In late 2012, Snapchat, which was little more than a year old, was struggling to shake a reputation that it was only popular for sending inappropriate photos. Zuckerberg met with Spiegel and expressed interest in buying Snapchat; but when Spiegel declined, Zuckerberg launched a clone of Snapchat, called Poke.
Facebook copied Snapchat’s Stories feature, which let users post photo and video slideshows that disappeared after 24 hours, wherever it could—in its Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram apps. Facebook also added impermanent messaging options to Instagram and Messenger and began testing face filters that were extremely similar to Snapchat’s lenses.
By adopting all of Snapchat’s features in different parts of its empire, Facebook and Instagram could slow Snapchat’s growth. Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook and Instagram but don’t use Snapchat. If they started enjoying silly Facebook lenses or recognized the appeal of impermanent Instagram Stories, they might never bother downloading Snapchat.
And while it was intended to kill Snapchat for good, according to Gallagher, it may have saved it.
Gallagher thinks Facebook’s failure not only helped Snap’s ability to recruit and improved the company’s reputation with the media, it also revealed that Facebook was out of touch about why Snapchat was so popular to begin with.
“It really showed at the time that Facebook didn’t really understand the appeal of Snap and why this demographic was using it,” Gallagher said in an interview with Recode. “It took a while for Facebook to sort of be humbled, understand Snapchat, and then finally have a successful copy with Instagram Stories.”
The Instagram Stories clone, which didn’t come until mid-2016, was much better — and is also a hit. It has more than 300 million daily users, well over 100 million more users than Snapchat has for its entire app.
Snap is now worth almost $25 billion, and it’s certainly possible Snapchat and Spiegel would have ended up in the same place whether Zuckerberg tried to kill it or not.