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As Snapchat IPOs, Its Competition Is Stealing Its Best Ideas

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Last year, Instagram, the popular photo-sharing app, announced a new feature called “Stories” where users can post photo and video slideshows that disappear after a 24-hour period. This sounds shamelessly familiar to Snapchat Stories, which also allows users to post photos and videos in a slideshow format that disappears after 24 hours.

This isn’t the first time Instagram has tried to replicate Snapchat. Back in 2014, it launched Bolt, a private messaging service that lets you send one-tap photos and videos, much like Snapchat, but is now defunct.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom has already acknowledged the blatant similarities between the respective Stories, telling TechCrunch that “[Snapchat] deserves all the credit,” but that “This isn’t about who invented something. This is about format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it.”

I mean, sure, putting your own spin on things is cool, but they could have at least come up with a different name.

And Then There’s Facebook

Facebook (FB - Free Report) , (who coincidentally, or conveniently, owns Instagram), has been formatting many of its new features and apps based off of Snapchat for a few years now. In late 2012, Facebook launched Poke, an almost exact clone of Snapchat that unsurprisingly failed, and then in 2013, it tried to straight up buy Snapchat for a whopping $3 billion. Snapchat turned down that offer, spurring a tech chase for the ages.

Following Poke, Facebook announced its app called Slingshot in 2014, which worked exactly like Snapchat but with one distinct feature: before a user could view a message, they had to send a message back. These required replies lasted for only three months before Facebook removed them from Slingshot, and the app sat around for about a year afterwards before being officially removed.

Other Snapchat rip-off ventures of Facebook include disappearing posts, disappearing messages in Messenger, photo editing options where you can swipe through filters and position text and emoji, face-altering filters thanks to its acquisition of the app MSQRD, a face-swapping app, and Messenger Codes, which are scannable dots and dashes around your profile picture letting you add a person as a contact. Messenger Codes is almost exactly the same as Snapchat’s Snapcodes.  

The company recently debuted a new Snapchat-like feature in its WhatsApp Messenger platform that lets users post pictures and videos to a new feed that deletes itself after 24 hours, dubbed “WhatsApp Status.” Find out more about that in the latest episode of Zacks Tech Talk Tuesday with host Ryan McQueeney here.

Facebook isn’t the only big company looking at Snapchat for new ideas. Microsoft (MSFT - Free Report) also has a Snapchat clone on the market called WindUp, which lets users share photos and videos, as well as text and audio snippets. You can set a time limit for your friends to view messages before they expire, or can stick to a traditional view limit. WindUp is still available in Microsoft’s app store.

Even Wall Street newbie Line (LN - Free Report) , the Japanese messaging app, also has Snapchat-like features. In 2014, the company updated its app so that users can send content to their friends as hidden photos or messages, which will not display until the receiver clicks on them. And, the photo or message will disappear depending on the time set by the sender.

Snapchat, King of the Teens

If all of these influential tech and internet companies have spent the better part of four years trying to emulate Snapchat, then what is it about the app that makes it so compelling? Why is everyone copying Snapchat?

Ever since its official debut in 2012, Snapchat has steadily climbed the social media ranks, having gained the top spot among teenagers over Twitter (TWTR - Free Report) , Facebook, and even Instagram. According to Mashable, who cited a Piper Jaffray study, 6,500 U.S. teens were polled “to see what they felt was the most important social network, and Snapchat took 28% of votes. Instagram came in close-second with 27%, followed by Twitter and Facebook.”

Ah, so that’s why: teenagers love Snapchat, and teenagers are a coveted demographic for any tech company.

Over the last year or so, Snapchat has been launching new unique feature after new unique feature, introducing things like Snapchat Discover, expanding its video and picture filter library, and partnering with events like the Oscars, where the app let its users watch live behind-the-scenes footage of the red carpet and the actual show.

Snapchat is a social, ephemeral experience that favors photos and videos over text-based media. And as the study shows, teenagers prefer this type of digital platform.

Why Snapchat Rules

But I think it’s more than just that. Snapchat has been consistently keeping its platform interesting and innovative, while other social media companies have more or less remained stagnant, or just copied Snapchat’s ideas. Snapchat is fresh, and it has created a world inhabited mostly by teenagers and young adults and their favorite brands and celebrities. No parents allowed.

It’s no wonder, then, that everyone is trying to copy Snapchat. Its CEO is 26-year-old Evan Spiegel, a guy who more or less invented the app as part of a class final during his time at Stanford. It’s the preferred app for any major live event or top celebrity. Above all, Snapchat is cool. Where Facebook appeals to older generations and Instagram to “capturing the perfect moment,” Snapchat is for everything in between.

Snapchat is for the “real,” or at least the real behind text, emoji, filters, and face swaps. And for most people in the social media age, and especially teenagers, “real” reigns supreme.

Last week, Editor Maddy Johnson and Content Writer Ryan McQueeney, hosts of the Zacks Friday Finish Line podcast, previewed Snap’s IPO on their show. They were joined once again by Kathleen Smith, co-founder of Renaissance Capital, to discuss Snapchat, and if it would live up to its high, and pricey, IPO expectations.

Check it out now!

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