Facebook Messenger’s Product Manager, Tony Leach, recently claimed in an interview with TechCrunch that ‘we like to think of the camera as the new keyboard.’
The latest expression of this approach came with great fanfare last week as Facebook launched Stories – the latest in a series of such moves, following on from the addition of Stories to the Facebook-owned Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp platforms – a move described by The Verge as ‘an all-out assault on Snapchat’ and ‘an effort to blunt its momentum’. This means that five leading social platforms now have near-identical functionality.
The new product actually consists of three elements. Facebook Camera, accessed by swiping right on the mobile app, allows users to take photos and videos and then create and add filters, graphics and illustrations. Facebook Direct – effectively a messaging inbox – enables users to share their Stories with one or multiple friends – and to respond to friends’ stories. Stories themselves, along with the Direct icon, appear as circular profile pictures above the main newsfeed on the app and scroll horizontally.
The launch of Facebook Stories has a number of implications for the social media landscape.
The trend to short-form, visual and messaging-based storytelling is irrefutable, especially amongst Gen Y and Z; Snapchat has been, for most of its existence, the fastest-growing social network and acquired 50 million active users in 2016 alone. It’s far too early to say which platform will win the ‘Stories War’ – and whether Facebook will convert Snapchat users, but the issue is perhaps more of a matter of brand preference than functionality.
Perhaps more intriguing are the implications for Facebook itself. Stories not only sits above the existing newsfeed, it is a newsfeed in its own right – and users now have the opportunity to post in two places – or not to post on the original newsfeed at all. Does this threaten the existing feed – and its attendant monetisation? Again, it’s far too early to tell, but perhaps it’s not too much of a quantum leap to imagine a very different Facebook in a couple of years’ time…