snapchat context card

Snapchat just revealed a major update to its user experience: On Tuesday, the company unveiled Context Cards, a new discovery tool that conjures contextual information about users’ Snaps and offers a connection point for other services.

The company declined to offer comment, but in its blog post, it described the feature as “a new way to learn more about what you see on Snapchat.” Shares that feature Context Cards include a “More” link at the bottom of the screen. Users merely swipe up to see basic contact information, then a stream of details — including restaurant reviews and reservations, ride-hailing details, maps and other info — as well as any other relevant Snaps from other people.

Context Cards pull in a trove of data that’s viewable directly within the app. From there, users can engage with partner services, including TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Michelin, Goop, OpenTable, Uber and Lyft, among others.

“We’re excited to be offering a new way for Snapchatters to book thousands of our restaurants that they see in Snaps,” said Catherine Porter, OpenTable’s senior vice president of strategy and business development. OpenTable counts more than 43,000 restaurants in its reservation network.

The cards won’t be loaded into all posts — only those tagged with Snap’s venue-specific geo-filters, or shares that have been submitted to its public “Our Story” product and appear in Snap Map or Search. True to its ephemeral nature, some Snaps will disappear after 24 hours, while others will remain longer. In the future, partners will also be able to embed images.

The feature will be available to iOS and Android users in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The update could mark a turning point for Snap Inc., which has seen seven turbulent months since it went public. Its stock has lost almost 40 percent of its value over that time and investors have grown increasingly nervous about its trajectory.

Granted, monetization is uniquely challenging for social media companies. For instance, even as Twitter works on expanding features for its 300 million monthly active users — reportedly a “save for later” button being its latest — the micro-messaging company still can’t seem to appeal to advertisers. Its ad revenue fell 8 percent, year-over-year, to $489.1 million in the second quarter.

But “camera-first” network Snapchat offers a different proposition than the text-based service. Photos and videos, the lifeblood of the visual web, are powerfully engaging for users and therefore fundamentally appealing to marketers. That puts the visual-web troika of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat in advantageous positions — assuming, that is, they can figure out an approach that won’t turn off their respective users.

The deeply difficult task of foisting marketing into authentic social conversations may be more art than science. Social media companies have been experimenting with various approaches for years. Pinterest carefully crafted Promoted Pins so that they fit in with other users’ pins. In 2015, the company, which earns all of its money from advertisements, generated $100 million in revenue; the figure tripled in 2016, coming in at $300 million. This year, it’s expected to rake in $500 million to $600 million.

Instagram doesn’t reveal numbers, but analysts estimate 2017 ad revenue between $4 billion and $6 billion, largely powered by features like its rather Snap-esque “Stories” feed. It also has the vast resources and backing of its tech giant parent Facebook, which nabbed $9.32 billion in ad revenue in the second quarter alone.

Snapchat’s 2017 advertising revenue is expected to clock in at $774.1 million, slightly ahead of Pinterest, but far short of Instagram.

The company has been busy trying to close the gap and pushing constant development. Within mere weeks, Snapchat revealed 3-D Bitmoji avatars and new lenses. But this latest change could be the major inflection point — read, advertising pipeline — it needs.

As for context, there’s some of that beyond the Snap universe as well. Efforts like Context Cards flip the script for search: Instead of pecking out text to find resources, people use images as vehicles driving discovery. This is precisely the goal of the world’s top photo-oriented networks and tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Amazon. In that way, Snapchat’s approach is indicative of a larger trend, and how its advertisers and users respond could help inform the visual web’s next generation of search and e-commerce.