In its biggest change in a decade, Facebook is evolving from text and link-focused sharing to the visual communication format it admits “Snapchat has really pioneered.”
Starting today, all users will soon have access to the new Facebook Camera feature that lets them overlay special effects on photos and videos. They can then share this content to a Snapchat clone called Facebook Stories that appears above News Feed on mobile and works similarly to Instagram’s 24-hour ephemeral slideshows. Users also may share these posts to News Feed, individual friends through the new Facebook Direct private visual messages that disappear once digested or any combination thereof.
As people mostly post photos and videos, Stories is the way they’re going to want to do it,” says Facebook Camera product manager Connor Hayes, noting Facebook’s shift away from text status updates after 10 years as its primary sharing option. “Obviously we’ve seen this doing very well in other apps. Snapchat has really pioneered this,” explained Hayes, less shy to mention the competitor by name than some other Facebook executives.
But really it was the rapid ascent of Instagram Stories to 150 million daily users that he says inspired Facebook to start testing its own Stories in January, and keep expanding it to 12 countries before today’s rollout. Surprisingly, Hayes says Facebook Stories is “additive,” not detracting from News Feed sharing or usage of its other Stories products. “We’ve tested in markets with Instagram Stories and Messenger Day, and we’ve seen this as accretive. They end up posting more and they like using the Stories format across apps.”
That’s the worst news for Snapchat and best news for Facebook since the world’s biggest social network adopted the strategy of copying the competitor that refused its acquisition offer.
If Facebook Stories clearly cannibalized News Feed sharing and consumption, it would have to demolish its most popular and lucrative feature to make way for the future where the camera is the new keyboard. And if users saw Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp’s Stories features as uncool clones or redundant as a set, it might have had to limit its attack on Snapchat to just one of its core apps.
Instead, Facebook can charge in full-speed, attacking Snap from every angle without much penalty to its existing business. And with its enormous engineering and design teams, plus billions in profit each quarter, it can throw more resources at Camera, Stories and Direct visual messaging than Snap can. That product development strength is on display with today’s launch, and apparent from Facebook’s insistence on showing reporters forthcoming special effects that one-up Snapchat’s iconic lenses.
Until now, Facebook was just running missile tests and fighting skirmishes on the frontier. Today Facebook declares total war on Snapchat.
Storytelling for everyone
“The way people have been prompted to share for 10 years, it’s very text-centric,” Hayes describes. “Even when you look at the way we’ve done this on mobile, you can see half of the screen is still taken up by a place for you to type text.”
“Our new camera puts visual content at the heart of the Facebook experience,” says Kristen Spilman, Facebook’s director of art and animation. “So it feels natural for the camera to do more of the talking.”
Facebook has been casually pursuing visual communication for years, but got serious about it back in August when it started testing the first version of Facebook Camera during the 2016 Olympics. It went so far as to replace half the News Feed home screen with an open camera window. But while Snapchat opens straight to the camera, Spilman says “people were not comfortable with how drastic some of the change was.” It can be pretty jarring to suddenly see your own face on screen, so Facebook decided to hide the camera but let you open it with a swipe. Hayes says Facebook would consider opening to the camera “if over time we find this becomes the primary use case.”Read More...
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