As Snapchat prepares to go public with its hotly anticipated
IPO, it already has a formidable foe. Facebook has been
launching digital missiles at the image messaging app for
years, building a copycat feature into Instagram, stickers and
effects in Messenger, and even testing a
Direct Share option for photos in Facebook itself. Now
Snapchat has yet another Facebook-backed competitor, and it may
prove to be the most formidable at all.

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, just
announced that it is getting into the disappearing message
game. WhatsApp is celebrating its eighth birthday by launching
a complete revamp of its status feature, which helped catapult
it to worldwide popularity. Where previously you could only
customize it with clever text expressions, now you can share
photos and videos as a status update, complete with funky
filters and effects.

Oh, snap: Facebook has been relentless in its
attack on Snapchat, but the WhatsApp feature launching just
weeks before its IPO might be the boldest move yet. Where
Instagram Stories merely brought a copycat feature to an
existing social network (and a similar one at that), WhatApp’s
status update expands its assault to a whole new battlefield.
And with a global reach and more than a billion monthly active
users, WhatsApp’s new statuses could take some of the snap out
of Snapchat.


WhatsApp’s new status feature is a major upgrade over the
previous text-based version.

Photo bomb

The feature, which is rolling out to its Android
iOS apps this week, is simple. Instead of seeing a simple
“Available” or “At work” message when your friends check your
status, you can now update it with an image or GIF, adorn it
with emoji, captions or stickers, and even control who gets to
see it. And just like Snapchat, they disappear after 24 hours,
though most users probably won’t let them last that long. The
idea is that you’ll update it all throughout your day, just
like you did before.

If Snapchat isn’t worried, it should be. WhatsApp boasts some
1.2 billion monthly active users, most of whom use the app to
chat with their friends daily. It features end-to-end
encryption for all messages, including statuses, and the new
feature could be the first step toward turning the service into
a new kind of secure social network, one that lets you be as
public or private as you’d like.

Of course, Snap Inc. will have you believe that it isn’t a
social network—it’s a camera company. But even with a wide online release of
Spectacles, Snapchat is still the engine that makes the
camera go. If Snapchat starts declining in popularity, its
camera glasses suddenly aren’t so cool anymore. And no one
understands this more than Facebook.

Social studies

Ironically, the biggest threat WhatsApp poses to Snapchat is
that it isn’t a social network, it’s a messaging app. Everyone
from kids to grandparents use it to communicate, and I’m
willing to bet that many of them use it way more than their
Facebook account, if they have one at all. Where Snapchat is
predicated on photos and general silliness, WhatsApp’s statuses
can be as mature as they need to be. It’s not targeted at kids
or even touted as a main feature (you still need to navigate
several menus to find a user’s status). Rather, it’s a feature
that can appeal to millennials and tweens without changing
anything about the app’s main interface.

And it’s not concerned about turning a profit, at least not
yet. WhatsApp is strictly a way to bring users into the
Facebook tent, but the status feature could be a step toward
monetizing the service. Just like Snapchat has partnered with
companies to bring sponsored filters and overlays that insert
advertising in a fun, interactive way, WhatsApp could bring
movie and product tie-ins to its status options without
intruding on users’ privacy or upsetting the experience.

But whatever the next step is, the message is clear: Facebook
won’t be content until Snapchat regrets not taking Mark
Zuckerberg’s $3 billion buyout offer. And it’s a fight that
might be too long and expensive for Snapchat to win.

This story, “Facebook’s latest Snapchat attack: WhatsApp status
updates” was originally published by Greenbot.

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