Instagram is now completely Snapchat

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, through one of Snapchat’s most popular filters.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, through one of Snapchat’s most popular filters.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Instagram announced today that it has added a new function to its picture-taking software. It introduced the feature in a blog post, as if it were something the world had never seen before:

Today, we’re introducing face filters in the camera, an easy way to turn an ordinary selfie into something fun and entertaining. Whether you’re sitting on the couch at home or you’re out and about, you can use face filters to express yourself and have playful conversations with friends.

The thing is, this concept, like many of the recent new features on Instagram, was lifted entirely from Snapchat.

On Snapchat, the feature is called Lenses, and was rolled out back in 2015. Selfies have not been the same since: Images of people vomiting rainbows, prancing around with dog ears, or in what could be construed as blackface, have pervaded users’ feeds. Both the rainbow and dog-ear filters made appearances in Snapchat’s parent company Snap’s recent IPO filings.

Instagram’s new feature tracks the movement of the user’s face and applies a filter on top of it, very similar to Snapchat’s Lenses. (I wasn’t able to test Instagram’s new feature, however, as the app doesn’t seem to believe that I have a face.)

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which tried to purchase Snapchat for a reported $3 billion in 2013 but was rebuffed by CEO Evan Spiegel. Since then, it seems that Facebook has been intent on copying Snapchat’s success instead. The company first tried to make its own standalone Snapchat competitor app, but failed multiple times to find a wide audience. Since then, it has replicated many aspects of Snapchat within its other apps, including Instagram.

Last year, Facebook launched Instagram Stories, a section of the app that lets users take short videos and photos of their day and post them to a feed that disappears every 24 hours—exactly like an similarly named part of Snapchat’s app. Facebook has launched such features on most of the platforms it controls, including its main social network app.

With the replication of Snapchat’s Lenses, Facebook has now copied virtually the entire photo-sharing experience of Snapchat. At this point, the only feature that Snap offers that Facebook does not is original vertical-video content, but it’s entirely possible that Facebook’s version is right around the corner.

Snap posted a dire earnings report in its first quarter as a public company last week. Even when you strip out the billions of dollars it had to pay out in stock-based compensation to its executives after its IPO, the company continues to be on a trajectory where it costs far more to operate than what it generates in revenue.

Facebook has roughly 1.7 billion more daily active users than Snapchat. If it’s able to copy everything that’s original about Snapchat, what chance does the newly public company have to compete in the long run?