Snapchat: the technology behind its Filters

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Snapchat: 200 millions of active global users, 10 billions of video views every day, 673.000 active users in Italy. Snapchat is 2016’s application, at least one of the platforms most interesting at the moment. Used above all by a teenage audience (61% of Snapchat users are from 16 to 24 years old), Snapchat was launched in 2011 by Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel as an instant messaging smartphone application, in which messages disappeared a few seconds after they were viewed. In only 5 years, though, Snapchat evolved, thank also to the technology behind its filters, one the most appreciated functions.

How Snapchat works, and who uses it

Snapchat is all about the content a user shares, which is the most important feature: when you open the app, in fact, the first thing you will see is your camera turned on, a sort of implicit invitation to share content. Snaps can be sent to your contacts, and this will allow them to see the content for a few seconds, or to be inserted in your “Story”, a collection of every snap of yours in the last 24 hours.

But what kind of content are we talking about? Pictures and eight-second videos, to which you can add notes (beware the number of characters!), emojis or filters (we’ll get there).

Some broadcaster and digital publishers – as of now only in USA (for example Mashable, CNN, Vice and a few else) – can use Snapchat Discover as well, where they publish native editorial content, adapted to Snapchat’s layout.

In Snapchat stories users share the little moments of their day, but the platform itself allows them to add a little pepper to their stories proposing nice filters to apply to their faces. But what are Snapchat Filters?

How Snapchat Filters work

Filters are among the most appreciated functions in Snapchat by users: they are illustrations or effects added to pictures or videos shared on Snapchat. If you never saw them, then you’ll be pleased to discover that the photos where your friends have a flower crown or rabbit ears are Snapchat filters.

Users call them Filters, but Snapchat calls them “Lenses”: as reported by Vox, “they are very silly, but the engineering behind them is serious.” It’s an augmented reality application, coming from a Ukrainian startup called “Looksery”, acquired by Snapchat on September 2015 for $150m (this made the greates technology acquisition in Ukraine).

Specifically, the technological field is called “computer vision”: some applications use pixel data from your camera in order to identify objects and interpret the three-dimensional space around it (it’s the same technology that Facebook uses to recognize people on the pictures, and that self-driving cars use to avoid other vehicles).

 

In the beginning, the computer is able to identify the part of the body shooted by the camera. But how? All the computer sees is a code, representing different colors and the contrast between these. And this is not enough, because until here the computer can only understand that there is a face (that’s what phone cameras do as well, with the square boxes around faces when you take a picture). The next step is the study of the distance between the elements of your face. Among all Snapchat filters, in fact, there are some putting lipstick on your lips, changing the color of your eyes and the tongue of a dog.

snapchat filters snapchat lenses

Source: Wikihow

The Snapchat filters’ technology is very complicated, but it’s at service of something very simple, available in real-time and entertainment-oriented.

Is it worth to use so much technology for something that simple? Where is the economic return on investment? In advertising opportunities, of course! In an era where consumers – especially the youngest – pay attention for just a few seconds, brands are having a hard time to be effective with their marketing messages. This makes sponsored filters in Snapchat a real opportunity of brands, allowing them to be remembered, because of their application in a fun and ludic context.

Snapchat geofiltri sponsorizzati

Watch Vox’s video to discover more:

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