After Facebook, through Instagram, copied Snapchat's 'Stories' feature almost down to a tee, it seems like the flood gates are now open. Now, Facebook's going for broke, introducing more Snapchat clones in an effort to halt the momentum of the fast-growing ephemeral content app.
The latest on this front comes within Facebook itself - as reported by TechCrunch, Facebook's running a trial in Brazil and Canada where when users open Facebook, the first thing they'll see at the top of their News Feed is an open camera window, set to selfie mode, or a prompt to 'Celebrate the Olympic Games'. From there, users will have access to new range of Olympic-themed MSQRD lenses which they can use as their profile image or post as a status update. Here's how it looks in practice:
It's pretty slick looking, and Snapchat's already proven that lenses like this are popular - lenses are reportedly used in around 10 million Snaps per day. Previously, Facebook had only made their own version of these image altering tools available within Facebook Live (through MSQRD itself), this is the first time Facebook has looked to roll the function out to more users. And given the timely nature, you can bet that a heap of users are going to experiment with the function, which could, eventually, see it rolled out to more regions.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Facebook Product Manager Sachin Monga said that Facebook's looking to evolve their on-platform tools to better cater to how the modern user is sharing content.
"If you look at what people are sharing, now it's mostly photos, and soon it will be mostly videos. Our strategy is really simple. We want to make it really easy to share photos and videos".
By putting the camera prompt front and center, and by adding in these new, fun options, Facebook's hoping to encourage more personal sharing and get people engaging more on-platform.
In this sense, they're working on two fronts.
First, if they can offer more Snapchat-like features - additions that may actually function better than those on Snapchat itself - that'll likely keep users from switching across to Snapchat. And given than Facebook has 1.12 billion daily active users and Snapchat has 150 million, you'd suspect that there's a fair level of crossover between those two audiences, that many people using Snapchat, or thinking about using it, will already have established friend networks on Facebook that they'd like to share their Snapchat-like content with. Through this update, and if it's rolled out more widely with more options, they'll be able to do so without leaving Facebook.
The other issue Facebook's working to address is the reported decline in personal content sharing on the platform. Data published by The Information back in April showed that overall sharing on Facebook fell 5.5% between mid-2014 and mid-2015, with sharing of personal posts - like people's own thoughts and photos - falling 21% during that period. That prompted Facebook to put together a team to look at how to address the issue - if people stop sharing personal updates on Facebook, that's a major problem, not only for user engagement more broadly, but for Facebook's data collection, which it uses to fuel its core revenue stream in ads.
Facebook clearly sees Snapchat as a significant contributor to this decline. A user survey spotted by BuzzFeed shortly after the report from The Information included this question in relation to personal updates:
As you can see, Snapchat's listed very high on the list among other Facebook properties (and Tumblr), which likely suggests that it's the real focus of the query. If Facebook were to find that more people were sharing personal updates on Snapchat, one way to combat it would be to introduce similar sharing tools within Facebook - which is precisely what they're trying out with this new option.
And while this update is Facebook-specific, you can bet that it won't be long before we see MSQRD lenses and other features also popping up in Instagram Stories. Already, Instagram Stories is so similar to Snapchat that you may have found yourself tapping on holding on screen waiting for it to recognize your face so you can use Lenses. As Instagram works to combat Snapchat, you can expect them to introduce a range of new Snapchat-style features over the coming weeks to keep the early momentum of the new feature rolling, and keep users coming back to try it out. If they can match or beat Snapchat on functionality, within an app where people have already built followings, that'll put Instagram - and by extension, Facebook - on track to fending off the threat of Snapchat, and maybe even nullifying the app's presence over time.
Snapchat have made a lot of smart moves over time, though, they won't be going anywhere without a fight. And the most exciting thing about this, for users, is that we should see a whole new range of cool image-altering, augmented reality features coming from both providers as they look to innovate faster and maintain audience attention.
And then, what will Facebook do in response?
Interesting times ahead.