Not into Snapchat? Facebook is launching an alternative: Messenger Day

Video blogger Natalie-Tasha Thompson shares updates about her life on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

But the one place she knows her family, including her grandmother, will check is Facebook. So she posts there too.

For now, that’s the biggest thing Facebook has going for it. With 1.9 billion users, the world’s largest social network spans generations from great grandparents to middle schoolers. But apps such as Snapchat and Musical.ly are threatening to undercut that advantage by poaching the attention of youth.

For instance, the percentage of Android smartphone-using 13-to-18-year-olds in the U.S. that check the main Facebook app at least once a month has fallen to less than 69% from nearly 81% in 2015, according to research by 7Park Data.

Facebook’s response has been to mimic Snap Inc., the now-publicly traded Los Angeles company behind Snapchat, by copying its novel features in hope of holding onto users. “Facebook needs to maintain itself as a funky, cool place to hang out with your friends because in the digital ecosystem world, user engagement is everything,” said Richard Windsor, an analyst at Edison Investment Research.

The company’s latest initiative came Thursday in announcing the launch of Day — a clone of Snapchat Stories. The feature on Facebook’s Messenger chat app lets people share with a select group of contacts ephemeral video diaries that string together chronologically and auto-delete after 24 hours. Friends can watch Days from the Messenger homepage or in a chat window. Users can see who has watched their Day.

For viewers, “it’s the ability to fill up your inbox with friends’ updates and catch up on them on your own time,” said Josh Elman, a venture capitalist at Greylock Partners who once worked at Facebook.

Users like Thompson are finding Day and other copied features helpful. Though she must duplicate her Snapchat posting efforts, it ensures the older members of her family not yet hip to Snapchat can stay up to date. She shares big highlights on Facebook to the delight of her extended family, but Day lets her share smaller, quirkier memories that she doesn’t want preserved.

“It’s a way-easier way for family to see what I’m up to,” she said.

Thompson also described Facebook’s take on Snapchat’s editing tools as more customizable and relatable.

In the words of a Facebook official, the goal is to have so much “goodness” that people always find something engaging to use on the app.

Snap sees the copycat features as a potential threat, informing would-be investors of the risk imitators pose ahead of its initial public offering last week.

Most of the Snapchat knockoffs in the Facebook universe haven’t resonated with users. For instance, the Facebook-owned Instagram app tried to handpick users’ posts to place into compilations about big events such as New Year’s Eve or the Oscars. But the highlights videos, similar to a popular feature on Snapchat, didn’t generate enough viewership to justify continued investment, according to former workers on the initiative. Instagram has instead focused on using lists and filters to automatically generate topical highlights.

So far, only Instagram’s take on the video blogs Snapchat pioneered appears to have affected Snapchat usage.

And the reception to features such as Day is hardly universal among Messenger’s hundreds of millions of daily users.

Jody Milward, who consults companies in Australia on their Facebook profiles, said people quickly stopped using Day during testing.

“You're really there to have one-on-one chats,” she said of Messenger. “I would say there is confusion between what has traditionally been a private space now becoming more public.”

Changing the norms on a well-established service is difficult, technology analysts say, meaning it’s unlikely Facebook will ever become a perfect imitation of Snapchat. Consider how AOL and Yahoo frequently imitate the features of Gmail, yet the Google service maintains a more youthful image. Or how despite Samsung’s efforts to make its Galaxy S phones resemble iPhones, the Apple device still has a more elite reputation.

Facebook benefits from being a steady, gathering place for all. Snapchat’s model is a smaller community that expects product evolution.

“Snapchat as an underdog can take bigger risks and condition users to a mantra of change,” said Joseph Bayer, an Ohio State University assistant professor who studies Snapchat and Facebook.

But the bigger company isn’t retreating. Facebook has courted popular users like Thompson by inviting them to its offices in Menlo Park and Playa Vista to help craft Day and other elements of Messenger. For example, Thompson helped developed digital stamps that can be affixed to images — adornments her generation considers to be conversation starters. She’s behind ones that say “Bee yourself” and “Let’s avocuddle.”

Facebook also is pushing Day viewing on its desktop website. Snapchat users’ personal stories must be viewed on a mobile device.

In demos last year, Facebook officials avoided using the term stories to describe Day, choosing instead generic terms such as “the spot.”

Stan Chudnovsky, the head of product for Messenger, said in an interview that his team is committed to doing things no one in the industry is doing — even if initial inspiration comes from competition.

“Visual messaging is a trend and people are sending hundreds of millions of photos every day, so why not give them ability to send even more,” he said. “You’ll flock to it.”

paresh.dave@latimes.com / PGP

Twitter: @peard33


UPDATES:

2:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about Messenger Day and Snap’s early statement to investors about imitators.

This article was originally published at 10:25 a.m.

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