On Friday came the news that Facebook is testing a new camera in its main app that offers Snapchat Lens-style photo and video filters to users. The camera, available to users in Ireland for now, is accessed by swiping right on the homescreen of the Facebook app.
Then on Saturday it was revealed that Facebook has also launched Snapchat-style filters in Facebook Live as a special Halloween feature. They’re different filters from the ones available in the main test, though, and users can’t simply save them – instead, the goal seems to be to promote more Facebook Live sharing.
On Monday, TechCrunch reported that Facebook tried to buy the Asian snapchat clone Snow. Like Snapchat, Snow features, you guessed it, a large portfolio of filters and masks. TechCrunch says that some time after it was profiled by the New York Times in July, the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, made a move to acquire the company. But just like Snapchat did before it, Snow rejected the offer, seeing a bigger future outside Facebook than in.
By our count, this marks the eighth, ninth and 10th times Facebook has tried to directly take on Snapchat by replicating its features or just by buying them in.
1. In 2012, it coded Poke, a flagrant clone of Snapchat, in just 12 days, focusing on the ephemeral picture messaging. Zuckerberg was proud of Facebook’s speed, but the app disappeared without a trace shortly after.
2. In 2013, Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for a reported $3bn, but Snapchat declined.
3. In 2014, Facebook launched a fully-featured ephemeral messaging rival Slingshot, which actually had unique features of its own, including the ability to require a picture message in reply before the original was ‘unlocked’. Slingshot died a year later.
4. In 2015, Facebook tried a different tack, rolling ephemeral messaging into Messenger in a test. The test wasn’t rolled out widely.
5. In 2016, it did it again, this time pushing the ephemeral messaging as part of a suite of security updates for messenger, alongside end-to-end encryption. Those features are still in Messenger.
6. But that didn’t stop the clones coming. One month later, Facebook set its sights on a different aspect of Snapchat: the company’s popular Stories feature, which lets users share their photos and videos for longer, up to 24 hours, to all their followers at once. In August, Facebook subsidiary Instagram launched Instagram Stories, which lets users share their photos and videos for longer, up to 24-hours, to all their followers at once.
7. That same month, Facebook also launched Lifestage, which took a novel approach, attempting to win over Snapchat’s teen demographic without straightforwardly copying features. The app invites users to create a series of videos showing their happy face, sad face, how they dance and sign, their favourite and least favourite song and who their best friend is – but it still invites Snapchat comparisons thanks to the look and feel of the app.
With attempts six and seven coming in the same month, and eight, nine, and 10 coming in the same weekend, it’s clear that Facebook’s attacks on Snapchat are accelerating. Some back-of-the-envelope maths suggests that at the current rate of acceleration, there will be more Facebook clones of Snapchat than there are atoms in the universe by the year 2030. And yet Snapchat will probably still be more popular among teens.