Snapchat monetizes a feature that runs counter to its reason for being

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Credit: 360b

Snapchat has released an update today that allows its users to pay for the ability to replay the photos and videos their friends send.

While the feature could help the company make some money,it could also damage the perception of ephemerality that made it popular.

People have actually been able to access a single disappeared snap (message, photo, or short video) for a while now. These second chances to see old messages are what the company refers to as a “Replay,” which were previously free and available every 24-hour period. (The first taste is always free.) Now the company wants users to pay 99 cents for a pack of three Replays.

Snapchat has also pulled Replays out from behind several layers of navigation. Instead of living inside the “Manage” section of the app’s “Settings” page, Replays are now available by default. A free-and-hidden feature’s now “freemium” and readily apparent.

It’s similar in concept to Tinder’s decision to restrict the number of people a user is allowed to express interest in each day. The specifics differ — Replay is being expanded instead of restricted — but the concept of asking people to pay for tools they could previously use for free is the same across services.

Yet, this also feels like a much bigger shift. The whole appeal of Snapchat is that most of the content shared to it will be viewed once before it’s sent to oblivion. Making it easier for someone to view one of these items again, thus providing another opportunity for the item to be saved, runs counter to all that.

There is one notable restriction: Users can only Replay an item, whether it’s a photo or a video, once. This means anything sent via the service can be viewed a maximum of twice — provided the item isn’t part of the not-so-ephemeral Stories — at any time. That’s good, but I can’t help but wonder if it will be enough.

For Snapchat, the rules of communication aren’t supposed to be flexible. Tinder could introduce metered matches because the concept of meeting people (whether for hookups or relationships) remained the same. But Snapchat has now popularized and, indeed, monetized, a concept that runs counter to the notions that made it popular in the first place.

Today it’s paying a little less than a buck to re-watch some videos or take another peek at a photo. What might it be later? A few dollars to view a snap more than twice? Doing away with the restriction when teens don’t pay for Replays? Perhaps that won’t happen, but it seems more likely than it did yesterday.

On the upside, now it’s a little clearer why the company has been cracking down on third-party services. I used to think it was because it really believed that people shouldn’t be able to save content sent to them via its service. Now I think the company was just protecting a future monetization strategy.

Oh, the difference a single feature can make.

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