Facebook wants to commoditise Snapchat’s main feature

Facebook is today rolling out yet another Snapchat Stories clone, this time embedded within the company’s core service: the News Feed.

Facebook wants to commoditise Snapchat’s main feature

Facebook is today rolling out yet another Snapchat Stories clone, this time embedded within the company’s core service: the News Feed.

In the coming days, billions of Facebook users will be introduced to a concept that Snapchat first made famous, and many of these users will likely assume it’s a Facebook creation. Facebook Stories will exist in the Facebook iOS and Android app, in a primetime position above the News Feed. A Direct feature will allow users to send self-destructing photos and videos to specific friends, while a Story feature will allow for temporary 24-hour collections of first-person photos and videos.

As The Verge describes it, this isn’t just a single-feature addition:

The update rolling out globally this morning on iOS and Android has three parts: a redesigned in-app camera, a new feed of ephemeral stories at the top of the News Feed, and a private messaging feature called Direct. Taken together, the features represent the biggest changes to Facebook’s core product in recent memory.

Over the past few months, Facebook has saturated the ‘Story’ market. The company has introduced Instagram Stories, Messenger Days and even a WhatsApp-style story feature, all identical in theory but fragmented in approach.

At first, I assumed that Facebook was being intentionally haphazard in its approach to the feature. There were logical divides, Instagram Stories, for example, feeling like the celebrity-rich side of Snapchat. Another theory I had was that Facebook was trying to destroy the concept of the story altogether. I doubt Facebook would intentionally want to do that, though their strategy of flooding the market with different, disconnected variations on the same idea was peculiar, to say the least. To take on one competitor with several warring, fractured alternatives, aiming at equally divided audiences, didn’t seem like a smart tactic.

With today’s announcement though it’s now clear that Facebook really does see potential in the concept of the story. But they forgot to steal one core feature of Snapchat: the fresh start.

Facebook and Snapchat are fundamentally different products.

In my mind Facebook is a microblogging-style service and Snapchat is a messaging service. On Facebook I have old high-school friends, work colleagues and random people I’ve never bothered to remove. On Snapchat I practically just have my friends. Snapchat feels more like my SMS app. I only talk to the regulars in it. I added friends not by searching for their names, but instead by asking for usernames or by using Snapchat’s QR code tool. There weren’t any mutual friends or parents. There are very limited tools for user discovery, or at least they’re harder to find.

Snapchat is private and my contacts list is curated, while my Facebook friends list is beyond repair.

Facebook could easily overcome this hurdle. They could force users to pick who they were going to share their ‘Story’ with. Maybe they could even introduce a system of favouriting friends or even force people to separately curate their Facebook Story list. A Facebook Story could even involve usernames and QR codes, but it likely won’t.

And as it stands sharing a Facebook Story will require a lot more thought and care when compared to Snapchat. Even with additional filtration tools this problem of anxiety and needless thought still can’t be easily solved with a bestie-tagging system. Like Google+ Circles, this type of separation usually doesn’t work and often feels like it’s being built for engineers, not users. And it requires a lot more memory to remember who you’ve put into each group or circle. Did I put that person in my ‘starred’ contact list or not? Will mum see this? Will my friend? What defines a ‘starred’ friend?

I have a lot of faith in Facebook’s product team. Messenger, as just one example, was a slam-dunk for the company, building a sort-of buy-in effect for potential Facebook News Feed outcasts. Instagram was a brilliant purchase and it has been improved in plenty of ways. But in saying that, just as Messenger Days has been practically abandoned by most of my friends, Facebook Stories doesn’t seem to be a surefire hit either.

At the end of the day one of Snapchat’s key features was the fresh start it forced on users. Facebook won’t ever choose to take that risk.