Narrative: Facebook Copying Snapchat

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    Narrative: Facebook Copying Snapchat (Jan 24, 2017)

    Updated: January 25, 2017


    Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in 2013, but Snapchat wasn’t interested. As far as we know, that was the only acquisition attempt Facebook made, but it has repeatedly tried to clone either the entire Snapchat experience or individual features both before and since. Snapchat is one of the few apps that’s successfully eaten into Facebook’s share of teenagers’ and young adults’ time, and so the latter appears very keen either to bring the property in house (as it did with Instagram) or to recreate the feature set and simply move the usage back over to Facebook.

    This effort started way back in 2012, with the Poke app, which focused on ephemeral photo messaging, but it didn’t go anywhere. The next attempt was in 2014, when Facebook launched a more full featured app, Slingshot, only to kill it off after a year. A variety of other attempts at ephemeral messaging features within Messenger have come and gone (and in some cases stuck around) but without much more success than the earlier ones.

    In 2016, though, Facebook has taken a new tack, focusing on Instagram as its main vehicle for competing with Snapchat and in some cases ripping off features fairly brazenly. I wrote a blog post about Instagram Stories and its blatant copying of Snapchat Stories in August last year, so I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but suffice to say that I think Instagram could be at least a little more imaginative in how it’s going about some of this cloning.

    Having said that, it appears to be working – Instagram already has as many daily users of Stories as Snapchat has daily users in total (150 million), and Snapchat’s growth appears to be tapering off a little. By putting some of the most-used features of Snapchat into Instagram, Facebook is giving users fewer reasons to go to Snapchat, and more reasons to spend additional time in its own properties. Using Instagram, which has iterated very rapidly over the past year and is already popular among the same demographic as Snapchat, rather than the core Facebook product for this cloning of Snapchat features is smart.

    That’s not to say that Facebook has given up on copying Snapchat features in its core product, however. Fall 2016 saw several more attempts around Facebook, with its Flash app for emerging marketsMessenger Day for ephemeral messages (tested in Poland in September), filters in the Facebook cameralenses in Facebook Live, and more. I sometimes think the copying accusation is over-applied, but there’s plenty of material here for the broader accusation – Facebook clearly is copying many of Snapchat’s features, albeit with mixed success. The latest example is the news that the Stories feature from Instagram will be making its way into the core Facebook product too.

    Facebook is giving WhatsApp the Snapchat treatment, too – Mashable (Feb 20, 2017)

    Yet another use for Facebook’s very successful cloning of Snapchat’s Stories feature in Instagram, this time coming to WhatsApp. This is also another feature-level attempt to take share from Snapchat, which again seems to be what’s finally working for Facebook, in contrast to the whole-app approach it once favored. In this case, Facebook is ditching the Stories name and instead putting this feature in the Status slot in WhatsApp, but it looks like the format is very much the same.

    via Mashable

    Snap Beefs Up Copycat Defense Amid Concerns Over Facebook Mimics – Bloomberg (Feb 8, 2017)

    This is another one of those times where it feels like the Facebook copying Snapchat narrative might have been a little over-applied. It seems as though Snap has hired and/or acquired an engineer and his firm in Switzerland, whose expertise is making it harder for outsiders to reverse engineer code. The Facebook read here implies that Facebook is actually reverse engineering the code rather than simply building equivalent features from scratch. To the extent that this is about preventing copying, it’s far likelier to be a response to smaller outfits cloning Snapchat than Facebook, which has many engineers more than capable of building these features without reverse engineering code.

    via Bloomberg

    Instagram Stories is stealing Snapchat’s users – TechCrunch (Jan 30, 2017)

    This would be very bad news if it turns out to be true – celebrities and those who manage celebrity and other accounts on Snapchat claim they’re seeing a significant reduction in views of their Stories on Snapchat as a result of both Instagram’s launch of its own Stories feature and Snapchat’s move to kill the Auto-Advance feature for Stories in its own app. This kind of thing is always worth taking with a pinch of salt – the ranges discussed here are very broad, and some of the data might be outliers – but the trend seems to be consistently downward, and is backed up by some app download data as well. The positive spin from Snap here would be that it’s actually focusing engagement more by only showing users the Stories they actually choose to see, but I’m not sure investors will buy that. Again, any day now we should have some real data from Snap to go on to evaluate engagement and usage, but this is another specific concern they’ll need to address in the S-1 filing. In the meantime, more evidence that Facebook and Instagram’s strategy here is paying off, and that when Facebook broadly launches its own Stories feature the impact could be even more severe.

    via TechCrunch

    Facebook testing Snapchat clone called Facebook Stories – Business Insider (Jan 25, 2017)

    Instagram Stories seem to have worked out really well for Instagram, increasing engagement and gaining rapid adoption, while Snapchat’s growth seems to have leveled off a little lately. It now appears Facebook plans to bring stories into the core Facebook experience too, which makes lots of sense: for all Instagram’s popularity, Facebook’s user base is several times as large, and so Facebook can easily extend the feature to many more people in this way. The attraction of the Stories format (and Snapchat’s ephemeral approach in general) has always been that users didn’t have to work so hard to post the perfect picture to live forever on the site. Snapchat users gravitate towards the throwaway nature of sharing on the platform, and Instagram’s Stories feature has been a nice antidote to the false perfection that’s characterized a lot of sharing among teens in particular there. Facebook should benefit in the same way from this feature, especially since organic sharing is said to have fallen recently. Live Video was supposed to be part of the solution here, per Mark Zuckerberg, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

    via Business Insider

    Inside Instagram’s reinvention – Recode (Jan 23, 2017)

    This is a great little profile of Instagram, with lots of little tidbits of information. There are several overarching themes: the mimicking of Snapchat features is definitely one of them, but the broader context is that Instagram is generally moving really fast to ship new features, which is particularly striking given that Kevin Weil, who runs product, came from Twitter, a company that often seems paralyzed by indecision when it comes to tweaking functions. The whole piece reinforces the sense that Instagram is the vehicle through which Facebook is both iterating more quickly and trying to compete more directly with Snapchat, while the evolution within the core Facebook product is slower and more deliberate.

    via Inside Instagram’s reinvention – Recode

    Facebook tests product similar to Snapchat Discover – USA Today (Jan 11, 2017)

    Though the narrative about Facebook copying Snapchat is generally fairly accurate, and Facebook has largely used Instagram as its vehicle for this cloning recently, this doesn’t feel like part of that narrative. Yes, there’s a carousel of sorts within Snapchat’s Discover section, but that’s really where the similarity ends. This is news- and importantly article-centric, while most of the Discover content is lifestyle-centric and highly visual (video and photos). And this is about bundling content from a single news publisher, potentially around a topic, which also feels quite distinct. This is also all directly related to Facebook’s other announcement today about news, which explicitly referenced this testing.

    via Facebook tests product similar to Snapchat Discover – USA Today

    Instagram Starts Rolling Out Video Ads Inside Instagram Stories | Fortune (Jan 11, 2017)

    As well as copying Snapchat’s Stories feature for the purposes of capturing more users and more of its existing users’ time, it appears Facebook/Instagram was creating a new channel for ads too. Instagram has already ramped up ads quite a bit to the point where roughly every 10 posts in my feed is an ad, and that’s probably about as far as it can go in the feed. But Stories offer another venue for advertising, and with users who have lots of Stories to view they’ll simply slot in between Stories from friends. Stories are easy to skip, so this shouldn’t disrupt the user experience too much, while delivering decent growth in ad revenue.

    via Instagram Starts Rolling Out Video Ads Inside Instagram Stories | Fortune

    Here are all the times Facebook tried to stomp out Snapchat in 2016 – Recode (Dec 28, 2016)

    Great summary of the history of the Facebook Copying Snapchat narrative over the past few months. The interesting evolution during that time has been a shift in focus from trying to recreate new apps to mimic Snapchat in part or entirely to mostly using Instagram to borrow features.

    via Here are all the times Facebook tried to stomp out Snapchat in 2016 – Recode

    Facebook built another Snapchat clone specifically for emerging markets – Recode (Nov 8, 2016)

    The Flash app is yet another attempt by Facebook to recreate some of Snapchat’s features in one of its own apps, and appears to be building off the more successful cloning the company has been doing in 2016. This one is specifically focused on emerging markets, where Snapchat doesn’t have nearly the audience it does in mature markets (or nearly the audience Facebook does). It’s also yet another example of putting the camera at the forefront of the Facebook experience.

    via Recode