year.

Still, getting discovered on Snapchat and building a following as an average user remained challenging. Discovery features were excluded from earlier versions of the app, in line with the company’s focus on privacy and close friends. The changes are intended to make that content more visible.

Snapchat’s delay in responding to users interest in leveraging the platform to become a creator cost it popular accounts. The first generation of homegrown Snapchat stars, such as Shaun McBride and Michael Platco, moved their efforts to platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, which offer more robust creator support and discovery tools.

Snapchat reaches over 750 million monthly active users around the globe, according to a February investor update, including over 150 million monthly users in North America alone. More than 5 billion Snaps — a photo or short video sent to someone that disappears shortly after — are created every day on average, and 75 percent of 13-to-34-year-olds in more than 20 countries use the app on a monthly basis.

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