"Really, again? Can't they come up with their own ideas? Where's the originality?"
Yep, here they come - get ready for the same hot takes, once again, because Facebook is about to release its latest Snapchat clone. And this one's their biggest yet.
The Social Network has confirmed that 'Facebook Stories' will be made available to all 1.86 billion active users, along with their image-enhancing Camera features.
By now, the addition comes as little surprise - Facebook first started testing the new camera with users in Ireland back in October, while Facebook Stories was also made available to Irish users in January, then expanded to a wider test group earlier this month. And of course, Facebook has already released a long list of other copies of Snapchat-like functions, including:
- Poke (2012)
- Slingshot (2014)
- Disappearing messages in Messenger (2015)
- Quick Updates (2016)
- Instagram Stories (2016)
- WhatsApp disappearing messages (2016)
- Messenger Day (2016)
- WhatsApp Stories (2017)
And that's not even a complete list - there were smaller iterations in between which I'm sure I've missed. As such, you had to expect Stories would soon come to Facebook proper - but Facebook has gone all out, and released some interesting features that could really hurt Snapchat's growth.
First up, there's the new camera - rolling out to all users this week, users will now be able to swipe right from their News Feed to take pictures and apply a range of effects and filters.
Among those effects are Facebook's 'Reactive Filters', their first big push beyond what's on offer from Snapchat - which is where the platform will really put pressure on Snap Inc.'s flagship offering.
"Reactive effects let you interact with dynamic objects- like falling snow-and style effects apply an artistic filter to your video in real time, letting you turn your everyday selfie into a Picasso-style work of art."
Thus far, Facebook's Snapchat clones have, for the most part, mirrored Snapchat's existing functions, but what will really take them to the next level - and get more people migrating back from Snapchat - will be when Facebook's options are actually better than what Snapchat has on offer, when they become the tools that people are showing their friends at gatherings, the thing you just have to check out. Reactive filters are a step in this direction - and Facebook may have an even bigger ace up its sleeve with a range of new movie tie-in tools which you can also use to enhance your photos.
Snapchat has similar movie-themed lenses and Geofilters from time to time, but their addition in Facebook's new camera may be an even bigger deal, given that Facebook's audience is much broader, and larger, than Snapchat's.
For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy Facebook Page alone has more than 3.7 million Likes - that's a huge audience who would likely be interested in taking a photo with Baby Groot. It's a great way to get people interested in the new camera, and get them talking about what you can do with it.
Since fans of these movies are already active on Facebook, they have a massive captive audience for such offerings - and their initial tie-in options cover a breadth of fandoms, with six major releases represented. This is a big, clever move to boost the product's launch.
But that's not everything - they've also added in guest art from visual artists like Douglas Coupland and Hattie Stewart.
That will boost interest amongst even more fan bases, compelling them to take a look. This is a clever way to generate buzz about the product, hitting as many of these groups as possible to boost the FOMO factor.
Facebook also says that they'll be regularly refreshing the creative effects in the camera to provide new effects to explore, including ways for users to create their own frames and effects which can be applied to any photo or video created with the Facebook camera.
"Our goal is for the camera to be a home to hundreds of dynamic and fun effects that give you new ways to connect with friends, family, and your community."
If they can continue to connect with diverse fan groups like this, and provide advanced tools and options, that'll put a significant dent in Snapchat's popularity and unique value.
And this is before we even get to Stories.
We've seen the above example shot before, but you may notice something different.
In addition to Stories - which, if you've used Snapchat or Instagram Stories, you pretty much know how it works (Stories won't appear on your timeline or in News Feed) - Facebook's also adding a new disappearing content option for direct messages.
"When you send a photo or video via Direct, your friends will be able to view it once and replay it or write a reply. Once the conversation on the photo or video ends, the content is no longer visible in Direct."
So it's not just Stories they're hitting with this update, it's all of Snapchat's functions. Well, except Discover, but they're working on that also.
If there were a Snapchat killer, a final, major blow Facebook could deliver to really knock the wind out of Spiegel and Co.'s sails, this is it. That's not to say that it will, definitely, eliminate Snapchat, but it's the biggest attack Facebook can deliver, and the one likely to hurt the most, particularly if Facebook is able to provide more compelling tools and options than those available in Snap's app.
But why, people will ask. Why can't Facebook stand on their own feet, why do they have to copy Snapchat?
The answer is: because it works.
As we noted recently, Facebook's not copying Snapchat out of spite, it's because it makes good business sense.
Facebook, as you may recall, supplanted MySpace as the social network, and they're fully aware that the same could happen to them.
They saw this threat in Instagram - and, you may or may not recall, but Facebook had planned to release an Instagram clone app before they acquired the platform. They'd seen Instagram amass millions of users in a short space of time, and noted the audience trend, so they moved to eliminate the potential challenger before it became a problem.
They followed the same playbook with Snapchat - but Spiegel and Co didn't sell. So they've gone to Plan B.
It may seem cheap, like a dirty tactic, but the logic is simple. If someone came into your region, as a challenger to your business, would you simply concede ground, or would you look for ways to maintain your position?
Millions of ad dollars are at stake, as is, potentially, the very future of your business. There's really no reason why Facebook wouldn't do whatever they can.
It'll be interesting to see the user response to these new tools - on Instagram, 25% of their 600 million daily active users (150 million people) now engage with Instagram Stories every day. That's the same percentage of Snapchat users who post to their Story daily - if Facebook saw similar adoption, that would be 450 million Facebook Stories users, engaging more, interacting and sharing more content on Facebook.
On balance, and looking at what's on offer here, that seems like an attainable target.
Despite the initial rumblings and criticisms, I'd be willing to bet that we see that sort of usage rate - if not higher - in coming months.
Facebook Stories is rolling out on iOS and Android from this week.