Snapchat is becoming less like itself

Group chat.
Group chat.
Image: Snap
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On April Fool’s Day 2017, Snapchat introduced a filter that looked like an Instagram post, hinting at all the times Instagram’s owner, Facebook, has copied the ephemeral messaging service. (This year, Snapchat made fun of Facebook’s Russian bot problem.)

It seems that now is Snapchat’s turn to play copycat. The company on April 3 announced a group-video chat function similar to one that has been in Facebook Messenger for over a year. The chat tool also feels a lot like an app already popular with younger generations: Houseparty.

Houseparty launched roughly two years ago out of the ashes of Meerkat, a live-streaming app that was crushed when Twitter acquired a very similar app called Periscope. Meerkat pivoted to providing video messaging for small groups, rather like a video version of AOL Instant Messenger. Renamed Houseparty, the app now has more than 20 million users, 60% of whom are under 24, spend an average of 51 minutes per day using it, according to Mashable.

Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, seems to have recognized that potential. Snapchat’s new chat function allows up to 16 people to video call at once, and each user can put lenses (animated filters) over their video feed. Facebook Messenger has filters too, but only supports six callers; Houseparty can handle eight callers, but doesn’t have filters. Once a Snapchat user starts the video chat in a group, each member of the group will get a notification telling them the video call is happening. The group chat function now also supports voice calls for up to 32 participants, in case you wanted to try having your next conference call over Snapchat.

Snapchat also introduced the ability to tag users in snaps, much like what has been possible with its rival, Instagram Stories, since late 2016. (At the time, New York Magazine described this as something Instagram “didn’t copy from Snapchat.”)

Both of Snapchat’s updates could be welcomed by users, but may not address the concerns many have had since the app was restructured late last year. Some 1.2 million people signed a petition asking Snap to roll back the redesign. Snap has also seen some celebrity power users leave the app recently—model Chrissy Teigen and singer Rihanna among them—over the redesign, and the way a Snapchat ad made light of domestic violence Rihanna faced. All this while the company contends with a falling stock price, multiple rounds of layoffs, and expenses that continue to massively outweigh costs.