Meet the new Snapchat ... same as the old Snapchat?

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The new, new Snapchat
The new, new Snapchat  Credit: Snapchat

Snapchat has once again updated its look, hoping to win back users who hated an ad-friendly redesign from earlier this year. The company began rolling out the tweaks to its failed redesign last week, but that just set off another round of -- perhaps predictable -- criticism.

"Snapchat has been moving away from its roots," says one agency executive on the condition of anonymity. "It's been bending to the world of advertising rather than what's best for users."

Snapchat's newest update was meant to fix the parts people hated about a January redesign, which drew online protests from famous Snapchatters including Kylie Jenner and Chrissy Teigen. The new fixes have done little to mollify the disgruntled, with many online commenters are expressing frustration over the costant tinkering. It seems Snapchat is simply damned if they do -- and damned if they don't -- try to right the recent design wrongs.

"The Snapchat update gets worse and worse every single time and it's honestly so annoying," one Twitter user wrote. "As soon as I get start getting used to Snapchat's update," read another Twitter message. "Snapchat changes again."

Still, app revolts are typically short lived. There was a brief moment of outrage over Twitter when it implemented algorithms. In Snapchat's case, though, the recent mutiny has had a measurable impact: a drop in users.

Snapchat has 191 million daily users in the first quarter, an average of all three months, but it said that the number slipped in the final month. At the same time, user satisfaction plummeted as a result of the redesign, according to a YouGov survey released last week. The polling firm tracked the app's consumers for the past two years, and the score, measuring favorable and negative impressions, dropped 73 percent since January.

Advertisers, too, have been slow to jump into the app. "It's just not a standard buy for most brands," says the anonymous digital ad agency executive. Snapchat's ad revenue disappointed last quarter. The company made $230 million, when many Wall Street analysts expected closer to $245 million.

The original redesign introduced an algorithm based on people's interests, which was meant to get people to consume more media. It was one way Snapchat tried to create a more advertiser-friendly enivronment. The professional media was all put in one location under the Discover section of the app, separate from the personal messaging.

"Your friends aren't content. They're relationships," CEO Evan Spiegel said at the time of the original redesign announcement. "That's why today we're separating the 'social' from the 'media.'"

The intitial redesign attempt.
The intitial redesign attempt. Credit: Snapchat

That philosophy led to a fundamental change to the app, though, and people stopped seeing certain video stories from friends, which no longer appeared alongside the video stories from professional media companies and web celebrities. Stories from friends were getting lost for many users, because Snapchat also reordered the way it showed messages on the personal side of the app. No longer in reverese chronological order, Snapchat began showing content to people dictated by an algorithm meant to highlight what users would most likely find interesting.

Snapchat kept all friends' content on the left side of the app, and put all the media to the right.

Early Snapchat layouts featured stories and messages from friends on a screen shared with professional media.
Early Snapchat layouts featured stories and messages from friends on a screen shared with professional media. Credit: Snapchat
With the updated redesign, Snapchat has made some key adjustments: Friends' video stories are back alongside the professional media and web celebrities in the Discover section. Also, the personal side of the app shows messages in reverse chronological order again.

The redesign of the redesign also confused some of Snapchat's closest observers: the Wall Street analysts that cover the company for investors.

"They're trying to find the right content strategy, but it's not particularly clear," says Rich Greenfield, analyst with BTIG Research. "Living with a mistake is worse than changing a mistake. The question is if this is the right fix, and we don't know yet."

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