Here’s another gift from Facebook to Snapchat on the latter’s road to an initial public offering: WhatsApp has cloned Snapchat’s popular stories format and is using it to replace its old text-based status messages. The feature begins rolling out to WhatsApp’s billion-plus users today on Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone.
As on Snapchat, WhatsApp stories are posted from an in-app camera. Once you’ve taken a photo, you can adorn it with drawings, text, and emoji. Once you post your story, it appears in a new “status” tab, where your contacts can view it for the next 24 hours. You can reply to friends’ updates directly from the post.
WhatsApp becomes the fourth Facebook product to clone Snapchat stories. Instagram was the first, in August. It was followed by Facebook Messenger and then Facebook itself, both of which are still testing the feature in a small number of countries. WhatsApp is Facebook’s second product to roll the feature out globally.
WhatsApp positioned the update as a gift to users on its 8th birthday, and a kind of symbolic return to its origins. “When WhatsApp launched nearly 8 years ago (on Feb. 24th), it started as an app for sharing status updates, where people could type a short line of text to let their friends know what they were up to,” the company said in a blog post. “When we noticed people were using the feature to communicate in real time, we redesigned WhatsApp as a messaging app.”
Of course, if status updates were that important to the company, presumably it would have enhanced them some time in the past eight years. Instead, Snapchat arrived and began swallowing up large chunks of the younger demographic, instilling an existential terror in Facebook that has transformed its product roadmap over the past year.
From Facebook’s perspective, adding stories to WhatsApp represents a strategic effort to blunt Snapchat’s growth in markets where the ephemeral messaging app has yet to take root. By implementing one of Snapchat’s most popular features across its dominant suite of social apps, Facebook is forcing Snap Inc. to find new ways to grow its business.
And it could very well work. Within four months of launching, 150 million people were using Instagram stories every day — about the same amount that use Snapchat. WhatsApp stories give Snap one more thing to worry about. Its IPO is scheduled for March 2nd.