Just like it did with Filters, Snaps, and Stories, Facebook is duplicating another feature that previously existed on its competitor Snapchat.
According to TechCrunch, deep in the code of Facebook’s Android app is unreleased functionality letting users “build personalized, illustrated versions of themselves for use as stickers in Messenger and comments.” In other words, it’s a clone of Snap Inc. subsidiary Bitmoji—and basically the most recent instance of Facebook simply stealing a Snapchat feature.
TechCrunch wrote that the feature in question was discovered by a third-party developer and is still being tested before release:
The screenhots come courtesy of eagle-eyed developer Jane Manchun Wong, who found the Avatars in the Facebook for Android application package — a set of files that often contain features that are unreleased or in testing. Her digging also contributed to TechCrunch’s reports about Instagram’s music stickers and Twitter’s unlaunched encrypted DMs.
Facebook confirmed it’s building Avatars, telling me, “We’re looking into more ways to help people express themselves on Facebook.” However, the feature is still early in development and Facebook isn’t sure when it will start publicly testing.
Notes in the onboarding flow explain that “Your Facebook Avatar is a whole new way to express yourself on Facebook,” TechCrunch wrote. The notes continue, “Leave expressive comments with personalized stickers. Use your new avatar stickers in your Messenger group and private chats.”
It’s not clear whether the feature will like Bitmoji require users to assemble their own online avatar or whether Facebook plans on integrating its new facial recognition technology—though the latter route would be a handy way for the site to lure users into using a feature that’s drawn criticism from privacy advocates.
In any case, Snap is still struggling, in large part due to things like its inability to effectively monetize its userbase or misguided efforts to push money-losing hardware. But the company’s financial woes also have to do with Facebook and its own subsidiary Instagram consistently just developing their own versions of Snapchat’s most popular features.
One doesn’t necessarily have to take sides on the companies themselves to wonder whether this is effectively just Facebook being able to use its titanic market share to bludgeon competitors out of the marketplace. But do consider that it was just about two years ago Snap purchased Bitmoji for over $100 million, which was potentially a risky bet at the time. It might cost considerably less money and effort (and be totally legal) to just wait and see whether Snap’s features take off before paying an internal development team to clone them wholesale.