Snap out of it, Facebook! Snapchat clones rile Messenger, WhatsApp users

SAN FRANCISCO — Ever since Snap turned down its $3 billion-plus offer, Facebook has opted for the next best thing to owning the parent company of the buzzy chat app: It's been cloning Snapchat's features.

But with some users revolting against two new lookalike updates, has Facebook drawn too much inspiration from Snapchat? Some ticked-off users think so.

The backlash stems from new features on chat apps Messenger and WhatsApp that mimic Snapchat Stories that are popular with smartphone-toting teens and adults.

WhatsApp this week backtracked after the app's ratings had plunged to one- and two-star reviews as people groused about the new "Status" feature that encouraged them to share images, GIFs and videos along with drawings and emojis that disappeared after 24 hours. What some of WhatsApp's 1.2 billion users wanted back: The simple text update located next to each user's profile. And now they're getting it.

"We heard from our users that people missed the ability to set a persistent text-only update in their profile, so we’ve integrated this feature into the ‘About’ section in profile settings," WhatsApp said in a statement.

None too soon for Tania Hinds, a 26-year-old part-time blogger from Brighton, England who works in retail. She says she uses WhatsApp daily to stay in touch with friends and family, especially her twin sister who lives abroad.

"I would prefer they looked into developing useful features ... relevant to communication rather than trying to compete with Snapchat," Hinds said. "It feels like a completely redundant feature and could not be further from the reason I use WhatsApp."

She added: "Who really needs another platform to share disappearing images?"

That's the question Facebook is grappling with as some people express frustration with another new feature: Messenger Day, which encourages them to share video diaries on Facebook Messenger that disappear after 24 hours.

Messenger Day sits at the top of the list of active threads in Facebook Messenger with no option to hide or remove it.

And that has been extremely distracting for Julian Maha, the 40-year-old founder and CEO of KultureCity in Birmingham, Alabama, who uses Messenger to communicate with his start-up team internationally.

"Messenger used to be a relatively clean interface. Adding Snapchat-like features to it serves to not only clutter this up, but also create confusion about the purpose of Messenger," he said. "Messenger needs to stick to what it is designed to do best. The Snapchat cloning features have added no benefit at all."

Facebook Messenger declined to comment.

Facebook had good reason to think people would embrace Snapchat-like features. Snapchat Stories, launched in 2014, was the inspiration behind Instagram Stories with which users can create text, photo and videos that vanish after 24 hours. The feature has been such a resounding success that Snap had to warn IPO investors that Instagram could clip its growth. Facebook is testing a version of Stories for its main Facebook app, too.

But what worked for Instagram — and may even work for Facebook — does not work for Messenger and WhatsApp, says Anjelika Petrochenko, co-founder and vice president of product at ArrowPass, a tech start-up in Oakland, Calif.

"I don't feel like I need another way to express myself online," said Petrochenko, 37, who is active on Facebook, Instagram Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat and used to work for LiveJournal and Russian social network Kroogi. "I already use Snapchat for personal updates. And if I would want to share those with my friends who aren't on Snapchat, I would probably copy my Snaps to Instagram like some people do."

Silicon Valley venture capitalist M.G. Siegler says he gets it. Snap, now publicly traded, is so in tune with young people that it has become an existential threat to Facebook.

But Siegler's verdict on Messenger Day? He hates it. He even wrote a blog post to convey his consternation: "ShatChat: The opposite of an ode to Facebook ‘Messenger Day.’"

"The ‘Story’ format makes sense in Instagram. From the get-go, it was a visual feed of information," and if users didn't want it, they could just keep scrolling down the feed, he wrote in the blog post.

That's not the case in Messenger, Siegler argues.

"Here, people have their list of contacts and/or groups that they chat with. The most recent conversations — likely the most important — are at the top of that feed. But if you’re anything like me, you’re often scrolling down a bit because you have many regular conversations. And so this screen real estate is insanely valuable. And Messenger puked up this new ‘Day’ nonsense all over it."

Prompts that pop up when people share images in a Messenger chat window have led to some unintended posts in Messenger Day, Jon Russell wrote in tech news outlet TechCrunch.

"One friend posted confirmation of a bank transfer, sent as confirmation to the receiver via Messenger, to 'Messenger Day.' Because it wasn’t clear how to remove the image, he cringed all day as it sat there for all to see for 24 hours before finally disappearing," Russell wrote.

Will people just learn to love the new features? Or will Facebook's latest bid to poach the attention of young people flop?

That remains to be seen. But Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research, warns that Facebook has gotten too aggressive in trying to force consumers to adopt new behaviors. The result, he says: New features that undercut the user experience.

"Over the past year Facebook has abandoned its past caution about forcing changes on users and has pushed its new strategic projects too hard," Dawson said.

Thao Tran, 32, says she uses both Messenger Day and Snapchat.

"The features in Messenger Day, like stickers, are pretty awesome," says Tran, director of marketing with software development company Concepta in Orlando, Fla.

But, she says, "I find it very distracting to use Messenger now. I only want it to serve one purpose: to message a friend or group of friends. Now, it’s getting very cluttered. I still prefer Stories in Snapchat. They serve a different purpose, audience and, in a sense, indulgence."

Tran says she doesn't blame people for complaining about the new features. "But isn’t that the case every time Facebook decides to roll out something major?" she says. "They’re all up in arms when it first releases and then end up giving in and use it anyway."

Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn @jguynn

Copyright USA Today


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