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What Facebook designers think about ‘copying’ Snapchat’s features

Published Mar 20th, 2017 8:00PM EDT


It’s no secret that Facebook wants to dominate mobile and, in turn, views any mobile app that enjoys a sizable user base as a strategic threat. It’s why Mark Zuckerberg unilaterally decided to acquire Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and why Facebook didn’t think twice about spending $19 billion for WhatsApp just two years later.

But one company that famously decided against joining the Facebook umbrella is Snapchat. In fact, even before Facebook acquired WhatsApp, the social network laid out a $3 billion offer for Snapchat, an offer that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel seemingly didn’t even consider.

“There are very few people in the world who get to build a business like this,” Spiegel said in an interview a few years back. “I think trading that for some short-term gain isn’t very interesting.”

In the face of rejection, Facebook didn’t throw up its hands and say “oh well” and carry on with other initiatives. Far from it, Facebook figured that if it couldn’t acquire Snapchat, it would go ahead and mimic the app’s functionality. Over the past many months, Facebook has been absolutely shameless about incorporating features popularized by Snapchat into Instagram and Facebook.

From Facebook’s acquisition of MSQRD to the introduction of Snapchat-esque stories on Instagram, the running tally of Snapchat-inspired features on Facebook properties is impressively long and continues to grow. Earlier this month, for example, Facebook began rolling out some familiar Snapchat features to its Messenger app with Messenger Day.

That being the case, an interesting thread on Quora tackles the following question: what do Facebook employees think of the company’s obsession with mimicking any number of Snapchat features.

Addressing the issue, former Facebook product designer Mills Baker explains that the range of reactions were varied, with some being excited to tackle Snapchat and others expressing “angst” at the idea. That said, Baker says that many people at Facebook don’t view some Snapchat features as “innovations” to be copied, but more as “commodity features” with benefits that Facebook would be stupid to ignore.

Baker opines:

This is not to say that no one felt anxiety about what appears to be “copying”; for designers who target invention (rather than, say, utility) —or who conceive of creativity solely at the UI / IxD layer— I’m sure there was ambivalence. But again: Snapchat didn’t invent ephemerality; full-screen mobile-first sharing; chat; or even, to my knowledge, masks. They just did a beautiful job integrating them all in a way that worked for and made sense to many users. We wanted to do the same: make it possible for more people to share more of their lives and connect with others through doing so.

It’s an interesting topic to be sure, and make sure to check out Baker’s full response on the thread over here.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.