Instagram ripped off Snapchat to become cooler

With Instagram Stories, the photo-sharing app is hoping to bring the cool kids back on their side. 

Meryl D'Souza August 3, 2016

If imitation is flattery, then plagiarism has to be the expression of unconstrained glorification. But does that make it acceptable? We’re talking morally, legally or socially. Is it right?

In 2012, Facebook saw how Instagram struck gold with the younger audience and coveted it so much that they went ahead and created a clone called Facebook Camera. Less than a month later, they ditched Facebook Camera and bought Instagram for $1 billion. 

A year later, Facebook witnessed the Snapchat euphoria and moved in to buy the ephemeral messaging app instead of trying to clone it first. But Snapchat founder, Evan Spiegel, was having none of it and turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer.

With a failed bid, Zuckerberg’s company launched a Snapchat clone called Slingshot in 2014 only to shut it down in December last year. Turns out, people are not into cheap knock-offs. Go figure.

Instagram Stories

Yesterday, Instagram introduced Instagram Stories – a new feature where users post images or videos that disappear in 24 hours and do not linger on their respective profiles – on iOS and Android devices. The idea is to allow for conversations and reactions to be private. Sound familiar?

This new feature is Snapchat within Instagram. Even Instagram CEO's, Kevin Systorm is not denying it, telling TechCrunch, “They deserve all the credit. When you are an innovator, that’s awesome. Just like Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.”

Why Instagram (and Facebook) needed something like Snapchat 

While both Instagram and Snapchat are visual mediums, Instagram has seen a decline in growth and engagement whereas Snapchat is still growing and hitting up to 100 million daily users.

The two biggest factors for Snapchat’s growth are the audience and the untidiness. The audience, comprising mostly of teenagers, believe Snapchat to be the cooler platform and look at Facebook and the others like how most of us treat Linkedin.

The untidiness is easier to understand. People in general tend to post their best pictures on Instagram to up the number of likes and follows. That requires patience, a decent camera and lots of time to get the perfect click. With the 24-hour rule on Snapchat though, there’s no quality threshold. The picture can be grainy and pixelated, but as long as its up there and gone in 24 hours, it’s all ok.

The social media mess

Social media is nothing but one incestuous, moneymaking ecosystem. Don’t believe us? Pay attention to the trail:

  • Facebook’s News Feed was something created by FriendFeed, most social media apps use a variation of that feed.
  • Facebook’s On This Day feature was a Timehop app feature.
  • Twitter now uses a similar algorithm to Facebook where it shows users the best tweets first.
  • Facebook has trending stories similar to Twitter.

We’ve skipped over a hundred other examples in between but you see the point. Each social media channel is trying its best to be like the other so that you never leave its clutches. In the trade-off though, they're each losing aspects about them that brought users in, in the first place.

Time will tell if the move actually pays off for Instagram. We’re more concerned about how long it’ll take for Snapchat’s dog lens to make its way to Instagram.