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Facebook's latest Messenger update takes dead aim at Snapchat

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Messenger’s new Camera feature is a shot across Snapchat’s bow.

Facebook (FB) is taking aim at Snapchat, again, with a huge update to its Messenger app. The latest addition to the 1 billion-member strong messaging service includes big changes to its Camera feature including masks, effects, stickers and frames that liven up your photos and videos.

Available today, the update is meant to give Messenger’s users a greater reason to use the service’s Camera option, which currently only allows you to take regular photos and videos. That stands in stark contrast to Snapchat, which lets you add Filters and special lenses that can encircle your head in a ring of virtual flowers or put your face in a digital toilet that flushes when you open your mouth. Isn’t the future great?

Messenger’s photos, though, don’t self-destruct like Snapchat’s do. There’s also a disturbing lack of toilet-related effects.


To use Messenger’s new Camera, you simply open the app and tap the Camera button. The launch is timed specifically for the holidays, so Facebook is adding a special holiday-themed Camera button to Messenger to make finding it a bit easier.

Once you open Camera, you’ll be able to add what Facebook calls “Masks and Effects,” which are more or less equivalent to Snapchat’s lenses.

The feature lets you do things like add a virtual candy cane hat and glasses to video or photo that lets you blow out snow when you open your mouth. There’s also a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer filter that turns you into the titular character and an effect that makes your snap look like a scene from A-Ha’s “Take on Me” video.

I’m partial to the “Take on Me” video theme.

Masks, meanwhile, cover your entire face and can turn you into things like a panda, which in my case looked absolutely terrifying, because it made me look more like a juggalo than anything else. I’m still incredibly impressed with how well apps like this are able to map their effects to users’ faces and Messenger’s new Camera is no different.

In addition to Masks and Effects, Camera also gets Stickers and Frames, which let you add fun features that can turn your photo into a snowy holiday scene or make it look like you’re in Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Naturally, you can also draw on your images and add your own text if you can’t find the sticker that says exactly what you’re looking for.

Snapchat is an enormous social network. Heck, it’s expected to have its IPO in 2017 at a $25 billion valuation and its new Spectacles glasses that let you record video from your perspective only add to the company’s coolness factor.

The Messenger update certainly won’t tear people away from Snapchat in favor of Facebook’s app, but it does give users more reason to use Camera, which means consumers will spend more time using one of Facebook’s properties. That equals more user data, which Facebook can turn into cold hard cash through advertising.

I already use Messenger on a daily basis to annoy friends and destroy them in Pac-Man — take that, Randy — and with Camera, I have another tool in my arsenal that will make them hate seeing my face in that tiny pop-up window even more.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.