Snap Developer Conference Recap: The Local Edition

This is the latest in Localogy’s Skate To Where the Puck is Going series. Running semi-weekly, it examines the moves and motivations of tech giants as leading indicators for where markets are moving. Check out the entire series here, and its origin here


By now you may have heard about Snap’s big developer conference last week. The company announced several updates including a new UX and navigation bar. But among all of the new features and developer tools, a few relate directly to facilitating local commerce and SMB marketing.

So we’ve rounded up those items for Localogy Insider readers, and unpacked them each below. So here’s our Snap Developer Conference Recap: The Local Edition.

1. New Snap Map: Now with business listings 

Snap Map was an existing feature that let Snapchat users find each other on an opt-in basis. That included the ability to have serendipitous offline meetups with nearby friends. But now it has a commerce-oriented outcome: business listings.  Snap Maps’ 200 million users can now search and discover local businesses.

This notably brings a local search use case to Snapchat for the first time. Sort of like Apple’s forays into local search and mapping, Snap will rely on third-party partners in various vertical areas to assemble the necessary data. So far, that includes Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates.

But most notably, it will offer SMB advertising on a self-serve basis. Like every tech company that gazes at local’s long tail SMB opportunity, there could be a looming reality check regarding the longstanding challenges of how they buy (or don’t buy) advertising on a DIY basis. Niantic recently did something similar.

Strategic Takeaway: It will have to be seen if Snapchat’s user base is interested in using it for local search with real commerce and offline transactional intent. If so, this could be a powerful new competitor in local search, especially among Snapchat’s Millennial and Gen-Z user base. It’s also uncertain if the search capability is on par with others that users have come to know, such as Google Maps. Meanwhile, Snap’s reliance on third-party data signals a potential opportunity for local data and listings players. The self-serve orientation likewise signals an opportunity for local media resellers or agencies who can bundle Snap local advertising with their current offerings and help get SMBs onboarded.

2. Location-based AR

This update likewise stems from existing Snapchat features. Snap’s Landmarkers AR templates let developers build AR effects around famous waypoints like the Eiffel Tower and U.S. Capitol Building. This lets Snapchat get the most bang for its machine-learning buck by concentrating on high-traffic destinations.

Now Snap is taking the more ambitious course of AR graphics anywhere in the physical world. This is a computational challenge in having spatial maps that have already charted all these streets & surfaces (sort of like how Street View has visually mapped local places). This is an area of AR known as the AR cloud.

Without getting into too far into the technical nuances, world-immersive AR needs spatial maps and point clouds in order to properly place graphics in the right place. This includes spatial understanding (surfaces, contours) and semantic understanding (knowing the difference between Bill’s Bakery and Tom’s Tavern)

Most AR players are working in different ways to solve this challenge, including crowdsourcing that spatial mapping (Niantic/6d.ai), and composites of 2D image libraries (Facebook/Scape and Google Live View). Snapchat will take the latter approach, given all of the geotagged imagery it already has from shared Snaps.

If all goes well on the back end, the outcome is the ability to leave persistent AR graphics on local spots. The use case that Snap has promoted is more about fun and whimsy, including “painting” the world with digital and expressive grafiti. But it could also include user-generated local annotations.

Strategic Takeaway: If Snap can pull off the spatial mapping aspects (and get people to use it) local annotations on physical buildings could have lots of SMB marketing implications. SMB “presence” could gain another channel in these digital overlays. This could be an extension of the work they already do to maintain and optimize listings, reviews, and other content in web and mobile channels. This would be a sort of visual SEO as I’ve been calling it, involving digital overlays that indicate hours of operations, specials, menu items, etc.

3. Mini-apps

Snap Minis are lightweight HTML 5-based apps that live within Snapchat’s Chat section. This lets third parties play in Snapchat’s sandbox and reach its 229 million daily active users by developing these mini-apps. This will include things like casual games or tools to help schedule and plan things with friends.

Minis launch partners include Coachella (coordinate and plan your festival experience); Headspace (launch meditation sessions and send to friends); and Movie Tickets by Atom (choose showtimes, watch trailers and purchase tickets). These obviously span a wide range of use cases, including lots of local possibilities.

In other words, the transactional functionality makes this a potentially powerful tool for users to discover, plan and transact local activities such as dining out. The proxy here is what WeChat has done in China. It’s similarly a chat-based app that has become a launchpad for mini-apps and transactional experiences.

Strategic Takeaway: If this can catch on among Snap users (who are generally very adoptive and tech-forward) there’s strong potential as a local discovery and transactional tool. The potential benefit here for developers and local commerce startups is to operate within Snap’s walled garden and gain additional distribution by developing Minis apps.

Honorable mention: SnapML

Over the past few years Snap has fueled its AR lens business by stimulating community creation. That’s involved a series of releases and evolutionary steps for its Lens Studio platform including creator profiles for better discovery, and compelling lens creation tools. The latest move along those lines is Snap ML.

This essentially lets developers BYOML (bring your own machine learning). So those that want to play inside of Snap’s walled garden for additional traction and distribution can migrate existing AR experiences into Lens Studio. Snap wins from a broader slate of AR, and developers win from greater distribution.

Snap ML launch partners include Wannabe’s popular shoe try-on AR app, and Prisma’s signature artistic selfie renderings. These are mostly branding plays, but could evolve into lots of local search and commerce use cases that tap into Snap’s Scan tool. Sort of like Google Lens, this could identify local storefronts.

This would make SnapML relate to and support the above location-based AR efforts. With a training set of local imagery, an ML-fueled tool could allow Snapchat users to point their phones at storefronts to get information from that business or user-generated content, as noted. SnapML makes it possible for someone to build that.

 

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