The parent company of the fast growing social network Snapchat has filed documents indicating it plans to float part of the business on the stock market.

Snap Inc is thought to be worth around $20bn and is seeking to raise up to $3bn in funding from its flotation.

Snapchat initially started life as a smartphone app for sending messages which disappeared after they were read.

But it has since rapidly evolved into a social network, publishing platform, and has even begun selling glasses with a camera built into them, called Spectacles.

The app, which now has 158 million users, is particularly popular among young people, making it very attractive to advertisers.

Last year it took in $404m in revenue but due to high development and marketing costs, it lost $505m.

In papers filed last night, it said it expects to derive most of its revenue from advertising, where it competes against established rivals like Google and Facebook.

If the initial public offering goes ahead as planned, it is likely to be one of the biggest tech company market debuts in recent years, raising $3bn - the same amount of money its 26-year-old founder reportedly turned down when Facebook tried to buy Snapchat three years ago.