IPO-newby Snapchat introduced its new feature ‘Snap Maps’ on June 21st, 2017. With the new map function, Snapchat users are offered the possibility to disclose their own location while also seeing the position of their friends. According to the Venice Beach based company, the new feature is supposed to facilitate spontaneous meet-ups. Users have the possibility to share their location publicly, only with selected friends, or not at all.

The French startup Zenly, which was bought by Snapchat for several million dollars, is essentially responsible for developing the new feature. The utilization is rather easy: while in camera mode, one just zooms in with two fingers. A map with the own location will appear immediately, allowing the user to zoom in and out and move around as desired.

Find events with heat maps

Besides the locations of private persons, ‘Snap Maps’ will also show heatmaps. Heat maps indicate places with bigger crowds gathering, as it is the case with concerts, festivals, exhibitions, or other major events. One tap on the heat map and the user gets to see a compilation of snaps from the specific event. Now we can enjoy live impressions from a concert in the USA, a mass at the Vatican, or just take a peek at what’s happening all over the world – all while sitting at home on our couch.

If you’re at an event yourself, you can post snaps directly to ‘our story’, the collective story of all Snapchat users. Based on the geolocation, snaps will be matched to an event on the heat map and are then visible for all users all over the world. For influencers, this is a great way to get new followers of their own target audience.

Fear of stalking and mobbing

The biggest criticism of the new feature is the possibility to be found against one’s will. Once activated, the app will not ask again who you want to share your location with – although you’re always able to change the settings, but this has to be initiated proactively. Without the need for approval, the app will update your location when opened. Given this, users should be cautious when choosing who to share the location with from the beginning. The very precise display of one’s location, paired with an inconsiderate snap like “I’m home alone today!” or “My parents are on vacation and I’m going to party now!” (leaving the house empty) are a paradise for stalkers and criminals. For this reason, the new feature should be used very carefully.

Snap Maps as distinction to Insta Stories

By launching the new feature, Snapchat seems to hope to have found a way to draw a line to Instagram. Until now, the platform has offered every Snapchat update very soon after the introduction, slowing down the growth of Snapchat. It is questionable whether Instagram will try to copy this feature as well. Snapchat is built on the personal relationships of users amongst each other – which is why ‘Snap Maps’ is supposed to encourage spontaneous encounters with Snapchat-friends. On Instagram on the other hand, we’re following a lot of people we do not have a personal relationship with, making the map function rather irrelevant for Instagram.