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Acquisition Of Zenly, Launch Of Snap Map Highlight Snapchat’s Real-World, Real-Time Influence

Powered by Mapbox, OpenStreetMaps, and DigitalGlobe, Snap Map is billed as a 'living, breathing location tool designed to inspire users to take action.

Snap, the parent company of social messaging app Snapchat, has been adding a variety of location tech tools at a rapid pace lately, and the debut of Snap Maps with the platform’s latest update is further demonstration of how its images and animations are intended to affect users’ activity in the physical world.

Launched the same week as its big appearance at Cannes Lions, where Snap’s branded yellow ferris wheel dominated the skyline in the seaside French town, Snap Map is being billed as a new map experience for its users.

In essence, Snap Map lets Snapchatters show and see what’s happening around their friends. As opposed to most social media uses of location, Snap Map is not about where you are and directions for how to get somewhere.

In addition, after suggesting certain similarities between Snap Map and French social location app, Zenly, Techcrunch broke the news that Snap acquired the company for between $250- and $350 million dollars in May, citing anonymous sources.

While Techcrunch contends that Snap Map is built directly on Zenly’s location sharing capabilities, the similarities actually appear to be merely skin deep.

Attribution is commonly required in map-based apps to indicate the technologies and geospatial data used in the application.

The companies listed on the Snap Map’s attribution page are all suppliers — directly or indirectly — to Snap Map. Typically, a map platform puts together a number of different data sources, synthesizes them into the various map layers and then delivers them to the application. That indicates that Snap Map is built on Mapbox, not Zenly.

There is an obvious similarity between the two. And Snap has acknowledged that it purchased Zenly several months ago, sources said. That similarity may be due to Zenly having been built on Mapbox as well — as are thousands of other customized map-based applications.

Offline Activity Brought Selectively Online

The map itself is powered by a trio of location data visualization and geospatial tech providers: Mapbox, OpenStreetMaps, and satellite imagery vendor DigitalGlobe.

The activity on the map is seen through Snap “Actionmojis”– a new type of Bitmoji, which users can download separately to create a new avatar on Snapchat, the company said in its blog post announcement.

The idea essentially updates what other mobile apps from Swarm to France’s Zenly is to connect members of a social network together based on where they are and what they’re doing in the moment.

“In a lot of ways, we’re taking what a map is and turning it upside down,” Jack Brody, a product designer at Snap, told Refinery29’s Madeline Buxton. “This map isn’t about where am I, it’s about where are my friends and what are they up to? It’s not about figuring out how to get to your destination, but about discovering where you want to go.”

The nature of Snapchat, unlike say Facebook or Twitter, indicates a greater level of actual friendship in “real life” and its use of location reflects that level of intimacy: roughly 60 percent of the interactions on Snapchat are between close friends, according to a study called Circles of Influence from Sparkler, US data, commissioned by Snap.

To use and view Snap Map, app users simply pinch to zoom out from the Snapchat “camera.” The Snap Map is a new layer on top of the current Snapchat experience. The first time Snapchatters open Snapchat after updating their app, they’ll be taken through an explanation outlining how to find the Map and how it works.

Showing Snapchat’s Playful And Serious Sides

At the moment, there are no branded sponsorships available in Snap Map, the way they are through Snapchat’s Geofilters, which have been available to marketers for two years, starting with McDonald’s in Aug. 2015.

For Snap, The Map is another place for it showcase its users creativity in the app’s “Our Story” feature, which feature public posts. Users can also opt-out of wide sharing of their Map stories through the “Ghost Mode” privacy setting.

In general, Snaps are available to view on the Map for about 24 hours, though they may be found for a longer period through the app’s search.

A visual “Heat Map” within the feature can be used to point other users to a special event or breaking news at a particular place and are sorted through Snap’s algorithm.

Thumbnails will also help Snapchatters distinguish points of interest where a lot of Snaps are regularly being taken and submitted regularly, like Times Square or a major attraction, as well as those events that the Snap team has more of a hand in curating.

The addition of Snap Map comes a week after the company struck a partnership with geo-data specialist Factual’s Global Places data, which contains real-time info on more than 100 million places across 52 countries. Days before that deal, Snap acquired attribution platform Placed. That purchase came after months of assembling location data and digital presence knowledge from partners such as Foursquare and Yext (full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here).

Last August, Snap acquired mobile search and local recommendation app Vurb for a reported $110+ million to help promote discovery of local places.

Snap Map Making — And Breaking — News

While Snap tends to take things a bit more cautiously when it comes to marketing, the company has been trying to demonstrate how it, like Facebook/Instagram and Twitter, can serve as an additional distribution channel for news sites and publications. Given the inherently local quality of news, the use of Snap Map could be used to enhance Snapchat’s appeal to publishers.

As Brody tells Refinery29, Snap wants to prove it has a serious side as well as a playful side.  For example, Brody points to the first test of its mapping capabilities during construction site’s crane accident in Feb. 2016. Snapchat users began sharing details of the incident through the Our Stories view.

Brody’s summary of Snapchat’s role in spreading information is particularly telling for traditional news organizations still trying to catch up to the speed f social media: “That was this moment of ‘we have something here,'” Brody says. “We had newsworthy content 10 minutes before the first news company actually arrived.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.