Whichever way you look at it, Snapchat seems to have all the fancy features that Facebook wants to have in its arsenal.
Since Snapchat’s launch in 2011, Facebook has given this Venice-based video messaging app no breathing space.
The Menlo Park, California-based tech company has been trying to copy Snapchat for as long as anyone can remember.
The tool? Poke – Facebook’s new product that time!
Poke was a mobile app for sharing disappearing photos. Anyone familiar with Snapchat would have no issues with identifying the underlying similarity.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, the new app would hit the ground running in a matter of days.
It somewhat did, just not as powerfully as expected. The app debuted in 2012 but soon turned out to be a failure and exited the tech scene in 2014.
Zuckerberg offered to buy Snapchat for US$3 billion in 2013.
But, Evan Spiegel declined the offer – a move that many people in the tech world considered a big mistake.
Snapchat has since metamorphosed from a “revenue-less app that makes photos disappear” into a multi-billion dollar business valued at about US$20 billion.
And it seems Facebook is not taking this lightly.
It has not been comfortable with Snapchat leading the scene with ephemeral messaging.
After Poke and the failed 3 billion dollar deal, Facebook has not relented in its attempts to defeat Snapchat.
Facebook has repeatedly mimicked the latter’s key features to usurp its market.
In 2013, Facebook’s Instagram launched a private messaging feature called Instagram Direct.
Barely a year later in 2014, Zuckerberg’s Facebook Inc. launched an app called Slingshot, a revamped version of Poke; another Snapchat knockoff.
Latest Imitation: Instagram Stories
As if that hasn’t been enough, Facebook has now rolled out a knockoff of the Snapchat Stories service on Instagram.
Facebook Inc. has also chosen not to disguise the new Instagram service under a different name from that of Snapchat.
Also called Stories, the new service shares virtually every feature of Snapchat Stories.
The Instagram stories service allows users to share a group of photos and video snippets which also disappear after 24 hours.
Just like Snapchat, Instagram stories lets users create graphic overlays on their videos or pictures. In addition, they can elect to make the content public or private.
Users can also choose to share their stories with only a select group of followers.
Each of these attempts is directly aimed at imitating one or more core features of Snapchat. The app shot to fame particularly among younger users because of the ephemeral nature of its content.
And now with the same feature on Instagram, the latter is surely poised to bring the same relief to its teen users who prefer to hide their social media activities from the glare of their parents.
What motivates the imitations?
Facebook’s drive to copy Snapchat all trickles down to competing for attention from millennials.
A recent survey by business intelligence firm App Annie on global app downloads showed that Instagram is the fourth most downloaded application. Snapchat comes next.
Instagram has well over 300 million daily active users and more than 500 million active monthly subscribers. Snapchat, on the other hand, has about 150 daily active users (DAUs) which are just half as many as Instagram’s.
But there’s a caveat for the latter: Snapchat’s rapid growth makes it a major threat.
In addition, Snapchat enjoys the monopoly of two essential features most adored by teens:
1. No Social pressure. Unlike Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat has no public favorites, likes or comments.
2. Ephemeral content. Its messages are short lived. They automatically disappear in a couple of seconds or after 24 hours for the stories.
Popularity among teens and millennials
The above two features are the main reasons Snapchat has been the most envied app before Instagram Stories entered the scene.
The main reason for Snapchat’s popularity among teens is the ephemeral nature of its content, which reduces its chances being seen by the wrong audience. Young users can control the posts they share and enjoy sharing even intimate content without fear of being discovered, as the content disappears soon after.
Social pressure is another major scare to young social media users.
In fact, Instagram Chief Executive Kevin Systrom admitted in an interview to having copied Snapchat for the very same reason.
“We need to have a place where you feel free to post whatever you want without the nagging fear of, did someone like that or not?”
He added that a substantial number of teen users are deleting Instagram posts that have not attracted enough likes.
Young people are under pressure to appear popular.
Likes and favorites are the ultimate parameters by which popularity is measured on the mobile app. The posts are public by default and this creates a sort of performance anxiety among these users.
Users of Instagram and Twitter have mentioned social pressure as an issue.
What’s expected from Instagram?
Some critics believe that Instagram may see a major growth following the launch of the Stories service.
Users are beginning to share more and more content per day, encouraged by the ephemeral nature of the service’s content.
On Instagram, there is this problem of “overdoing” restricted sharing. For one, you wouldn’t want to share more posts for fear of getting reduced likes and favorites.
But the stories feature has this problem fixed.
And users are expected to increase their shares on the app. This in effect may contribute to increased screen time on Instagram.
The direction and future of either company are uncertain at the moment. It remains to be seen whether the move by Instagram will help to smash Snapchat.