Remember a time when you used Orkut? No? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It almost feels like a different lifetime to me too. While Orkut wasn’t exactly the social network of the world, it had a very strong presence in countries like India and Brazil. Then Facebook happened. Equipped with a successful couple of years in the western markets, Facebook took over the world in terms of social media communication. The company has come a long way and continues to move ahead full throttle. This is not to say that they did not face their share of competition. Facebook has a unique way to handle competition: either copy them outright or acquire them. When Twitter was its main rival, Facebook copied many key features from it, including status updates. Before then, people only maintained their profiles, and wrote on each other’s ‘walls.’ By copying Twitter’s main feature, Facebook suddenly had an engaging model that drew people back to the service multiple times a day. Where copying didn’t work, Facebook tried acquisition. In the process, they have steadily added other successful communication products to their fold. Apps like Instagram and Whatsapp were lapped up eagerly as soon as they became big enough to threaten Facebook.
Facebook’s current battle is with rival Snap Inc, and their flagship product Snapchat. Rival is perhaps a strong word, since snapchat has a userbase of 150 million compared to the 1.6 billion of Facebook. But for all that, Snapchat is growing at a rate that can soon take away advertising money that would otherwise be spent on Facebook. Additionally, Facebook fears losing customers in the 18-25 age bracket that form the majority of Snap’s customers. For these reasons and more, Zuckerberg tried buying the company back in 2013, an offer rejected by Evan Spiegel, who has taken Snap to IPO last month. Since being turned down, Facebook has tried its hand at making similar products to wipe out snapchat like Poke and Slingshot. Snapchat, however, held strong and the me-too products had to close shop. While this has only made Zuckerberg’s resolve in defeating snapchat stronger, his new approach on the battlefield is interesting.
So now instead of making competitive products, Facebook is going all in and incorporating snapchat like features into its main facebook app. This is a brilliant move, if executed right. The company has recently launched Instagram Stories, a feature similar to Snapchat Stories. This was Facebook’s way of testing the market and assessing for themselves the importance of a camera as a central social media tool. Having found good success, they went to on incorporate similar features into their main Facebook app. This rolled out globally earlier this week, with enhanced, augmented reality features to take snapchat head on.
And in case you weren’t watching Facebook just concluded its F8 2017 Developer conference, which took place in San Jose on April 18 and 19th. During the event, Facebook announced a number of new initiatives, products, and technologies. Everyone expected Facebook to stay focused on its competition with Snapchat, and Facebook did not disappoint on that front. The launch of Facebook’s Camera Effects platform, for example, is targeted squarely at Snapchat. Snapchat is known for its wacky filters where you can add digital effects–rainbows or clouds in the background, facial hair or funny sunglasses on the face–to the pictures you are taking. In technical terms, you might define this as Augmented Reality, or AR. Facebook has correctly identified this features as a major selling point of Snapchat, and decided to compete with it head on. The Camera Effects platform is essentially a direct rival to Snapchat’s AR features.
Does Facebook have what it takes to render snapchat irrelevant? I believe it does. Facebook, while being a mammoth of a platform is extremely agile in adapting to changes. Over the years we’ve witnessed how the company has made major product changes, most of which were successful, in the face of a changing landscape.