Over the past day and a half, the Snapchat vs Instagram battle has reached new heights. The rivalry got serious last year when Instagram added a whole new feature which was almost identical to Snapchat’s key “Stories” platform. Now Instagram has taken it a step further by introducing “face filters”, an accessible form of augmented reality popularised by Snapchat and adored by its users. This whimsical feature appears to be at odds with the highly-curated, aesthetics-focused, retro-filtered feed Instagram is synonymous with, especially as Snapchat users are typically younger and on the hunt for fun, wacky content.
This brazen move by Instagram is the final step in turning its Stories feature (launched last August) into an almost exact replica of Snapchat’s. Stories, which has been a key part of Snapchat’s interface for years, lets user upload short videos and images collaged with text and emoji, with each post lasting for only 24 hours. When viewing a story, you get the sense that you’re seeing someone’s day through their eyes, with minimal photo editing and no attempt at presenting the perfect over-exposed, Amaro-filtered dream life illusion.
Before Instagram launched its version last summer, the two platforms were only similar insofar as they both used a camera. For users of both apps, Instagram was a calm, peaceful oasis of beautiful sunsets and acai bowls, whereas Snapchat was the place we’d go to kick back and watch real people provide us with a window into their lives in a relatable way.
When Instagram launched Stories, users were faced with a dilemma: the feature was so incredibly similar to Snapchat’s that it seemed impossible not to duplicate content. How do you decide where to post your picture of a witty pub chalkboard sign versus the hilarious video of a flash mob you came across on your way to work?
There were still a few things that distinguished the two platforms, allowing them to maintain a distinct personality. Snapchat feels more anonymous than any other social network: it’s almost impossible to find someone’s account unless they want you to, it doesn’t integrate with any other platforms and it was the first mainstream product to popularise self-destructing content. On the flip side, Instagram is public-facing, personalised and deeply embedded in Facebook’s systems.
Most importantly, Snapchat’s face filters meant the first-person chatty video of oneself ranting semi-coherently could always have an edge of humour and self-awareness by simply turning your face into a dog’s, or face-swapping with your housemate. Instagram Stories, on the other hand, were the place for short Boomerangs of beautifully dressed people cocking their head, or the stunningly edited holiday photos that didn’t quite make the cut for the feed. For all the superficial signs that Instagram was moving towards realism, its stories still felt thought-through and curated, while Snapchat’s were raw and authentic in comparison.
Now that Instagram has shamelessly stolen one of Snapchat’s defining features, the lines begin to blur more than ever. This blurring can only spell disaster for Snap, Inc., which lost 25% of its value following its most recent earnings report. Instagram has already surpassed Snapchat with 200 million daily users, and with the weight of Facebook behind it, it’s able to bypass the struggle to forge relationships with advertisers.
In the age of the digital detox, when we’re looking to streamline our relationship to technology rather than complicate it further, creating daily content for two platforms which are essentially identical is unsustainable. Of the two, Instagram undeniably offers more value with its two distinct features (the grid and Stories), as well as discoverability and Facebook integration. Snapchat should prepare for users to trickle away.
Snapchat offered a sanctuary from the pressures of the “likes” and the follower counts, it allowed you to express yourself freely without worrying that everyone you ever added on Facebook might come across your drunken ramblings. For many of us, Snapchat is the one place where we can post content without worrying about the cringe-factor or the professional ramifications.
Instagram Stories offers us the possibility to create the illusion of authenticity while still polishing and editing our lives to make them as aspirational as possible, and watch in morbid fascination as more and more people you know only tangentially come across your profile and begin to watch. The loss of a purer, more honest digital space feels at once tragic and inevitable, particularly given that that Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook in 2013.
Instagram, it seems, has the lowest-common-denominator advantage in the social photo-sharing world. It may not have the best filters, the coolest interface or particularly original ideas, but it has the weight of Zuckerberg and the mass of users he brings behind it. As those of us who always preferred Hipstamatic can attest to, that weight goes a long way to essentially wiping out the competition.
Snapchat won’t disappear tomorrow, but with time at a premium it won’t be long before users decide if it’s preferable to focus on one platform. All the things that made us love Snapchat in the first place will become its undoing, as the digital generations prove once again that the thrill of new followers is just too addictive to pass up in favour of authenticity.