Snapchat Was Just Forced to Copycat Instagram

A story of impulse, habit, and the battle for your camera.

Instagram is putting the heat on Snapchat. And I love it.

I quit Snapchat stories a few months back. I was tired of all the sleazy featured stories that were always plastered all over that page, so I decided to jump ship and try Instagram stories instead. I, like many, had rolled my eyes when Instagram first copied Snapchat like this, but I was surprised to find that Instagram’s story tools have gotten good. Really good. Instagram has better captioning tools. They’re more flexible, more interesting, and allow for more creativity. They’re fun!

But more importantly, Instagram stories are better because you can post pictures or videos from your phone’s camera roll. This allows for even more creativity. I can post time-lapses or photos that I’ve edited in other apps. The stories I see from my church and local businesses are amazing. These people are putting a lot of time into creating incredible, professional looking stories.

Why doesn’t this happen on Snapchat? The answer is found in this app update that popped up in my feed about two weeks ago:

Snapchat used to have this weird white box around any post that you didn’t take directly with Snapchat’s camera. It was awkward. The idea was to force people to use the Snapchat camera.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When something cool happens in front of you, what do you do? More than likely, you pull out your phone. Then what? Do you launch the stock camera app, Snapchat, Instagram, or something else? I think many, many, people would answer that they open Snapchat.

Snapchat wants to be your camera app. They want everything you capture on your phone to go through Snapchat first. And they want you to share every moment – as long as you captured it in their app.

I’m sure Instagram wants this too – but they’ve decided to take a different approach. Instagram has decided to let you post whatever you want to your story, whenever you want. Instagram is aiming for quality over quantity. Maximum engagement looks like this: Take lots of pictures, caption them quickly, and post them to your story. Curation is different: Take lots of pictures (using your full-quality stock camera app), and then post the best on your story.

There is no way I’m going to document my entire life using both Snapchat and Instagram. That’s why this battle is important. And Snapchat was just forced to give up some ground. Instagram copied Snapchat, that much is for sure. But I honestly think Instagram is doing the majority of the innovating in this space now. I guess copycatting can go both ways.

The Decline of Facebook

Facebook is still a huge name these days, but doesn’t it seem like the hype has died down a bit?  I mean, lots of people still use it, but it seems like I’m hearing more and more people say they’ve pretty much given up on it.  Today, the biggest name in social media is, without a doubt, Instagram, with Snapchat and Twitter also hot.  So what happened to Facebook anyway?

What’s happened to Facebook has happened to technology before.  Take email, for instance.  Remember when email was a fun, exciting way to talk to friends?  Now it’s a chore.  What happened?  Well, when people first started using email, not everyone had it.  That made everyone who did have it special.  So you enjoyed using it because it was new and cool.  It also meant that nothing truly important happened over email, because not everyone had it, so it wasn’t reliable.  But then that started to change.  Pretty soon, just about everyone had email.  That was good news at first: now we could all use email for “important” things, like planning get togethers with friends.  This wasn’t what posed the problem.  The problem occurred when other people, people like our employers and advertisers, realized that everyone was using email.  Now I’m not trying to knock employers here.  It’s their job to figure out new communications technologies and use them.  But it does kinda take the fun out of it, you know?  Now that we were getting emails about things that really were important, things that we needed to know, we had to really buckle down and be diligent about it.  Now we couldn’t just check email every day because it was fun, but because we had to.  And like a reverse Tom Sawyer, that sucked all the fun out of email.  It didn’t happen quickly.  But sooner or later we all realized that email was a chore.  Not that it can’t be fun sometimes.  But mostly, it’s something we check because we have to.

The same thing happened to Facebook.  It started out cool and new and fun, and then everyone expected you to have Facebook.  And they expected you to check it.  And that took a little of the fun out of it.  And in this way, Facebook is a victim of its own success.

I have never used Facebook, which honestly has made all of this far more interesting to watch, from the outside.  I know people still use Facebook a lot, and they still enjoy using it, but it just doesn’t seem to get as much enthusiasm as I remember it once getting.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Facebook is going away any time soon (I’ve been saying all this stuff for years and it’s still here), and it does still seem to be the go-to place for lots of people to post about their lives.  And it’s also a go-to place for people to go find out about their friends’ lives.  And that – that real, human element – will keep people coming back, in a way no app update ever will.

So again, I don’t think Facebook is dead in the water, not for a while yet, but I definitely think we went over peak Facebook quite a while ago.  Here’s the last bit of irony, though: remember what I said up at the top about Instagram?  Facebook owns Instagram (though it did cost them a cool $1 billion).  I don’t think a lot of people know this.  So, next time you read some crazy guy’s article about how Facebook is dead (no, no, I mean other than mine), just remember this: Even if Facebook the website dies, Facebook the company bank account still has quite a while to go.  ••

May App Review: Hyperlapse

App: Hyperlapse
Developer: Instagram
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS

I told you we’d get to this eventually!  As promised (midway through my epic-two-part-near-2000-word write up of iCloud Photo Library and Photos for Mac), this week I’m going to do May’s app review.  This month I’ve chosen to review Hyperlapse, a time-lapse video app made by Instagram.


Hyperlapse has a simple, intuitive design.  Open up the app and you’re greeted with only two buttons: record and switch camera (“selfielapse,” they call it).  The rest of the app is equally simple.  After pressing record, you’ll see a timer that shows you how long the video is in normal time, as well as how long the time-lapse will be (based on a speed of 6x).  Ending the recording allows you to chose the speed (any multiple of 2 from 2x to 12x, as well as 1x).  When you’re done, you can save the video to your camera roll, and then share it.  You can also chose to “Edit later,” which adds a third button to the main screen to access your drafts.

But wait a second: doesn’t the stock camera app in iOS already have a time-lapse setting?  It does, and it works fine.  However, there are two reasons why Hyperlapse is better.

First is the variable speed setting.  The stock camera app seems to use a 15x speed setting (although it doesn’t actually tell you what it is), which is really, really fast.  Hyperlapse’s default setting is 6x, which usually looks really good (8x is another good choice).  However, Hyperlapse also gives you the option to go as fast as 12x or as slow as 2x.  I like having this extra control.

The second reason Hyperlapse is better is an interesting one.  Hyperlapse is actually doing image stabilization in real time as you’re recording.  This means that time-lapses (which tend to really show off shaking filming) will look smoother in Hyperlapse.  I don’t know much about photography, but apparently it’s also really impressive that it’s doing this as you film, without requiring any extra processing time.  However, there’s one more reason this feature is super cool.  You can record a video in Hyperlapse, then save it at 1x, and it’s like using a steadicam!  Obviously, it’s not quite as good as a real steadicam, but it can give you a little bit of stabilization with no extra effort – all you have to do is record the video.  Pretty neat!

One more thing: Hyperlapse only saves videos in 720p resolution, and not 1080p.  I’m actually OK with this.  I think that 1080p is a little unnecessary for simple home videos; 720p looks fine and doesn’t take up quite so much space.

As you can see, Hyperlapse is a really cool app.  It’s extremely simple, but it adds just a couple key features that are super useful, not to mention missing in the stock camera app.  Time-lapse is a lot of fun, both to film and to watch, and I highly recommend that you try this app out.  Below is the full Hyperlapse of the fooseball game going on in the screenshots above, saved at 6x speed.  But enough about me – I’d love to see what you make with this app.  Send me a link on Twitter or in the comments below.  Enjoy!  ••