Facebook aims for Snapchat-like camera-centric focus

SAN FRANCISCO — The way people share is changing so Facebook says it's changing with it, becoming more visual.

Facebook is testing a new camera in a prominent spot in News Feed that uses Snapchat-like photo and video filters so Facebook users, who are sharing more photos and videos, can be more creative and expressive. Facebook is also giving users more flexibility to share content only with close friends.

In the test in Ireland that started Friday, a camera with dozens of special effects such as masks and frames sits to the left of News Feed. Facebook users can post the content in News Feed or share it via direct message with friends through the new Facebook Direct inbox. The message remains visible for as long as people are talking about it. When the conversation ends, it disappears.

Facebook believes images, and especially moving images, will soon subsume words and photographs as the preferred means of sharing personal updates on social media and messaging services. And it's trying to capture some of the magic of buzzy and youth-friendly mobile app Snapchat that has gotten that from the start.

Snapchat, the popular messaging service owned by Los Angeles company Snap that spurned a $3 billion cash offer from Facebook, is planning an initial public offering in 2017. Snapchat is a very visual messaging service in which everything revolves around the camera, whereas the composer in Facebook — the place where you type status updates — is still a blank text box with a blinking cursor.

The idea: to make it easier to shoot photos and videos and give Facebook users more tools — filters, frames and masks popular on Snapchat — to make status updates personal and expressive. The masks are from MSQRD, the start-up Facebook bought in March which makes imaging software that jazzes up videos and selfies with fun filters, masks and other special effects.

Facebook first began experimenting with a new camera during the Summer Olympics in Brazil, putting it at the top of the News Feed for people in Brazil and Canada.

Facebook has not yet settled on what experience will work best for Facebook users, but the camera, whether people are taking photos or videos and jazzing them up with augmented reality, will be at the heart of it.

Product chief Chris Cox talked about Facebook's camera-centric focus this week at The Wall Street Journal's WSJD conference in Laguna Beach, Calif.

"It's an area of work we're really invested in, which is making it easy for the camera to be an early application of AR," said Cox, who demoed new filters for live video that imitate the styles of famous painters.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is leading the company-wide focus on "video first."

"Ten years ago, most of what we shared and consumed online was text. Now it's photos. And soon, most of it will be videos," Zuckerberg told analysts during the company's second-quarter earnings call. "We see a world that is video first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and services."


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