Since Snapchat burst onto the scene in 2012, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has been obsessed with it. It launched Poke in December 2012 (and subsequently shut it down last May). It then tried to acquire the photo-messaging start-up for $3 billion in the fall of 2013. After the failed acquisition, Facebook launched Slingshot last year -- another Snapchat clone. And now, Facebook is launching its 2015 version of its Snapchat clone -- Riff.
Calling Riff a Snapchat clone is a bit more of a stretch than doing the same for Poke or Slingshot. Riff more closely resembles one of the newer auxiliary features in Snapchat called Our Story.
Our Story uses geofencing to collect Snapchats from big events such as concerts and football games. Snapchat then curates the best ones and makes them available to every user for 24 hours. Riff, comparatively, lets users record a video up to 20 seconds and then send it out to all of his or her friends for them to add onto -- or riff on. The result is a long string of related videos similar to the experience of watching an Our Story.
Some strategy behind Riff
The inspiration for Riff came from last summer's Ice Bucket Challenge meme. The IBC helped Facebook grow video views 50% last summer to 1 billion per day and, more importantly, got more people uploading video of themselves directly to Facebook. Riff's goal is to reproduce the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge on a regular basis.
Riff automatically connects to Facebook users' accounts, and users can easily share videos on Facebook. More importantly, connecting a Facebook account allows Riff users to tap into their existing social network to send their video to their friends to riff on. The process mimics the viral nature of the Ice Bucket Challenge, where users tagged their friends in the video post to challenge them.
Riff is designed to get more users creating and sharing their own videos instead of just viewing other people's videos. CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees video as the next progression in sharing similar to how photos overtook text posts as the most popular content on Facebook.
Of course, getting more users uploading and sharing video posts will enable Facebook to display more video advertisements. Riff's format in particular lends itself well to in-stream advertisements or sponsored videos. Snapchat has attempted to monetize its OurStory feature in the past. Most notably, it integrated behind-the-scenes footage of the American Music Awards sponsored by Samsung, with the rest of the OurStory featuring footage shot by celebrities and attendees.
Will Riff succeed?
Previous efforts from Facebook Creative Labs haven't made a significant impact on users (see Poke and Slingshot). Riff takes a different angle from some earlier efforts, unbundling one of the top features of Snapchat and putting a new twist on it that opens up participation to anyone who's not too self-conscious. But predicting whether an app will become popular is nearly impossible.
Facebook has a lot of advantages, though. It owns some of the most popular apps in the world already, which it can use to promote Riff. The ability to upload videos directly to Facebook and the viral nature of Riff videos themselves is an advertisement on its own.
But even if Riff doesn't become extremely popular, Facebook can gain some valuable insights from the app and apply them to its more popular platforms. That's been its strategy in the past with apps such as Paper (mobile design), Camera (photo filters), and Messenger (stickers). With Riff, management can gather valuable insight on video creation and what makes people engage with it.
The amount of video content on Facebook is rapidly growing, but for the most part it seems to be content created by people outside users' social networks. Riff could spark the creativity of immediate friends and get more users uploading videos of themselves. That would usher in a new era in Facebook, where videos (and valuable video advertisements) are just as common on Facebook as text and photos.
Adam Levy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.