Facebook’s transformation into Snapchat is almost complete
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is bringing glitter beards and cartoon sloth hats to the phone, an important business endeavor it takes very seriously.
Starting Tuesday, Facebook users around the world will be able to use the company’s latest Snapchat-like features: an effects-filled camera, short visual stories and more disappearing messages.
The updated camera, accessible from a new button on top of the news feed, includes more than 100 animated overlays and effects. There are rainbows, masks, cityscapes, sloth hats and yes, beards filled with glitter.
The Stories tool — nearly identical to a feature Facebook-owned Instagram added in 2016 — lets people cobble together photos, video snippets and effects into short narratives that disappear after a day. It will appear as a row of circles on the top of the news feed, with your closest friends shown first.
Facebook is also adding an option to share disappearing Stories and photos directly with individual friends, without opening the Messenger app.
The new features are the social network’s latest unsubtle attempt to imitate Snapchat. Facebook was unable to strike a deal to buy the rival messaging company for $3 billion in 2013, and it has spent the intervening years imitating Snapchat’s greatest hits.
Snapchat, meanwhile, has been busy going public and dabbling in wearable cameras.
Facebook does credit Snapchat with pioneering the Stories format but says its own move into more visual content is a response to what users are already doing. Facebook has noticed an overall shift from text-based status updates to images and videos.
The rise of more visual forms of communications is changing how we communicate, especially on mobile devices. New emoji releases are hotly debated. Apple launched an entire ad campaign around the new stickers in its Messages app.
Perhaps that’s why Facebook is so earnest about the new additions. According to Kristen Spilman, Facebook’s director of art and animation, the new camera filters and effects are meant to enhance people’s thoughts, help them connect on a deeper level and make them part of a community. That’s a lot of pressure for an animated slice of pizza or gold trophy.
Facebook has spent months testing the new tools ahead of the roll-out. It killed an early incarnation that automatically turned on the camera when a user opened the app. In addition to partnerships with well-known artists like Hattie Stewart, Facebook is making promotional filters with movie studios and hopes to have users add their own in the future.
Facebook now includes various Snapchat-like features in all its major apps, and some of the tools do the same things. But the company isn’t worried about syncing up the tools just yet. For now, it’s focusing on making the best, most effective glitter facial hair experience possible.