Story is a post format that was first introduced in 2011 with the launch of the instant messaging service Snapchat. Because these story posts were so successful, the format was adopted by the Facebook subsidiary Instagram in August 2016. It is now available on all common social media platforms with more or less the same functionality but differs in name on WhatsApp (Status) and Twitter (Moments).
Where did the story format come from?
Until Snapchat introduced the story format in October 2013, social media was characterized by long-lived posts and news feeds. The images, videos and text status updates that users posted on their profiles remained available until the users deleted them themselves. With the introduction of the story, Snapchat wanted to counter this longevity of data and information on the Internet, in line with its self-image.
“Snapchat is not about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It’s about creating communication that reflects the full range of human emotions – not just what seems beautiful or perfect,” Snapchat announced on its company blog in May 2012.
What is a story?
First of all, the term story is misleading. Compared to the usual social media posts (German, among others: Postsendung ), which, thanks to the name, convey a relatively fast pace, a story sounds like a longer narrative or a coherent plot.
Rather, in the context of social media, the story is a format based primarily on visual elements such as graphics, photos, filters, and stickers. Users take photos or record short video sequences and share them via their profile as a story. The individual images are only displayed for a few seconds.
A story consisting of several photos or videos runs automatically like a sequence: friends and followers are shown the first image for about 10 seconds, then the display changes to the next upload (video or photo), then to the third, then to the fourth , fifth, and so on until the end of the story is reached.
The uploaded and shared media have a default half-life of just 24 hours. After that, the individual elements of the story are automatically deleted from the platforms 24 hours after their upload. This means that not the complete story of a day is removed, but each part individually.
Some platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram now allow stories to be stored long-term as a reminder (Snapchat) or archive (Instagram) via an additional function, where users can delete them at a later date.
The difference to a regular post
A story is characterized by two essential characteristics as a format that deviates from the well-known social media post:
- They are not immediately and automatically displayed in the newsfeed of other users and followers. If friends want to view a user’s story, they must actively access it manually.
- The second and key differentiating factor is the short lifespan of a story. The individual uploads, which are displayed in a story in a sequence like a slideshow, are automatically deleted 24 hours after their publication.
- Other characteristics of a story are that they are hidden again after an average of 10 seconds or are replaced by subsequent uploads within the story.
Also, users viewing a story cannot manually jump forward or back to individual elements within it to (re)view the next or previous image. If users want to view a photo or video again, they have to watch the entire story again and wait until they get to the element they want.
On most platforms, followers can react to individual parts of the story, but this is usually done in the form of a private message – such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. The user who posted the story will then receive a personal message in the event of a reaction or reply to one or more items.
In the first quarter of 2017, following the success of the Instagram stories, Facebook also introduced the story format on its main platform and in the associated Messenger. In the beginning, the two elements were separate, but now Facebook Stories also appear in the Messenger app, and Messenger Stories appear in the Facebook feed.
Like stories from other social media providers, Facebook Stories are characterized by the fact that they are automatically deleted 24 hours after uploading. Posts can be sent via Facebook either as a status update, as a story or in both formats at the same time. Users can make the selection below the status box.
As of August 2018, 300 million Facebook users used the stories feature regularly.
Facebook Messenger Stories
Similar to directly on the platform, users of the Facebook Messenger app can also choose whether they want to send an update as a direct message to a single friend or a group chat, or whether they want to send it as a story. This is then displayed to friends and followers when they open the Messenger app or as a notification when they visit Facebook regularly.
When Messenger Stories was launched, the feature was still called Messenger Day and was separate from Stories about the actual platform. In the meantime, the two features have been merged and the name Messenger Day was already abolished in 2017 – one year after the function was introduced.
Three years after Snapchat threatened to take over the market with its story innovation, Instagram was striving to undermine the upstart. Namely, by introducing a story format there as well. Not only the idea but also the implementation and usability were strikingly based on the Snapchat original.
With 400 million story users every day (as of 06/2018), Instagram is one of the most successful social media networks to offer this format.
Several updates and expansions later, the story on Instagram has also evolved independently of the innovator Snapchat. On Instagram, users can see who viewed which photos and videos from their own stories. Similar to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, you can share stories privately on Instagram Direct.
Last but not least, Instagram reintroduced a screenshot alert in December 2018 that notifies users when other users save or forward uploads of their profile and stories as screenshots.
Chat and video call provider Skype also gave a short interlude into the hype surrounding the popular story format on social media. The feature introduced in 2017 was called Skype Highlights but differed visibly from the story models on Facebook and Instagram.
Unlike other stories, the highlights were not deleted after 24 hours, but only after a week – the uploader could even continue to view the content for up to 2 years if desired.
In addition, Skype did not make its users’ stories visible to the entire Skype network, but only to contacts who actively followed a person’s highlights. Everyone could also share their story or highlight with a group, manually selected people or individual contacts at any time. Those who had not yet followed the highlights of their contacts up to such a share were invited to do so once. This should prevent unwanted spam from an update glut.
As with other story formats, Skype users could also react to the highlights of their contacts – publicly with an emoji, similar to the reaction icons on Facebook, or in a private chat message with a typed reply.
At the end of 2018, however, Skype said goodbye to its story format. Design boss Peter Skillman said on the company blog that feedback from Skype users led to this decision – they didn’t take the highlights function well and found the usability to be confusing and complicated, which is why Skype decided to go back to basics and prioritize simplicity.
Snapchat was the first social media app based on the principle of short-lived photo stories and quickly became popular, especially among a young target group. Within 2 years of its launch, the US company already had 40 million active users, in 2018 the number was 188 million.
With the introduction of the story format on the social media associated with Facebook, Snapchat lost its unique selling point and has since tried to further develop the story app in various updates. This includes new functions such as the ability to share stories on other social media channels or to play in-app games and transfer the Bitmojis created for this to the profiles of PC games.
On Twitter, the story format is called Moments and was introduced in 2015 – largely unnoticed by the social media world – before Instagram Stories. There are no exact numbers about the use of this format. The function is identified by a lightning symbol.
While normal tweets on the platform are limited by a character limit, Moments allows users to create longer, coherent content. Users can collect their own and other people’s tweets and choose the order themselves. Each moment can be provided with a cover photo, a description and a headline.
Twitter gives each moment its own URL that differs from that of the tweet quoted in it, which means that each part of a moment’s chronology can itself be retweeted and liked. Moments can be edited, supplemented and changed by the creator at any time.
Viewers and Moment creators can then swipe left or right to any Tweet, comment, or image listed in the compilation. Each element of a Twitter story can be liked and shared individually. But it is also possible to share and like moments as a whole. A bar at the bottom of the screen shows the progress of the story viewing.
In 2017, the Google subsidiary YouTube also presented its own story format, which was initially called Reels (German: film roll, bobbin ) but was renamed to Stories, which is common on almost all platforms, within three months of the launch.
However, YouTube’s stories differ from the formats of the other channels in one crucial feature: they are not automatically removed 24 hours after the upload. The uploader can decide for or against the automated deletion. Alternatively, they can specify a custom expiration date or manually delete the Reels clip at any time.
YouTube Stories are video clips, photo sequences or gifs with a maximum length of 30 seconds, which can be individualized with filters, background music, text elements, stickers, drawings, as well as links and tags to other user profiles . A link to a longer video that belongs to the clip or is relevant in terms of content can also be included in the reel content.
With the mobile messaging service WhatsApp, the story format is simply called status. It is possible to post short video clips, text or images with a caption there. As with almost all common story formats, the posts are automatically deleted individually 24 hours after uploading if the user does not remove them manually beforehand.
And as with all platforms and services belonging to Facebook, selecting individual story elements is also not possible with WhatsApp Status. Other users must view the story sequence from the beginning if they want to view certain images again.
Direct commenting on stories or individual elements is not possible with WhatsApp but is done via a reply in the form of a private message. Currently, (status: 04/2019) the sharing of Status by third parties is not possible. As well as sharing your status on other platforms.
However, you can only share personal status with a select group of contacts. Users can regulate this via the data protection settings .
Special case Google AMP Stories
Stories are actually a typical social media format. However, the search engine operator Google has now also recognized its advantages and is taking up the idea with Accelerated Mobile Pages in its news . Thanks to this function, publishers can put together a sequence of self-created or selected videos, texts, photos, graphics and individual website contributions.
Users who click on such an AMP story are not redirected to the actual website. The story view covers the screen, and the user interface takes a back seat. This allows stories to load faster than the actual website content. Users can click in the sidebar to advance to the next element of the story, click an X to close the story and return to the original screen at any time.
The commercial use of the story formats
Most of the social stories were initially purely a supplement for private users. Providers also quickly introduced sponsored stories, which enabled companies to advertise with the story format. At least Facebook is planning to expand ads in the story formats of its platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp).