Facebook is testing a new version of its flagship app that opens directly to a Snapchat-style camera, encouraging you to capture more photos and videos and adorn them with filters and stickers. The test, which begins today in Canada and Brazil, marks the first time Facebook has incorporated technology from MSQRD, a video effects app that the company acquired in March. The move, which comes just days after Instagram added a Snapchat-like feed of ephemeral "stories," reflects Facebook's deep anxiety over Snapchat's growth at a time when it has seen sharing decline on its own platforms.
Participants in the test, which is being timed to the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, will find that the Facebook flagship app opens to the News Feed as usual. But in the field that asks "what's on your mind?", users will now see an open camera. Tap it to open the camera in full screen mode, and from there you can take a picture or record a short video clip. If you're using the front-facing camera, you can use one of MSQRD's augmented reality filters to take a more creative selfie.
Posts created with the camera are added to the News Feed and to the timeline on your profile just like any other post. "People are increasingly sharing via videos and photos — on Facebook and beyond," the company said in a statement. ("Beyond" is Facebook's name for Snapchat.) "And it's our job to create experiences that help people create and share in the ways they want."
"People are increasingly sharing via videos and photos."
In an interview, Facebook product manager Sachin Monga said that posting photos and videos using the app has been "super cumbersome" in the past. Something as simple as posting a picture of the Canadian flag has been a multi-step process, he said. (Monga is from Canada, and celebrated Canada Day on July 1st with his countrymen.) "You'd have to go to Google Images, find and download a stock photo of the Canadian flag, come back to Facebook, and in between maybe go to Photoshop or something to add [an effect]," he said. The test is designed to get people sharing more with fewer taps.
Facebook has a dominant position in social networking, and its business has never been stronger. But this spring, reports began to emerge that the company had experienced a 21 percent decline in the amount of posts per user. Meanwhile Snapchat, which rejected a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook in 2013, has seen explosive growth in photos and videos shared to the platform.
Facebook has responded in two ways. One has been to aggressively prod users into sharing whenever they open the app. "On this Day" stories that surface old posts, automatically generated slideshows of your recent photos, results of sports games, and location-aware suggestions to "check in" whenever you visit a new city are among the prompts that have been added to Facebook's composer in recent months.
Ruthlessly copying Snapchat
The company's second response has been to ruthlessly copy the features that have made Snapchat successful. For Instagram, that meant expanding beyond the glossy, aspirational photos of the main feed by adding a secondary feed of more candid, disappearing snapshots. And on Facebook, that means gradually transforming the News Feed into a home for videos that encourage creative self-expression.
The new camera features will be tested on Android and iOS in Canada and on iOS only in Brazil, the company said. "We're starting small," Monga said. "But the hope is eventually we can bring this really cool experience to people around the world — most of whom have never had the ability to experience the delight of opening up their phone and having it transform into this magical AR experience."