[Opinion] Insta, FB and WA stories and why you should be concerned

So it began with Snapchat, allowing people to post a short snippet of their everyday lives online for friends to see. Back then it filled the gap where I had something shareable but not quite worthy of the high and lofty (and filtered) standards of Instagram. And hence Stories became a thing and it sort of harks back to the days of MSN Messenger where we updated our statuses with songs that we listen to / cool nicknames / emo, vague quotes and so on. Whatsapp had statuses too, but we’ll come back to that.

Snapchat had this for ages and were struggling with monetization until recently where they had sponsored Lenses and more importantly, native sponsored ads that get inserted in between Stories. That wave of advertising hasn’t taken off in Singapore yet but the stage is set (that’s why they tried forcing users to view Stories in a “slideshow format” and you had to skip to go to the next).

And all of a sudden Facebook goes all crazy and starts introducing Stories for every single one of its child services, namely Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger and Facebook itself.

Facebook stories looks set to be a failure so far:

  1. People don’t use FB in that social sense anymore (the “what’s up with life, poke poke” kinda social) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/04/06/facebook-stories-confirms-brutal-truth-facebook-isnt-fun-anymore/
  2. Plain hard truth is that it’s beginning to feel as hard sell as how Google Plus tried to integrate itself into every Google product imaginable – http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/5/15189148/facebook-stories-friends-ghosts-news-feed-snapchat

Whatsapp Stories are just way off:

  1. The older generation simply do not use such “fun” functions (on their own, at least)
  2. There are too many corporate chats using Whatsapp (wouldn’t want your bosses to know what you are doing on your “sick leave”)
  3. One redeeming point – Whatsapp was originally founded to share statuses but nah…not good enough an excuse to pull this stunt off
  4. It’s just the wrong platform because of the nature of sharing – http://www.ndtv.com/offbeat/whatsapp-status-heres-why-people-are-scared-of-this-feature-1663139 

Instagram Stories, however, is a different story (alright I’ll show myself out).

  1. It’s sitting somewhere in the realm of “Yup I’ve been sharing my photos for as long as I can remember here..so why not?” and there’s fun stuff like boomerang (which I contest as an equal contender to Snap Lenses)
  2. In pure numbers, Instagram stories is already more popular than Snapchat – http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/13/15279266/instagram-stories-facebook-200-million-users-snapchat-clone

The timing is impeccable too as Snapchat gears up to finally offer a compelling and competitive advertising model for its customers (on the back of its recent IPO too). To be fair, it kind of felt like a david vs goliath situation in terms of user base as Snapchat only has a third of Instagram’s daily users.

To add on, there has always been the feeling that the whole advertising thing might not work out eventually – https://digiday.com/marketing/advertisers-cooling-snapchat-live-stories/

I personally tried Instagram Stories for the first time last week out of consideration for the fact that Snapchat was just too buggy on my ailing Note 4. Apart from how much easier it was to record and post that random moment in my life, something slightly more sinister jumped out at me. It wasn’t until I saw the number of views on my girlfriend’s Insta story that I realized the far wider reach of posting a story on Instagram. I went back to check on my own Story (not the first one as Instagram kinda alerts everyone to it) and I was alarmed to find out that there were probably 7-8 times more viewers.

It’s alarming because I now have to consider that whatever moment in my life that I post on Instagram will be seen by potentially all the current followers I have, but all the followers I had so far were accepted without the consideration of them having such intimate access to what I do in everyday life. That to me is the biggest implication for me. It might be just me (that’s why the title of the article is prefixed [Opinion]) using Stories as a mico-blogging tool / imperfect posting tool but I’m pretty certain I’m not entirely alone in this.

So what’s next? Remember how Whatsapp tried to sneakily slot in a 30 day deadline to opt out of sharing your information with FB? Here’s a reminder: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/08/how-keep-your-whatsapp-data-whatsapp

(and anyway if you have not opted out, there’s no turning back) :

photo_2017-04-16_17-06-03

The whole concept of getting users to share their everyday moments is brilliant from a data collection point of view. Even something as simple as when and where you post allows Facebook to get a better sense of its user’s habits and extrapolate that to information useful to advertisers. That will translate down to everything from the ads we see on our news feed itself to the Sponsored Whatsapp messages we should be seeing soon.

There will also definitely be native advertising that will seamlessly invade our friend’s list of stories while we are browsing through them – http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/11/watch-out-snapchat-facebooks-instagram-stories-now-have-ads.html 

The bottomline is this: every data-driven service out there is trying its best to paint a full picture of its user’s habits and browsing patterns. Google is trying to do that with its own operating system and suite of “indispensable services” (how many of us use Maps while travelling?) and Facebook is trying to TELL advertisers they can do that through its social network but it’s not true because not all of us are on FB everyday. Enter Whatsapp, where it got so much closer to knowing the ins and outs of the 500m+ daily users on it. Whoever reaches the point where it knows its users inside out first, will hold the bargaining chip to all the advertising moolah.

Finally: Is there an end to this? Any service/app needs to eventually find a way to monetize. Growth first, monetize later. Will it be possible to get the best of everything (quality app, no ads)? Or is it only a matter of time? Whatever it is, we can only hope to be on the side that doesn’t lose out too much.

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