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Facebook Messenger Borrows Features from Snapchat

In a recent software update, the Facebook Messenger app added some of the content-sharing features popularized by the social media app Snapchat, including pictures and videos that automatically disappear in 24 hours or after being viewed, the ability to apply text and image overlays to photographs, and filters that playfully distort user’s faces. Although the overall design of the Facebook Messenger app has not changed significantly, users are now presented with the option to take pictures in a Snapchat-style user interface by swiping down at the application’s main menu.

Just as in Snapchat, users of this new mode of Facebook Messenger are able to choose exactly who receives their messages, and can see when and by whom their messages are viewed. One of the advantages that Facebook Messenger has over Snapchat is that users of Facebook are more likely to be connected with a larger number of contacts than users of Snapchat, and are therefore able to send their messages to a greater number of people. Another advantage introduced by the Facebook Messenger app is the wider variety of options that users have at their disposal; although Facebook Messenger’s filters are not as complicated or nuanced as Snapchat’s, Facebook Messenger offers a greater number of stickers and other overlays to apply to selfies and videos.

Facebook’s introduction of Snapchat-like features comes several months after a similar introduction by Instagram of the “Stories” feature. Like Snapchat, Instagram Stories allow users to share pictures and videos that disappear automatically with their followers. Instagram Stories differs from Snapchat in some important ways, however: unlike Snapchat, Instagram does not offer filters or overlays. Instead, users of Instagram Stories can take advantage of the app’s “Boomerang” feature, which plays a short video clip forwards and then in reverse, and can record videos with the app’s hands-free mode.

In a video interview with the BBC, Facebook’s Peter Martinazzi claimed that the decision to add these features to Facebook Messenger “really isn’t about other apps,” but instead was motivated by a desire to make it easier for users to send visual messages, and to “help people upgrade their conversations.” However, due to the similarities of the features on offer, it’s clear that Facebook intends to compete directly with Snapchat with this new update.

Considering Instagram’s success with their introduction of Snapchat-style features, it makes sense that Facebook would pursue this avenue. According to TechCrunch, Instagram’s Stories feature has been so successful that it has lead to a sharp decline in view counts of Snapchat stories, between 15 and 40 percent. This decline also coincided with the removal of the Auto-Advance feature from Snapchat, which allowed users to view each of the Stories in their list consecutively. As Instagram offers a similar feature, encouraging binge-watching of stories, this factor could also have influenced the switch from Snapchat to Instagram.

Because of the success of Snapchat, like all social media apps, depends upon its ability to connect people with others, the transfer of users from Snapchat to Instagram Stories has a potentially devastating impact for Snap Inc., the creators of the app, as users migrate to the networks where their friends are most active.

Another factor that led to the success of Instagram Stories is the influence of advertisers and other content creators. Whereas Snapchat is more geared towards private conversations between individuals, Instagram is open to proliferating content by so-called “influencers,” through the presence of an Explore tab within the app and a more connected user-base.

As Facebook boasts the largest overall userbase of any of the major social networks, as well as having a more broadly interconnected network of users, the impact of influencers, advertisers, and other content creators could be what allows Facebook’s newest push to succeed. But this densely connected network could also be one of the feature’s greatest impediments, as the private and ephemeral nature of Snapchat is what allowed for its initial success.

Featured image via Wikimedia

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