Facebook Shows Its Snapchat Envy as Instagram Launches Stories

August 2, 2016, 4:51 PM UTC
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The Snapchat Inc. application (app) is seen on an on an Apple Inc. iPhone 5s displayed for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Snapchat Inc. is raising money that could value the company at as much as $19 billion. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ever since Snapchat turned down a $3 billion takeover offer from Facebook in 2013, the world’s largest social network has been reduced to trying to copy the startup’s most compelling features. In the latest sign of its Snapchat envy, Instagram—which Facebook (FB) acquired in 2012—has launched a new feature called Stories, which appears to be virtually a carbon copy of a Snapchat feature with the same name.

Like Snapchat’s Stories, the Instagram version allows users to collect a number of individual photos and videos into a “story” that they can share with their followers. The videos are limited to 10 seconds each, and the story disappears automatically after 24 hours—just like Snapchat Stories do.

As part of the launch, Instagram has signed up a number of celebrities who will be using its new feature, including YouTube artist PewDiePie, tennis star Serena Williams and singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas.

Instagram has certainly taken its time in duplicating the feature, since Snapchat launched its Stories format over three years ago. It has become one of the most popular uses of the service, with some Live Stories about news events getting tens or even hundreds of millions of views. Snapchat is now valued at approximately $19 billion after several rounds of funding.

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In an interview with tech news site Recode, Kevin Weil, the vice-president of product for Instagram, admitted to copying the idea of a story collection. He compared it to the idea of a Twitter (TWTR) hashtag, which is now used on other social platforms—and which Twitter users borrowed from earlier Internet services and forums, such as Internet Relay Chat.

“When people first started using a hashtag outside of Twitter, it was a big deal,” Weil said. “It’s become universal as a result. I think the story is a fantastic format for sharing in the moment and giving people a picture of your daily life, and I think a lot of apps are going to adopt it.”

The duplication appears to be an attempt by Instagram to boost engagement on the service, which has seen a decline in the amount of sharing by users, according to a recent report from The Information. Instagram also recently started filtering its main feed using an algorithm—the way Facebook does—for much the same reason, although some users have complained about that this makes their feeds less appealing.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told the Wall Street Journal that the new feature is an attempt to give users a lightweight way of sharing without having to worry about how many “likes” or comments their photos and videos get (Instagram Stories don’t allow comments or likes). Many teen users of Instagram say they delete their photos if they don’t get enough of a response.

Facebook has tried a number of times to duplicate Snapchat’s appeal, including a feature it launched in 2012 called Poke, which allowed users to send photos and videos to other users that would automatically vanish after a certain amount of time, just like Snapchat’s. The social network shut the feature off in 2014. It tried again that year with an app called Slingshot, which also failed to get much traction with users.

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In 2013, not long after Facebook’s acquisition offer was turned down, Instagram launched a new feature called Instagram Direct, which allowed users to send photos and videos to individual users privately, much like Snapchat does. Facebook has also tried a number of variations on Snapchat’s Live Stories feature, including a separate app it launched last year called Riff.

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