U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 39 mins

7 ways Facebook tried to copy Snapchat

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

For all its ingenuity, Facebook (FB) still has one serious achilles heel: Snap (SNAP).

Ever since Snap reportedly spurned a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook back in 2013, the social network has unleashed a slew of features and services that appear to be inspired by Snapchat’s core mission of ephemeral messaging or based upon a particular Snapchat feature.

Just last week, Facebook rolled out a Messenger Day, a new Snapchat Stories-like feature that lets Messenger users string together a series of photos and video, apply layers of texts and filters, and show them off atop the Messenger app. Messenger Day followed several months after Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app with 600 million monthly users, targeted Snap head-on last August with Instagram Stories, a feature that also very closely resembles Snapchat’s own My Story feature.

Facebook has had no qualms admitting where its design inspiration comes from. Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom was the first to admit in a series of interviews around the time Instagram Stories launched that Instagram Stories’ striking similarity to Snapchat was no mere coincidence. Rather, as he told TechCrunch, Snapchat deserved “all the credit.”

“Facebook and Snapchat are in an arms race, which exposes the vulnerabilities of both companies,” Susan Etlinger, a tech industry analyst for the San Francisco-based Altimeter Group, told Yahoo Finance. “Facebook needs Snapchat-like features to prove its relevance to younger users, while Snapchat keeps pushing features to sustain its growth. The danger is that both companies get distracted from the bigger picture: how to stay meaningful in an increasingly fragmented digital world.”

Here then, is a cheat sheet to the many ways Facebook has aped Snapchat so far:

Poke

Early Facebook members may remember the original “poke” feature: that ability to virtually nudge other users. But in December 2012, Facebook tried reviving the idea as the name of an app roundly criticized for being a Snapchat rip-off. Users of the Poke app could poke each other and send photos and messages that “self-destruct,” or disappear after 1-10 seconds. Nearly as quickly as it hit No. 1 in Apple’s App Store on Day One, it fell out of the Top 50. Less than a year and a half later, Facebook shut down Poke entirely.

Slingshot

Launched in June 2014 — roughly a month after Facebook killed Poke — Slingshot was another standalone app designed by the social network to capture some of Snapchat’s magic. The free app, which was available for iOS and Android, let users snap a photo or video, mark it up with some colorful drawings as one does on Snapchat, caption it with big white text, then fire it off to friends.

The twist: a user couldn’t view an incoming photo, or “shot,” sent by a friend until they fired back a “shot” to the sender. Unfortunately, Facebook users just couldn’t be bothered, and the social network shuttered Slingshot, as well, by the end of 2015.

Facebook Messenger camera filters

Messenger unveiled a new camera interface this December that looks nearly identical to Snapchat’s camera screen and also includes the ability to scroll through a large selection of filters and superimpose them onto say, a photo of someone or a selfie.

Instagram Stories

Launched last August, Instagram Stories closely resembles Snapchat’s own My Story feature. Similar to My Story, Instagram Stories lets people string together several photos and videos, but with fewer filters and lenses, to appear atop Instagram users’ feeds. The result: a series of visual narratives for Instagram users to tap, swipe and giggle over, much the same way Snapchat users have done with friends’ stories for over two years now.

The launch of Stories appears to have benefited Instagram, which reports 150 million people using the feature every single day. The move may have also hurt Snap, which does not disclose monthly user data (a potential red flag to some), but reports 158 million daily active users sending 2.5 billion Snaps each day. 

According to a study released in early March by New York City–based research firm 7Park Data, daily active user growth for Snapchat slowed in the four months after Instagram Stories launched. Furthermore, the study found that the number of times Snapchat users used the app on a daily basis “declined significantly.”

WhatsApp Status

This February, WhatsApp introduced “Statuses,” which lets users share photos and videos as “statuses,” much the way stories work on Snapchat and now Instagram. In addition to posting text statuses, users can also add pictures that will show for all their friends, until they are automatically deleted. Sound familiar?

Facebook Messenger Day

The new Snapchat Stories-like feature lets Messenger users string together a series of photos and video, apply layers of texts and filters, and show them off atop the Messenger app. The release of Messenger Day has led to some mixed reactions, including a panning by venture capitalist and former TechCrunch columnist M.G. Siegler.

“It’s entirely interruptive and not at all seamless,” contended Siegler in a recent blog post. “Like when someone messages me and I click into Messenger and accidentally then click on some person’s ‘Day’. Worse, it’s a person I barely know, but who has messaged me in the past. And now I’m angry.”

Facebook Stories

This week, the social network introduced what was perhaps the next logical step in taking on Snap head-on by rolling out Facebook Stories to many — although not all — of Facebook’s 1.15 billion mobile daily active users. As with similar efforts in Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, you can stitch together photos and videos to share stories that vanish after just 24 hours. Indeed, if you use Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and of course, Snapchat, then you’ll quickly get the hang of Facebook Stories.

What remains to be seen is how Facebook’s more recent Snapchat-like efforts are received among its users, who can sometimes reject significant changes to the Facebook experience. Regardless, the social network has made its message loud and clear to Snap: game on.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.  

More from JP:

Silicon Valley’s favorite sneaker has a wear-and-tear problem

How ‘video understanding’ could transform Facebook

3 major problems with Trump’s protectionist attitude toward China 

Fry’s Electronics: How this tech retailer has survived the fall of brick-and-mortar

Why ‘experience can hurt tech workers in Silicon Valley

Why AI could be Silicon Valley’s latest ‘micro bubble’

Surprise and disgust: What 6 Silicon Valley CEOs said about Trump’s ban