Facebook rolled out its new stories feature to its mobile app at the end of last month. This update will be familiar to users of Snapchat or Instagram, but many of the more than 1.7 billion people who use Facebook’s mobile app each month may not have come across the Story format before.
For users wondering what exactly it is and who it’s for, we decided to take a look at Facebook Stories and find out what sets it apart from Snapchat’s equivalent.
What Are Facebook Stories?
The Stories feature in the Facebook mobile app (not to be confused with the identically named Facebook Stories, which is a website dedicated to celebrating the connections people make on Facebook) is essentially an alternative method of sharing photos and videos with friends. The feature is currently available to users of the Facebook smartphone app.
Instead of posting photos and videos to your timeline, you now have the option of posting them to your “Story,” which is a section of your profile page that appears above your timeline. It is represented by a circle with your profile photo in it.
Any photos or videos you publish to your Story are viewable for 24 hours. After that time, the Story vanishes. When friends tap on your Story, each photo or video inside it appears on screen in a sequence, divided by animated transitions. Each file is visible for a few seconds. In this respect, Stories look a bit like short slide shows. Each of your contacts can view this collection of visual media no more than twice in that 24-hour period.
By default, your Stories are visible to all of your Facebook friends. However, they can also be shared directly with specific friends, which keeps them hidden from everybody else. Like Snapchat, Facebook has also introduced a range of filters and overlays to make your images look more whacky.
Snapchat Stories vs Facebook Stories: What Are the Differences?
Perhaps the most widely shared Snapchat overlay is a cartoon dog nose and ears that track the user’s face. When the subject opens their mouth, a large, animated dog tongue lolls out. Facebook has similar animated overlays, including some movie tie-ins such as Alien: Covenant and Guardians of the Galaxy.
These are stored in the same gallery as static overlays and coloured filters, meaning you can browse through various effect types at once. It also includes some Prisma-style painterly effects, which can be applied to photo or video. As with Snapchat and Instagram, pressing the shutter button once takes a photo, whereas holding it down takes a video.
To save you from having to delve into the full gallery, the Facebook app automatically loads a selection of effects and places them in a stack that’s represented on screen by a series of dots on the left-hand side of the display. Each of these effects can be previewed by swiping up or down anywhere on the screen. This is quicker than delving into the menus, which can help you to catch the moment.
Facebook’s interface requires a lot less accuracy than Snapchat’s implementation, which first requires you to touch the screen, and then swipe left and right through “lenses”. These are actually animated overlays and each is represented by a small circle at the bottom of the screen.
Unlike the Facebook app, in Snapchat you can’t swipe anywhere on the screen to scroll through the effects. The circles are small and inconveniently located. If you’re using a large smartphone with one hand, the placement can compromise your grip, making the UI less intuitive than Facebook’s.
Another noticeable difference in Facebook Stories is that stickers, animated overlays and coloured filters are all combined in the auto-selected batch of effects. In Snapchat, however, you have to apply your animated overlay first, then add your stickers in a subsequent step. This makes Facebook’s implementation a little quicker to navigate.
Who’s It For?
So, it’s like posting to your timeline, but with viewing restrictions. Why’s that a positive? Well, when Snapchat first popularized the whacky overlay, auto-destruct format, the app was widely considered to the social network of choice among young people.
According to Snapchat’s recent IPO filing, the average user is female, aged between 18 and 24. As Facebook was beginning to attract parents and other relatives, it seemed that the cool kids were migrating to Snapchat.
The apps usability quirks and its auto-expiring content lent a sense of secrecy to the app. The fact that most parents couldn’t make head nor tail of it just added to its cool factor. To many technology pundits, however, Snapchat was dismissed as little more than a sexting app for teens, so why has its key feature now become part of Facebook’s strategy?
Facebook first toyed with the story format in its Messenger app in September 2016. Instagram, also owned by Facebook, launched a Stories clone in August 2016. Facebook’s Whatsapp followed suit in February 2017. Instagram hit 150 million daily users earlier this year, which coincided with its announcement that it would start displaying ads between users’ friends’ stories. That’s 150 million pairs of eyes that could stumble upon an advertiser’s message.
This essentially proved Facebook’s theory that users are shifting to visual communication when online. Facebook’s extraordinary growth has been based on attracting users by offering them their friends’ content. However, the amount of original, user-generated content being shared on Facebook reportedly declined by 21% between mid-2015 and mid-2016.
Instead of their own photos and videos, users are increasingly sharing news articles and other external links. This means traffic is more likely to stray outside of Facebook. It’s possible that Facebook is hoping its Stories will help to combat this content drought.
If that’s the case, the company is likely to be eager to prevent the spread of the notion that Facebook isn’t a place for personal content. If that belief becomes widespread, there is a danger that users will go elsewhere to find out what their friends are up to. Smaller, more closed communities like Snapchat, Whatsapp, and Instagram could be seen as visual communication platforms, with Facebook becoming known as a dumping ground for links to news from unvetted sources.
Why Copy Snapchat If Snapchat Isn’t Profitable?
This year, Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, sent its Registration Statement to the US Securities and Exchange commission to become a public company. The document reveals that the company has struggled to achieve profitability in the past and “may never achieve or maintain profitability”. Despite this, Snapchat floated at $24bn, making it the biggest US tech float since 2014. Whether or not platforms like Snapchat achieve profitability, it appears that the potential to reach an audience of that size is irresistible to investors.