Zuckerberg’s winning move
Facebook, not Snapchat will be pioneering augmented reality.
Facebook has tried to clone Snapchat for a while, both before and after attempting to acquire the company. After the clones failed, Facebook took the approach of implementing Snapchat’s signature feature, stories, into it’s existing apps where it already had an audience. One by one, some form of stories was added to Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger and finally the main Facebook app. They took a lot of heat for shamelessly copying their competitor. But I think self expression via camera is more than just a Snapchat feature. It is both a new medium in itself and the doors to bringing augmented reality into mainstream.
An enhanced way of communication
Think of instant messaging. There are countless products online, including both Snapchat and Facebook that have an instant messaging feature. We don’t see these features as somehow copies of ICQ or AIM. Instant messaging is a way of tele-communication. Both ICQ and AIM, as well as Facebook and Snapchat among dozens of other products became part of its worldwide adaption. Expressing one’s daily experiences via a series of images enriched with overlay graphics is a new form of tele-communication. In fact, it is, in some way, an evolution of the text based status updates that became hugely popular with Facebook and Twitter. The overlay graphics are a major part of this new medium because they are the first step of a larger world, extended through augmented reality.
Mainstream adaption requires opening up
Recently, Facebook announced their camera effects platform. In his F8 keynote, Zuckerberg said: “Now a lot of people look at the stuff and it seems so basic, right? And you ask, you know, maybe this is just what kids are into doing these things. But we look at this and we see something different: we see the beginning of a new platform.”
It is clear that Facebook understands what it takes for a new medium like this to take off. With Facebook’s camera effects platform, we will start seeing thousands of new effects, games, mini-apps with rich augmented reality features. Developers and designers all around will come up with ways of taking advantage of this technology that the Facebook or Snapchat teams could never come up with alone. Users from all backgrounds will start seeing the enhancements augmented reality will bring into their conversations. We will start seeing what works and what doesn’t.
More than a trend
I never forget Zuckerberg’s answer to a question about Facebook losing its cool a few years ago. He said that being cool had never been his goal. He gave an analogy to electricity: “Maybe electricity was cool when it first came out, but pretty quickly people stopped talking about it because it’s not the new thing. The real question you want to track at that point is: Are fewer people turning on their lights because it’s less cool?”
Snapchat on the other hand, seems to not care about being a new tele-communication technology that connects people worldwide. And that is fine. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a high-end niche boutique like brand that perhaps attracts more expensive advertisers.
However, Snapchat cannot expect itself to be the only company to sail in the seas of augmented reality, camera or even stories, especially if it’s not taking the role of pioneering the wider adaption of the technology. A new medium of communication is much bigger than any company, app or feature. Facebook by taking the initiative and opening up this technology to all developers and helping it spread faster, will make itself the company we think of when we look back to how this whole augmented reality thing became mainstream.