How to Use Snapchat: Share Vanishing Photos with Snap Chat

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Snapchat Sign Up Is Easy: Using Snap Chat Takes Minutes to Learn

Snapchat signup
Snapchat signup screen.

Snapchat is a mobile messaging app for sharing pictures that disappear. It sends photos and then deletes them from the recipient's phone within seconds after they're viewed. The free Snap Chat app is available for iPhone, iOs and Android mobile phones and other devices. Messages are similar to SMS text messaging, so it's a free way to message without paying phone carrier messaging fees.

Snapchat is widely (and controversially) used by young people for sexting, or sending messages with sexually suggestive/explicit photos, videos, and text. The ephemeral nature of the images shared -- users can set it up so the recipient sees the image for only a few seconds or up to 10 seconds -- has made this messaging program the target of parental ire. Many parents worry that Snapchat encourages inappropriate and risky messaging activity because senders think their actions are only temporary.

That said, the app has proven popular with young people who have been sharing millions of photos a day via the simple free app available from Apples iTunes App store and Google Play. As of spring 2014, the company said its users were sending 700 million pictures and videos each day via the "self-destructing" messages it calls "snaps."

Sign Up for Snapchat With Your Email Address

Snapchat is easy to use. You download the app for free and then sign up for a free  account on the opening screen that appears to first time you launch it (the opening Snap chat sign up screen is shown in the image above.) It asks for your email address, birthday and a password which you create. No confirmation email is sent.

After you provide your email and create a password, on the next screen you'll be invited to create a short user name. You won't be able to change your Snapchat user name later, though, so stop and think before creating your password. It also offers the option to verify your new account via a message sent to your phone (you can skip the step but it's generally a good idea to do it.)

Once you're signed in, you can import your friends' contact info from Facebook or your phone's address book/contact list. Just click the "Find friends" link.

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Snapchat Interface: Camera Button, Captioning, Timer and Send

Snapchat screen
Snapchat screen. Snapchat screenshot by Leslie Walker

The Snapchat interface is so simple that using it is easy and intuitive. The initial view is basically a camera icon with a big round blue circle at the bottom. You click the blue circle (shown on the left in the image above) to take a picture.

After taking a picture, you can add a caption, set the timer for viewing, select who to send it to and click "send."

Adding a Caption or Drawing On Top of a "Snap" Photo

You can add a caption by tapping the image on the screen, which will bring up your keyboard, allowing you to type your text. That part isn't entirely intuitive, but after you figure it out, it's easy to remember.

Alternatively or in addition, you can click the small pencil icon at the upper right, and then draw your text or an image directly on top of your image. A little sliding color picker will appear, allowing you to choose what color you want to draw with. Use your finger to draw on screen which will create a layer on top of the image.

Set the Timer for Viewing Time

Next, you will set the message timer (as seen in the right of the two screenshots shown above) to decide how long the people you send it to will get to see your image. You can set the timer for up to 10 seconds.

After you write or draw a caption, you click the "Send" button at bottom right to call up your list of Snapchat friends and select your recipients. (Alternatively, you can always click the "X" icon shown in the upper left side of your screen to delete the image without sending it to anyone. And you can click the icon at the bottom of the screen to save it to your phone's photo gallery.)

If you like, the app can search your phone contacts/address book or your Facebook friends list to identify friends. You can also send the image to more than one friend at the same time, simply by clicking the radio buttons beside their names.

Before the image goes out, the app will ask you to confirm who you're sending it to and how long you want it to be shown by showing the time and recipient's name.

After it's sent, the recipient will be able to see the image only for the exact number of seconds you selected in the timer. He or she could, of course, take a screengrab, but they'd have to be quick. And if your friend does take a screenshot of your picture, you'll get a notice from the app that they did so. It will appear in your list of snap messaging activity, beside the recipient's name.

Do Snapchat Pictures Really Self-Destruct?

Yes, they do. The app is designed to delete the pictures and videos from the sender's phone after they are viewed.

However, that does not mean the recipient can't make a copy of the file BEFORE viewing it. And that's an important loophole that people using Snapchat should be aware of, because it essentially means the images users send with the app could be copied by the recipient--provided the recipient is technologically savvy enough to know how to find and copy the file before opening it on their phone. That likely will get harder to do over time as Snapchat improves its security and technology.

Think twice before you send something - that's just standard social media etiquette. Read this if you need to delete Snapchat conversations, messages and stories.

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Snapchat for Android and iPhone

Snapchat welcome screen
Snapchat welcome screen. ©Snapchat

The free Snapchat photo messaging app is available for both iPhone/iOS and Android devices. Here's where you can download the apps:

Snap's Philosophy: "Shared, Not Saved"

Snapchat's tagline is "real-time picture chatting." On its website, Snapchat says that the company's philosophy is, "There is value in the ephemeral. Great conversations are magical. That's because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved."

The founders compare it to passing notes in class and say people may like an alternative to the more permanent storage of the messages on Facebook. By contrast, snap photos and videos are meant to be impermanent and ephemeral media, more like conversation than anything else.

Facebook Poke - Too Little, Too Late?

Facebook released a free copycat app called Poke in December 2012 that also lets users share photos that disappear after viewing. Poke offers similar features to Snapchat, such as text overlays or captioning right on the image. Poke also offers the ability to send text-only messages that vanish after viewing, too.

But Poke didn't prove to be anywhere near as popular as Snapchat, and its owner wound up removing it from from the Apple iTunes apps store in May 2014. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for a reported $3 billion in 2013, but Snapchat's founders turned down the offer.

Facebook's Slingshot: Trying Again

In June 2014, Facebook released another disappearing message app in an apparent attempt to compete with Snapchat. Called Slingshot, its twist is that the recipient has to send a message back before they can view the incoming message.