Facebook Imitates Snapchat Again With Camera Filters and Stories

March 28, 2017, 12:00 PM UTC
Facebook To Detail Updates To News Feed At Press Event
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., speaks during an event at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Zuckerberg discussed the social-network site's upgraded News Feed which includes bigger photos, information sorted into topics and a more consistent design across devices. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook’s envy of Snapchat has been well documented. On Tuesday, the giant social network announced a three new camera-related and sharing features that double down on that jealousy, duplicating some of its competitor’s most popular features.

The additions are known as Camera, Stories, and Direct, and the company said the new features will be available globally this week.

Camera essentially imitates Snapchat’s main interface, with a simple camera view with icons that can be clicked on in order to add various effects. Facebook users can access this via a camera icon that will launch a similar kind of view within the social network’s mobile app, or by swiping left while looking at their news feed.

At the bottom of the camera screen a “magic wand”-style button can add special effects to Facebook users’ photos. Just as Snapchat has what it calls “filters” that users can add to their photos and videos — making themselves look like cartoon animals, for example, or producing virtual rainbows that pour out of a person’s mouth — Facebook’s Camera also has filters, or “lenses.”

In Facebook’s case, users of the camera feature can add effects that make it look as though they are an animated cat (a filter that also includes voice modulation), or that they have a “glitter beard,” or are eating virtual pizza slices.

The company said it is working with artists Hattie Stewart and Doug Copeland on customized filters or lenses, and would also be open to the potential for sponsored stories and filters down the road. But it said the current release is focused on users.

“For about 10 years the Facebook interface has been very text-centric,” said product manager Connor Hayes. “But the ways that people create content has changed, and shared and that has changed the way people share as well. We are trying to upgrade the app to be more in tune with that.”

There have been multiple reports over the past six months about limited trials of Facebook’s Camera feature in Ireland, Canada and Brazil.

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The second major feature the social network announced on Tuesday is Stories, another offering that’s very similar to one that exists on Snapchat. A way for users to collect and share photos and videos related to an event or a theme, Stories is also similar to a feature launched by Facebook-owned Instagram earlier this year, when co-founder Kevin Systrom admitted it was a virtual carbon copy of Snapchat’s feature, right down to the name.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Facebook reiterated what Systrom said, which is that Snapchat created what has now become a default way of interacting with a social app.

Instagram’s launch of Stories has been credited by some as the trigger for a decline in Snapchat’s users base, something that analysts warned about when Snapchat went public. Unlike its competitor’s app, Instagram’s feature — and the one launched by Facebook — allows users to see quickly how many views their stories or collections have gotten.


The third major rollout is something Facebook is calling Direct, which allows users to send videos or photos directly to a single friend or users, instead of having to broadcast everything to their entire follower base. Facebook said the feature is designed to allow for more private sharing, something that Snapchat users often give as a reason for their love of the app.

In a press briefing before the launch, a Facebook project manager denied that the new features are meant as a competitive response to Snapchat (SNAP), which just went public and now has a market value of $27 billion. The company says the new features were added based on research into what kinds of content creation and sharing tools users wanted the most.

Facebook has tried multiple times to copy or duplicate Snapchat’s success, including launching standalone apps such as Poke and Slingshot. Most of these were quickly shut down by the social network after users failed to adopt them, however.

The social network is said to be concerned about Snapchat’s rapid growth and the fact that it appeals to millennial users, while some metrics show that sharing and engagement on Facebook has fallen. Facebook (FB) tried to acquire Snapchat in 2013 for $3 billion, but CEO Evan Siegel and his co-founders refused.

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