It may be the original direct picture and video sharing app, but Snapchat has, despite common misconceptions, never been a social media platform in the traditional sense.
It was created by founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy to be the nearest thing to communicating with friends in person, allowing users to send short videos and images directly to each other, which, much like a regular conversation, would disappear as quickly as they arrive.
But unlike Twitter or Instagram, discovering new people and profiles outside of your immediate friendship groups was never its aim.
That’s all about to change with the launch of Spotlight, however.
Launching on Monday in the Middle East, Spotlight will, for the first time, offer Snapchat users the opportunity to see their content go viral, as well as discover trending videos from around the world.
What exactly is Spotlight?
Spotlight is housed in its own tab within the Snapchat app, and will offer users a landing page where they can discover the most entertaining Snaps from the Snapchat community all in one place. This is tailored individually to each Snapchatter over time based on their preferences and favourites.
Think of it as a TikTok-esque feed that will allow you to track trending videos or topics, discover new users and see your own Snapchat videos go viral.
How does Spotlight work?
The best part about Spotlight is that users have complete control over which of their videos they want to share from their private accounts to the more public feed. When they are selecting who and where to share their latest Snap, they can choose to send it to the Spotlight feed – and they can also opt to do so anonymously.
This means that when their video does appear on the Spotlight explore page, it will do so without the user’s profile name and information, giving them a chance to share their content without their information being widely available.
For users under the age of 16, this happens automatically. Anyone over the age of 16 has the option to choose.
What is the benefit of keeping things private?
Effectively, it means everyone can be a content creator. And earn from it (as long as they are over 16). While Spotlight also offers plenty of scope for more professional content creators to gain notoriety and see their profiles boosted, it also offers a fair shot to those who don't necessarily want to be in front of the camera themselves, but still share their content with the world.
"If you post a snap to Spotlight, you do not have to have a public profile, so you can post it completely privately. You can post it publicly if you want to, but we didn't want people to feel like they had to put themselves out there to be judged against professional content creators or to be judged by the community," a representative for Snapchat told The National. "But if they had created great content, we didn't want them to be discouraged from posting it.
“We also have no public comments whatsoever, because even though they can be a positive, they can also create a really negative space, and we didn’t want that. And we also didn’t want to have big public accounts and follow accounts, because we felt that what that ends up creating is a walled garden of people who can get distribution and earn money from their content and, from our perspective, we wanted to democratise that as much as possible, because we see that as another barrier.
"So we purposefully chose to create a process of distribution and earning that meant if you have two followers or you have 10 million followers, you have exactly the same chance of distribution, and exactly the same chance of earning money from your content.”
So how exactly is content distributed on Spotlight?
Every single piece of content submitted to Spotlight goes through the exact same process. Each Snap is pre-moderated by both a computer and a human before it gets distributed to ensure it does not breach any of Snapchat’s content regulations.
When a Snap is submitted, it will be tagged with certain topics – for example "funny", "dance", "dog" – and it will be shown alongside other pieces of content in the same category. Once one Snap surpasses a certain number of views, say 100, it will move up to the next category to be shown alongside similar videos with, say, 1,000 views, and so on.
The more likes and views a video gets, the wider its distribution. How widely the video is shared has no bearing on how many followers the person’s profile has – it is purely based on how engaging that piece of content is, meaning everyone has a fair shot at going viral, and, eventually, earning money from that content. The earning mechanic is linked entirely to the view count.
One example from the UK, where Spotlight launched in November, is from a student called Jack, 19, who was using his Snapchat camera to film his cat in a video he planned to send to his mum. The cat had climbed on to the roof to jump through the window, but slipped and managed to cling on with its claws. Jack decided to anonymously post the video to Spotlight, and went on to earn £20,000 ($28,000) from it, despite his profile being completely private.
The content you see on your Spotlight page will be decided by an algorithm based on your specific interests, which is tailored over time around topics you follow and the videos you like, favourite and interact with. It will also take other factors into account, such as your local language and region.
What about professional content creators?
Snapchat is also conscious not to alienate professional content creators and is offering them an incentive to keep their content on the platform with the creation of brand profiles for those people.
These brand profiles will offer influencers the chance to post their content directly to their page to be discovered, as well as receive replies from people.
It won’t change how their content is distributed in the Spotlight feed, but it will allow people to search directly for their favourite creators and view the content that way, too.
Snapchat and the Middle East
Snapchat has more than 75 million users in the Mena region, making it one of the platform’s biggest global markets. And the launch of Spotlight is only set to further strengthen this.
"Across our region specifically, Snapchatters have long understood the holistic value proposition of the platform – whether in chat, maps, stories or content – but have been asking for ways to share their content more broadly,” says Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc in the Middle East.
“Spotlight is thus an exciting new addition, a result of careful thought and insight into what our community wants, likes and values. It is also built with our privacy-by-design philosophy, with the well-being of our community front and centre.
“Our hope is that Spotlight continues to break down barriers to content creation and by democratising both distribution and the ability to earn, encourages Snapchatters to be creative and express themselves.”
Spotlight is available for Snapchat users in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, the UAE, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Palestinian Territory, Libya and Iraq.