Snapchat’s last mega-update, in April 2015, signaled how completely it just gets emoji. The new version ditched the feature that showed everyone which users you’ve snapped the most (RIP, but thank god you’re gone, friendship-ruiner) and replaced it with an emoji code. The gold heart means best friends; the smirk means you’re their best friend but they’re not yours. But the most important is fire. Fire means you’re on a Snapstreak — that your snapping is consistent and good and true, as is your relationship. Snapstreaks are as real as it gets. But if you and your partner don’t snap each other for 24 hours, it’s all over and you may as well end things immediately.
You’ve been party to the heartbreaking end of a Snapstreak, left questioning the friendship — or, worse yet, guiltily realizing that you were responsible for the death of the streak. The hours had ticked by, and you, ignorant of the time, let that snap sit and the streak die. But no more. A new emoji has been introduced to the Snapchat code: the hourglass. It indicates that your streak is close to ending and you need to send a snap to keep it alive.
It is a stressful and useful tool, and it’s also bound to have an effect on the emoji outside Snapchat. The platform’s pervasive use of emoji has transcended its own app — witness DJ Khaled’s Snapchat use of the key emoji, which has been transformed across the social web. The is so, so much more than a key. Already, Emojipedia has updated its definition of the hourglass to include its new meaning. Whereas once it represented the passage of time, now it’s more loaded. Consider ⏳ for all future subtweets.
This piece originally appeared in the April 1, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.