Facebook is launching Avatars, a playful way for users to represent themselves in chats and comments, TechCrunch reports. The feature allows users to create customized digital characters to represent themselves in Messenger chats and News Feed comments. The feature is currently only open to users in Australia, but all Facebook users will be able to create them sometime at the end of this year or early next year.
App researcher Jane Manchun Wong first spotted the Avatars in development over a year ago, and the new designs have a more polished, 3D look compared to their original flat style. They look decidedly less like Bitmoji, Snapchat’s own customizable emoji, which it draws obvious comparisons to. Unlike Bitmoji though, Facebook Avatars won’t yet be able to be integrated into other apps like keyboards, and there’s no feature that lets users snap a photo to get the creation process started. “We want to make sure we don’t show you something totally opposite of the photo. There’s sensitivity around facial recognition,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Users will be able to start creating their avatars with a selection of gender neutral people to customize with 18 traits and clothing items. The company says it imagines avatars will come in handy for users who want to stay anonymous in profile photos or in Groups, which is a funny thing for a company literally called ‘Facebook’ to say.
Facebook is definitely late to the digital avatar game, as Bitmoji have settled in the pop culture lexicon since it launched in 2014. It’s hard to say whether Avatars will be able to top the offbeat charm of a well-placed Bitmoji — one of the best gags on HBO’s Barry is Noho Hank’s use of Bitmoji, cementing his place as the world’s most likeable hitman.