If there was any lingering doubt as to whether or not Facebook is coming for Snapchat, it ought to be cleared up with the introduction of Facebook Stories, a brand new feature that closely mimics Snapchat’s raison d’être. Facebook Stories, like Snapchat Stories and Instagram Stories, consists of disappearing photos and videos with skins, masks, filters, and frames that users can broadcast to their networks. Facebook-owned Instagram rolled out its Stories feature in August 2016 and all but halted Snapchat’s growth in new users.
Facebook Stories is rolling out now and is already available for most users. Here’s what the new feature means for Facebook, for Instagram, and for Snapchat.
On the surface, Facebook Stories is nothing new. It’s a feature that already exists in other apps that’s become available in Facebook. There’s nothing about Facebook Stories that’s dramatically different from Stories features as they exist in Instagram and Snapchat. But Facebook Stories are important for what they mean in the context of social sharing and the crowded social networking space.
As social media apps add features and do more things in an effort to keep people from leaving the app, they begin to look similar. Feeds, Stories, Moments, livestreams, and direct messages all exist in one form or another on most apps we use. Which means there’s a fair amount of redundancy. In an age where we’re already spending an incredible amount of time on social media, it’s impossible for every app to win out.
That said, Facebook’s going to try. With the largest user base in the world, it doesn’t have to be the first platform to create a feature, it just has to do it in a way that engages the users already on Facebook. That spells big trouble for Snapchat, which is already experiencing slowing growth and doubt as to its actual value in the marketplace.
Stories live at the top of the Facebook feed, displayed in circles (nearly identical to Instagram’s) and aren’t posted to a Timeline or News Feed automatically, though they can be posted there manually. Something called “Your Story” is the repository for most Stories content created by users, but Stories can also be shared directly with friends.
With the launch of Facebook Stories, Facebook is already rolling out sponsored and branded content in the form of masks. With masks related to upcoming films like Wonder Woman, Power Rangers (see below), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Alien: Covenant, Facebook is taking a leaf out of Snapchat’s book and finding a way to include brands in the Stories experience.
Facebook Stories also gives users a bevy of effects that are interactive and reactive, making it possible to add objects to and transform rooms and faces by adding objects.
Facebook Stories isn’t just for branded integration, either. Teaming up with artists like Douglas Coupland and Hattie Stewart, it features some fresh and artistic effects not seen on other platforms.
Instagram and Snapchat users will immediately feel at home in the new feature set — it’s designed to be familiar to anyone already using a Stories tool in another app. The interface is deeply similar, but for a few small (but important) changes.
Like Snapchat Stories and unlike Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories includes interactive lenses. Unlike Snapchat Stories, Facebook Stories’ facial recognition software automatically places lenses on faces without the user’s help in tapping face on screen. Also unlike Snapchat Stories, lenses are accessed by swiping up and down (vs. left to right) on Facebook Stories.
Facebook Stories also allows users to upload photos from a phone’s Camera Roll, just like Instagram Stories. Snapchat allows the same thing, but places a white border around photos that aren’t taken in-app, making it obvious that they weren’t taken specifically for Snapchat.
The differences are few and relatively small. If a single Stories feature takes off more than the others, it won’t be due to the minutiae, it’ll be down to the platform. There are more people to share with on Facebook than there are on Instagram or Snapchat, for better or worse. It’s difficult to imagine users sharing Stories on all three platforms, though.
Facebook Stories doesn’t spell the end of Snapchat, but it does pose the question of whether or not Snapchat can survive increasing fragmentation in the ephemeral messaging space. Facebook will be fine if Facebook Stories doesn’t take off and Stories are already in full swing on Instagram, with over 150 million users using Stories every day (for context, Snapchat reached 161 million daily active users in Q4 for its entire platform).
The through line is clear, though. Impermanent messages aren’t a Snapchat thing anymore, they’re a social media thing. To be on the world’s largest networks is to dabble in messages that disappear, and it’ll be up to Snapchat to find a way to innovate, to bring users back from the competition, lest it disappear, too.