In 2013, Facebook approached Snapchat with a $3 billion (around Rs. 16,500 crore) buyout offer, which then had only 5 million daily active users. Evan Spiegel, co-founder and CEO of the company now called Snap, quickly declined. When Snap went public early last month, it was valued at $28 billion (roughly Rs. 1.85 lakh crores). And this number of users increased to 158 million.
Thanks to Spiegel’s success in attracting young people to the ephemeral messaging platform, Facebook has tried every trick possible to steal the spotlight from Snapchat. There were a few failed standalone clones along the way, and it relentlessly copied one of Snapchat’s great innovations, with varying degrees of success. It largely implemented “Stories,” a slideshow of images and videos viewable by all subscribers for just 24 hours after upload.
First, Facebook introduced this to Instagram in August last year. Then the same feature was implemented in WhatsApp two months ago, in what is called a modification of the existing WhatsApp status. When it came to Messenger last month, Facebook called it Messenger Day. And just a few weeks ago, all of Snapchat’s core features — including the ability to apply augmented reality masks, or Lenses as most know them — were integrated directly into the Facebook app.
It’s clear that Facebook’s approach to crushing Snapchat is not a smart integration. It’s more of a carpet bomb. But it seems to have worked. Last week, Instagram announced that more than 200 million people were using its Stories feature. That’s more users than Snapchat has on its entire platform. When Facebook acquired the photo-sharing platform in 2012, it had a total of around 30 million users, and today it has around 600 million. And yet, Instagram has the smallest user base among Facebook’s four major properties.
Facebook is by far the largest social network in the world, with almost 2 billion users. WhatsApp, Facebook’s biggest buyout at $19 billion, itself has a billion users. Messenger, a built-in feature that was developed independently, also has a billion users. And because it has users, Facebook can court developers and ad dollars better than any other.
That’s what Mark Zuckerberg – the man himself – did earlier this week at the company’s F8 developer conference. In a conversation with Snapchat, the co-founder and CEO said that the arrival of AR-enabled filters and effects was just the “first phase” of their plan. And where Snapchat has two dozen filters at most, Zuckerberg noted that Facebook will have thousands by opening it up to creators around the world. And even though he didn’t say it, you can bet brands will be allowed in on the action, too.
“We are making the camera the first augmented reality platform,” Zuckerberg added. In its second act, Facebook will expand the scope of augmented reality to include everything in your environment. Placing sharks around your breakfast bowl? You got it. Take a still image and convert it to 3D? Easily achievable, he said. Identify a coffee cup and suggest relevant effects, like steam? Yes, it’s on the way.
Snapchat’s Spiegel is clearly not ready to give up. On the day of the Facebook event, Snapchat rolled out “World Lenses” that let you do exactly what Zuckerberg showed. You can place text and make it behave like a real-world object, or plant virtual flowers in the ground that you can then interact with. And while Facebook provided the tools to developers in the beta phase, Snap’s offerings are already available to everyone.
But that won’t bother Zuckerberg. When you have the keys to the four biggest social networks on the planet, being late to the party doesn’t really bother you. And that allowed it – and in turn Facebook – to play the game in the long term. The company’s purchase of Oculus for over $2 billion (around Rs 12,000 crore) in 2014 left many perplexed. Would Facebook broadcast its news feed in virtual reality and place ads all around us?
Turns out not really. Nearly three years after this acquisition, Facebook’s Social VR division has unveiled its first product in beta: Facebook Spaces, a virtual hangout space for you and your friends, filled with digital avatars, customizable environments and even video games. ‘video calls for those who don’t. own an Oculus Rift. No other company is betting as much as Facebook on virtual reality, and Zuckerberg made it clear at this week’s conference that augmented reality would benefit from similar attention.
The 32-year-old multibillionaire thought the glasses would be the “first consumer augmented reality platform,” not the Spectacles kind, but A Google Glass. For now, we’re focusing on the camera. Facebook’s ultimate vision is to allow AR to go beyond the restrictions of your phone screen onto glasses and maybe even contact lenses, where it then controls literally What you see. But he knows the required technology isn’t there yet.
“Even though we have been slow to add cameras to all of our applications, I am confident that we will be the ones to push this technology forward,” Zuckerberg added. Snapchat may have popularized camera effects among younger audiences – mostly millennials – but with its reach and investment, it will be the billions of users across Facebook’s various platforms who will witness the advent of next-level AR. where they already are.
Once that happens, they won’t feel the need to switch to Snapchat. And Facebook would have won, once again.