On Tuesday, Instagram rolled out a new feature called Stories, which allows users to take pictures or videos, edit them with emojis, text or custom drawings, and add them to a sequential list that other users can view for 24 hours. Pretty cool, right? Sounds like something that could be popular?
That’s because the idea is cool, and it already is a popular feature on Snapchat.
Check out the two promotional videos below:
Snapchat Stories (from ~3 years ago)
Yeah, they're really similar, and Facebook knows it, too. In an interview with TechCrunch, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom admitted that he and his team essentially cribbed the Stories idea from Snapchat.
“Totally, they deserve all the credit."
Instagram's CEO Kevin Systrom in a interview with TechCrunch about drawing inspiration for the new feature's format from Snapchat.
This marks the fourth time that Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) has attempted to clone Snapchat and regain lost attention from more youthful users. Three and a half years ago, when Snapchat was still emerging from obscurity, Facebook launched a standalone app called Poke that mirrored the disappearing-messaging app's features. Then came Slingshot, a free app that was also very similar to Snapchat, except that users were only able to view incoming messages after they themselves sent a message back. And less than a month ago, Facebook decided to call it quits on Quick Updates, a feature it was testing that allowed users to post ephemeral updates to their Facebook profiles that lasted just 24 hours.
Three strikes and you’re out, right? Well, apparently not.
“Yeah, but this time is different”
To be fair, there is a factor that could make this launch more successful than the past three: its integration into the already-popular Instagram. Previous attempts at creating a Snapchat competitor either forced the user to download a new app or change the way they interacted with the existing Facebook app—both of which are huge asks. Instagram is currently the dominant player in the social photo sharing space, boasting north of 300 million daily users; Snapchat is rumored to have about 160 million DAU. With a huge active user base that is already taking, editing and sharing photos, the Stories feature may catch on quicker than Facebook's previous attempts.
Still, I think that oversimplifies how people create, edit and share photos. As of now, pictures that are uploaded to Instagram are chosen with care. A lot of thought goes into which photo to post and which filter to use, the appropriate brightness, contrast, etc. Because of this, people open the app expecting a certain quality. Adding the stories feature, which rewards quick photos with sloppy edits, devalues that experience.
This really could play out one of two ways. Either the current Instagram base rejects the new feature, as it doesn’t fit in with how they currently use the app and the experience provided, or it catches on and the Instagram experience shifts away from quality photos toward more casual and playful pictures.
As a somewhat-avid user of both Instagram and Snapchat, I don’t envision stories catching on, at least not to the point of being of any concern to Snapchat. The change of use case is just a bit too big to be natural. That said, there's no doubt Instagram Stories is the best attempt put forth by Facebook so far.
When Facebook launched its initial Snapchat clone, Poke, back in 2012, jokes floated around that the functionality was so simple that the app was built in just 12 days. Almost four years later, we'll see if Facebook can finally get the last laugh.