Will Facebook Stories ever take off in a significant way?
Facebook certainly seems to think so - various Facebook executives touted Stories as "the future of social sharing" at the company's F8 conference earlier his year, with Chief Product Officer Chris Cox saying that “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends”.
The Stories format, in broad terms, maybe, but Facebook Stories still looks pretty desolate.
So how can Facebook boost Stories usage? By adding in more features of course, and over the last week, Facebook code hacker Jane Manchun Wong has uncovered a few interesting functions in the back-end of Facebook which may be rolling out in the near future.
Here's what's on the horizon for Facebook Stories:
1. Stories Map
First up, Facebook's working on an evolution of its 'Nearby Friends' feature which it first launched back in 2014.
The new variation, as per the screenshot below, provides a broader view of where your connections are on a map, which reduces the privacy concerns of the original (which was pinpoint accurate), while also looking a very similar to Snapchat's 'Snap Map' feature.
Facebook confirmed the test to TechCrunch, saying that:
"We’re testing a new design for Nearby Friends, a tool people have used for the past four years to meet with their friends in person. People have complete control over whether to use Nearby Friends or not. They can turn it on in the Nearby Friends bookmark.”
And while the Nearby Friends element is the focus, it could actually be Snap Map, specifically, that Facebook's after.
While Snap's Map feature hasn't become a key element (only around 11% of Snapchat's audience use the tool regularly, according to reports), where it has been beneficial is during major events, enabling users to scroll over to the region they want to see, and get an immediate, unfiltered, on-the-ground perspective of what's actually happening.
With trust in news outlets eroding due to the rise of fake news, having the capacity to see what's going on for yourself is powerful - Twitter's found similar with Periscope, while Snapchat has been looking to better utilize such functionality by announcing a new program which enables publishers to source user-generated content for news coverage.
While Facebook's framing this as an evolution of Nearby Friends, it seems very likely that Facebook will actually look to use this as its own variation of Snap Maps, with Stories content - both from friends and publicly shared material - made available on the map.
It wouldn't be a major step, given the limited usage of Snap Maps, but it would be another way to better showcase Stories content, while also improving the value of Nearby Friends at the same time.
Of course, now is probably not the best time for Facebook to release a potentially privacy infringing feature, given its most recent data breach, but I'd hazard a bet that this is the main focus of this as-yet-unreleased friend map format.
2. Pet Talent Show
People love sharing videos of their pets, and people also love watching videos of animals. Why not tap into this to help boost Facebook Stories?
Another feature Wong has uncovered is a 'Pet Talent Show' tool within the Facebook Camera.
I'm not sure about this one - and note, this doesn't seem to be aimed at Facebook Stories specifically, it's a feature within the Facebook Camera (though one lends itself to the other).
It seems a little like a last-ditch response, a 'break glass in case of emergency' fallback.
"What do we do now?" "Puppies, cute puppies".
But then again, if it works...
3. New Stickers
And the last new element Wong has uncovered is a collection of updated Stickers for Stories, with a range of functions.
Wong notes that the new options are:
- New GIF Sticker
- New Rating Sticker (interactive, unlike Snap's counterpart)
- New "Message Me" Sticker
- New "Send Selfie" Sticker
- Add a caption, Tag Friends, Check-In in Story
People do love to add stickers, and these new tools do add new considerations. But again, will they be enough to inspire more people to swipe across and start creating their own Facebook Stories?
On balance, Facebook Stories usage doesn't look that bad. Last month, Facebook reported that, combined, Facebook and Messenger Stories now see 300 million daily active users. That's a lot, right - especially when you consider that Instagram Stories, which has been a big success, now sees only 100 million more daily actives (400m).
So, good, right? Facebook Stories is more popular than you probably think.
Well, not exactly.
Back in May, Facebook reported that Facebook Stories was seeing 150 million daily active users, while Messenger Stories (formerly 'Messenger Day'), was seeing 70 million - so 220 million DAU combined. That means that Facebook Stories has added 80 million users in the last five months.
Again, not so bad - but Instagram Stories added 100 million more DAU in the seven months between December 2017 and June 2018, and by comparison, the usage rates on each platform (Snapchat included) are much stronger outside of Facebook.
On Facebook and Messenger - which have a combined active audience of 3.5 billion - fewer than 10% of users check-in on Stories each day.
That's not good, and with Facebook now rolling out Stories ads, seemingly keen to push forward with monetization as soon as possible to potentially offset a decline in News Feed ad revenue, there doesn't appear to be any significant reason to expect more take up of the option on the horizon.
Maybe, if Facebook enabled brands to add links in their Stories (which they're testing) that could be a lure, but even then, that doesn't seem likely to be the carrot that gets more users across to Facebook Stories.
Of course, maybe I'm wrong - Facebook, which sits on the largest trove of consumer data and usage insights in history, probably has a better idea of where such trends are headed based on its internal insights.
But I don't know about this one. While the Stories format has taken off on apps with a younger audience tilt, Facebookers just don't seem to care as much.
Maybe, it is then time to break that emergency box. Unleash the puppies, make it Stories-exclusive, and watch the people flock to it.
There still seems to be a lot of 'maybes' in Facebook Stories development.