If you’ve haven’t realized, Facebook is kind of a big deal. Facebook has a market valuation around $350 billion and is competing against the likes of Apple, Google, and Microsoft to be the first company to reach that illustrious $1 trillion mark. The platform is home to more than 1.5 billion users or more than 5 times the population of the United States. Usually companies of this size have slow growth but Facebook is growing faster than any comparable company. Yet, despite their size and success, Facebook has yet it figure out how to get past the next hurdle: Snapchat. If you’ve been paying attention in class, you know Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are no stranger to pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation and moving forward. They know that videos are where the future is and currently, Snapchat stands in the way of their future.
“Video could provide the next avenue for growth. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would evolve into a “video-first” company by making video core to each of its apps. Executives predict that within five years, most of what people consume online will be video.”
Facebook has actually been cognizant of the upward trend of videos, dating all the way back to 2012. With over a billion photos shared on Snapchat at the end of 2012, Facebook began to take notice of the upstart app, despite its supposed reputation as a “sexting” medium. Nonetheless, inspired by Snapchat’s success, Mark Zuckerberg and Co. released “Poke,” their own ephemeral messaging app, although it was advertised as an addition to Facebook Messenger. Chances are you never heard of “Poke,” so that tells you all you need to know about its success in the market.
Come 2013, Facebook pretended like Poke didn’t exist and simply tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion. Although Snapchat (aka Snap Inc.) is now valuing itself at about $25 billion, back in 2013, a $3 billion acquisition would have been the most expensive purchase in Facebook’s history. Retrospectively, it’s clear that the deal would have been terrible for Snapchat cofounder Evan Spiegel but turning down the opportunity to become an overnight billionaire was crazy. He prefaced his decision by saying “There are very few people in the world who get to build a business like this…I think trading that for some short-term gain isn’t very interesting.”
After striking out the first 2 times, Facebook still would not waver. In 2014, they launched another app, Slingshot. Learning from their first ephemeral messaging app mistakes, unlike Poke, Slingshot accounts did not have to be connected to Facebook and had some unique features to differentiate itself from Snapchat. The app released with some initial positive feedback, and designer Joey Flynn was quick to distinguish the key difference between Slingshot and Snapchat. “We don’t see this as a messaging app,” said Flynn. “It’s more along lines of a feed or stream of content.” Whether you want to call it a feed or a messaging app, either way, it was a failure. The app was taken off the App Store a year later in 2015.
Now enter 2016. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat and failed. Facebook launched not one, but two of their own Snapchat clones and failed. This time, Zuckerberg went a different route. Instagram, purchased by Facebook back in 2012, launched its own version of stories, which work exactly like Snapchat stories. Instagram didn’t even try to hide their source of inspiration, as Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said that Snapchat deserved all the credit for the “stories” idea. After 2 months, the feature had about 100 million active users which is about ⅔ of the total user base of Snapchat, thus making Instagram Stories the first positive attempt at tackling Snapchat.
With a $25 billion valuation, Facebook knew it was going to take more than one shot to knock off Snapchat. So along with Instagram Stories, this past summer Facebook attempted to acquire Snow, a Korean Snapchat-like service dubbed the “Asian Snapchat.” The app is garnering 10 million new users monthly and touts superior customization over its American counterpart, as Snow has 200 face filters compared to Snapchat’s dozen. Facebook does have competition, as Snow’s growth has made it an attractive opportunity for many Asian tech giants such as Alibaba. While there is uncertainty regarding the possible acquisition of Snow, Facebook has also begun positioning itself so that it might not need to purchase any Snapchat clone or launch any new Snapchat copycat app. Instead of finding a new ephemeral messaging medium, Facebook is attempting to be one. The Verge reports:
“Facebook will expand testing of a new camera in its main app that relies on the very same video and photo filters users of Snapchat enjoy. This includes masks that map to your face and full-frame effects that overlay over the scene. It will also let you either post that content or send it as a direct message to any number of people on your friends list. And in one more Snapchat-like flourish, this photo or video will only remain visible so long as you and your friend talk about it. If you fail to start a conversation in the first 24 hours after it’s sent, the content will disappear.”
But why video?
So what is exactly so great about video? Facebook wants more people to be content creators. Right now, most social media users are simply content consumers. People aren’t sharing statuses, pictures, or personal content as readily as they are sharing news articles and links to other content. And it’s not only about getting more pictures and videos on Facebook. Images that last for less than 10 seconds have less of documentrial nature than your traditional photograph. They incite conversation and are in the realm of content-creating that Facebook is looking for. And even though Facebook owns Instagram, people rarely post more than one image in a day and some users often go days without posting an image at all. On the other the hand, people send multiple Snapchats each hour and the issue of deleting content because of too few likes doesn’t come into play on Snapchat. So, even if your Facebook feed isn’t 99% video in 5 years as Zuckerberg hopes, do expect the next 5 years to be full of attempts to turn consumers into creators.