Facebook is rolling out ephemeral stories and messaging in its mobile apps, bringing the popular format for sharing photos and videos to more than 1.65 billion people a day. The move is part of an all-out effort to blunt the momentum of Snapchat, which invented the stories format in 2013, and to ensure Facebook’s continued dominance in an era where photo and video become a primary mode of communication. Its relative success or failure will go a long way in determining who owns the near future of social networking.
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.
The company first introduced a clone of Snapchat stories in August with Instagram, reflecting the company’s belief that camera-based messaging represents the future of social interaction. Facebook Messenger was next, and testing began inside Facebook’s flagship app in January. WhatsApp rolled out a version in February.
Keeping users, and keeping them engaged, is always the directive of a social media platform, and the slope just got steeper, as it did for Twitter’s Periscope when Facebook Live stole its thunder. “Users continue to be critical to both platforms, but real growth is in engagement and the data that generates about their preferences, habits and behaviours,” says Etlinger.
For now, however, Snap may need to come up with new ideas—and potentially ones that Facebook can’t co-opt. According to Etlinger, it’s turning into “a features arms race between Snap and FB to keep users in the apps as much as possible.”