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updated 4/12/2013 2:46:19 PM ET 2013-04-12T18:46:19

Have you noticed a teenage girl making faces at her phone? Chances are, she was sending a Snapchat, the on-fire alternative messaging app that makes iMessage seem dull.

More than 20 million "snaps" are sent each day, primarily by teens, according to a report from investment firm Piper Jaffrey. The analysts neglected to include Snapchat as an option in their survey but had the foresight to ask more than 5,000 teens to specify their favorite social networks. Snapchat ranked third, behind Wanelo (a Pinterest-style site where everything can be bought) and Vine, Twitter's 6-second video app.

Snapchat has gained a reputation for sexting because of its ephemeral feature: A snap disappears within 10 seconds of being opened by a recipient. But Snapchat expert Elizabeth (who also happens to be my daughter), said the accusation is false.

"Snapchat is like texting with pictures — and not for  sexting !” she said. “I don't know anyone who does that." Elizabeth has sent a total of 16,000 snaps since she and her friends began using the app last fall.

Whereas instant messaging is pretty dry, Snapchat is as expressive as the user. Instead of texting the words, "I'm so mad right now," with Snapchat, you would take a photo of your face, add a caption and send. Snapchat also lets users take videos of up to about 15 seconds, but simple photo snaps are the preferred way for teens to chat. (If they really want to video chat, they'll use FaceTime, Elizabeth said.)

Snapchat is self-contained, meaning that snaps can be sent only among people who use the app. For added privacy, change the settings from "Everyone can send me snaps" to "Only friends can send me snaps." You can send a snap to one contact or to a group of friends. But don't expect high-quality images, regardless of the device — iOS or Android — used.

The faces of Snapchat

Elizabeth has four tips for getting the most out of Snapchat:

  1. Have something to say? Make a face and snap a photo — dismay, frustration, joy and sadness all can be captured with a snap, which conveys more emotion than emojis can. [See also:  How to Write Emoji on Your iPhone ]
  2. Add some text. Snapchat limits characters to around 33, so you'll have to be concise. Elizabeth's workaround is to use Snapchat's drawing feature to complete messages that are over the limit.
  3. Embellish your snaps with a quick sketch. Unfazed by lucky friends who were snapping themselves on Hawaiian beaches over spring break, Elizabeth added her own beach scene on a snap taken at home.
  4. You can save snaps before you send them by tapping the download arrow, which will save the photo to your camera roll. The only way to save an incoming snap is to take a screenshot while keeping one finger on the screen — a maneuver that takes some practice. However, the sender will receive a notification that you took one.

Snapchat allows you to see the three people your friends chat with the most. Go to My Friends, and tap on a name to see the number of snaps for that friend, along with her best friends.

Elizabeth said no one worries about how they look in a snap — a big contrast to the extensive editing done for Instagram posts. [See also:  How to Instagram Like a 15-year-old Girl] ] In fact, sending snaps may mean more than it would seem. Elizabeth tweeted, "The uglier the Snapchat, the more mutual trust there is."

Follow Leslie Meredith  @lesliemeredith  Follow us  @TechNewsDaily, on  Facebook  or on  Google+.

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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